Define: Supplicatio

Quick Summary of Supplicatio

Supplicatio was a form of request in ancient Rome that sought the emperor’s intervention in cases that were not already being heard in court or to reopen cases that were not typically subject to appeal. This method was employed when the regular court system was unlikely to deliver justice, when the petitioner held a high position, or when the opposing party was more influential. Additionally, supplicatio could also be used as a plea for clemency in cases of first-time offences. In historical context, supplicatio resembled a rejoinder in its nature.

What is the dictionary definition of Supplicatio?
Dictionary Definition of Supplicatio

Supplicatio is a term used in Roman law to describe a petition presented to the emperor for the resolution of a case that is not currently being heard in court. This recourse is typically employed when the ordinary court is unlikely to deliver justice or when the petitioner holds a position of high rank that precludes them from appearing before the ordinary court. Additionally, a supplicatio can be employed to reopen a case that would not normally be subject to appeal. For instance, if an individual of lower status is facing a powerful opponent, they may use supplicatio to bring their case before the emperor. Similarly, individuals of high rank may opt for supplicatio instead of appearing before the ordinary court. Furthermore, a supplicatio can also refer to a petition seeking pardon for a first offence. This means that if an individual commits a crime for the first time, they can request a pardon through supplicatio. Moreover, supplicatio can also denote a pleading akin to a rejoinder, serving as a response in a legal case.

Full Definition Of Supplicatio

Supplicatio, an integral aspect of Roman law, was a ceremonial form of thanksgiving or supplication to the gods, often declared by the Senate in ancient Rome. It represented both a religious and civic event, signifying gratitude or petitioning divine favour. Although its primary context was religious, the supplicatio had significant legal and social implications. This overview delves into its historical roots, legal connotations, procedural aspects, and the broader impact on Roman society and its legal system.

Historical Background

The concept of supplicatio dates back to the early Republic period, reflecting Rome’s deep-seated religious traditions. Typically, it was declared following a military victory, public calamity, or significant events deemed requiring divine intervention or gratitude. The supplicatio was a public acknowledgment of the gods’ influence over human affairs, reinforcing the interdependence of religion and state in Roman culture.

Legal Framework

Though primarily a religious observance, supplicatio was enshrined in the legal and political fabric of Rome. The Senate held the authority to declare a supplicatio, acting upon the advice of priests or as a response to extraordinary circumstances. This decision was recorded in the senatus consultum, the formal resolution of the Senate, thereby giving it a legal dimension.

  • Senatus Consultum: The Senate’s decision to proclaim a supplicatio was a formal process. The declaration was an official act, documented and preserved as a part of the state’s legal records. The senatus consultum served as the legal basis for the ceremony, outlining the duration, nature, and purpose of the supplicatio.
  • Pontifical Decree: The role of the pontifices, the chief priests, was crucial in advising the Senate. Their religious expertise guided the legal framework, ensuring that the supplicatio adhered to traditional rites and served its intended purpose. The pontifical decree often influenced the Senate’s decision, underscoring the intertwining of religious and legal authorities.
  • Public Participation: The legal implications extended to the populace, who were expected to participate in the supplicatio. Non-compliance could be seen as a breach of civic duty, reflecting the societal expectation of religious observance. While there were no explicit legal penalties for non-participation, the social and moral pressures were significant.

Procedure and Rituals

The supplicatio involved specific rituals and practices, meticulously observed to ensure its efficacy and adherence to tradition. These rituals were codified to an extent, reflecting a legalistic approach to religious ceremonies.

  • Public Processions: Central to the supplicatio were public processions, where citizens, priests, and magistrates marched to temples, offering prayers and sacrifices. These processions had to follow predetermined routes and schedules, often specified in the senatus consultum.
  • Sacrifices and Offerings: Animal sacrifices and offerings were a key component. The legal guidelines detailed the types of animals, the manner of their sacrifice, and the specific gods to whom the offerings were made. The involvement of the pontifices ensured that these rituals adhered to religious laws.
  • Temporal Framework: The duration of a supplicatio varied, from a single day to several days, based on the severity of the situation. The legal declaration by the Senate specified this duration, and extending or shortening it required further legal procedures.

Legal and Social Implications

The declaration and observance of a supplicatio had profound legal and social implications, influencing both the state’s functioning and the populace’s behaviour.

  • Military Victories and Civic Morale: Declaring a supplicatio following a military victory served to bolster civic morale and legitimise the actions of military leaders. It reinforced the perception of divine favour, which was crucial for maintaining public support and loyalty.
  • Crisis Management: In times of calamity, such as pestilence or natural disasters, a supplicatio was a legal and religious response to seek divine intervention. It reflected the state’s responsibility to address crises, combining religious appeasement with legal governance.
  • Political Instrument: The declaration of a supplicatio could also serve political purposes. Emperors and magistrates might use it to curry favour with the populace or the Senate. The legal framework provided a means to formalise these actions, ensuring they were seen as legitimate and divinely sanctioned.

Evolution and Legacy

The supplicatio evolved over time, adapting to the changing political and religious landscape of Rome. Its legal and religious significance, however, remained constant, reflecting the enduring interplay between law, religion, and society.

  • Imperial Period: During the Imperial period, the role of the Emperor became more pronounced in declaring supplicationes. This shift underscored the centralisation of power and the Emperor’s role as both a political and religious leader. The legal procedures were adapted to accommodate this change, with the Senate often acting on the Emperor’s behest.
  • Christian Influence: With the rise of Christianity, the nature of supplicatio underwent a significant transformation. The Christian emperors reinterpreted the tradition within a monotheistic framework, focusing on Christian saints and the Christian God. However, the legal mechanisms of declaring and observing public thanksgiving and supplication remained, reflecting the continuity of the practice.

Comparative Analysis

Comparing the Roman supplicatio with similar practices in other ancient cultures and its influence on later legal and religious traditions provides a broader perspective.

  • Greek Influence: While the Greek city-states had their own forms of public thanksgiving and supplication, the Roman supplicatio was distinct in its formal legal structure and state involvement. This differentiation highlights the unique Roman approach to integrating religion and law.
  • Mediaeval and Modern Europe: The concept of public thanksgiving and supplication persisted in mediaeval and modern European traditions. Practices such as the Te Deum, a hymn of thanksgiving in Christian liturgies, can be seen as an evolution of the Roman supplicatio. These practices retained the element of state-sanctioned religious observance, reflecting the lasting legacy of Roman legal traditions.


The supplicatio, while rooted in religious practice, was a significant legal institution in ancient Rome. It exemplified the intricate relationship between law, religion, and society, serving various purposes from public thanksgiving to crisis management. The legal framework governing supplicationes ensured their proper observance and reinforced their role in civic life. Over time, the evolution of supplicatio reflected broader cultural and religious shifts, yet its core legal and social functions remained influential. Understanding supplicatio offers valuable insights into the complexities of Roman law and its enduring impact on subsequent legal and religious practices.

Supplicatio FAQ'S

Supplicatio is a religious ritual in ancient Rome where the citizens would gather to offer prayers and sacrifices to the gods in times of crisis or to express gratitude for a significant victory.

No, supplicatio is not practiced in its original form today. It was specific to ancient Roman culture and is no longer a part of modern religious practices.

Yes, there were certain protocols and rituals to be followed during supplicatio. These included the selection of appropriate deities, the offering of specific sacrifices, and the participation of the entire community.

The authority to call for a supplicatio rested with the Roman Senate or the Roman consul. They would decide when it was necessary to hold a supplicatio based on the prevailing circumstances.

Supplicatio was called in times of great crisis or significant victories. It could be in response to a military victory, a natural disaster, or to seek divine intervention during times of famine, plague, or other calamities.

There were no specific legal consequences for not participating in a supplicatio. However, it was considered a civic duty and failure to participate could lead to social ostracism or criticism.

There were no specific penalties for conducting a supplicatio incorrectly. However, it was important to follow the prescribed rituals and protocols to ensure the efficacy of the supplication and to maintain the favor of the gods.

Yes, supplicatio had political implications as it was often used as a means to rally public support or to demonstrate the authority and power of the Roman state. It was also a way for the ruling class to reinforce their control over the religious practices of the citizens.

Yes, there were variations of supplicatio in different regions of the Roman Empire. While the basic concept remained the same, the specific deities invoked and the rituals performed could vary based on local customs and beliefs.

While supplicatio itself is not practiced today, there are some modern religious practices that involve communal prayers and offerings to seek divine intervention or express gratitude. However, these practices vary across different cultures and religions.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 6th June 2024.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Supplicatio. DLS Solicitors. June 16 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Supplicatio. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 16 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Supplicatio. Retrieved June 16 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts