In early days the Pontifex Maximus drew up a list of days on which it was fas or nefas to transact business. This calendar gave the names and dates of those religious festivals which concerned the whole state. Examples of such calendars survive; though nearly all date from the Empire and contain the calendar as revised by Caesar, they nevertheless reproduce the skeleton of the original calendar, which was ascribed to Numa, and form a main source of our knowledge of early religious practice. In the absence of any system of eras the year to which the calendar referred would be denoted by affixing the names of the chief magistrates. The Pontifex at first probably recorded on the calendar any outstanding event of the year, but when these events became numerous he set up in the Regia a white tablet to record the names of the magistrates and the events of the year, such as wars, triumphs, temple foundations, eclipses and portents. These Tabulae Pontiflcum were probably first collected and published in eighty volumes of Annales Maximi by Mucius Scaevola, the Pontifex Maximus of 130 BC. How many other lists of magistrates existed we do not know; we hear, for example, of libri magistratuum on linen rolls (libri lintei) which an annalist, Licinius Macer, said he found in the temple of Juno Moneta. These lists clearly formed a primary source for annalists when they first desired to reconstruct and write up the history of Rome. Many chronological tables were in circulation towards the end of the Republic; for instance, Cicero’s friend Atticus compiled a liber Annalis. In the reign of Augustus two important lists were set up on the triumphal arch of Augustus in the Forum at Rome: the Fasti Consulares which recorded the names of the consuls, censors, dictators, masters of the horse, decemvirs and consular tribunes from the beginning of the Republic, and secondly the Fasti Triumphales which listed the magistrates and pro-magistrates who had obtained triumphs from the time of Romulus. Of these lists we have considerable fragments, now called the Capitoline Fasti because they are preserved in the Palazzo dei Conservatori Museum on the Capitol; the missing portions can be reconstructed from other sources, such as an anonymous compiler known as the Chronographer of AD 345. That similar lists existed in Rome before the time of Augustus is shown by the discovery of a calendar and list of consuls and censors on the walls of a private house of c. 70 BC at Antium.2
The crucial question is how far the Fasti of the fifth and fourth centuries are reliable; for the later period their authenticity is not doubted. The credibility of the whole of early Roman history depends to a considerable extent upon the answer. It is admitted on all sides that the early lists are not free from errors and falsifications. Mommsen’s belief in their substantial reliability was succeeded by the hypercritical attitude of Pais who denied them virtually any value. A reaction followed, led by the saner counsels of De Sanctis, and even Pais somewhat modified his earlier views, but unanimity is far from being reached. A primary consideration is the possibility of the survival of early documents after the sack of Rome in 390. It has sometimes been maintained that all the old temples perished in the fire. Archaeological research has shown that this is not true in the main, though in the case of the Regia itself a verdict of ‘not proven’ must be returned.3 And if the Gauls spared the temples they probably spared the archives and records which they contained. It is noteworthy that though Athens was burnt by the Persians in 480 and 479 a list of eponymous magistrates of the city going back two centuries earlier survived. But though the probability of the survival of early records be admitted, the errors of the Fasti cannot be overlooked. Both Livy (viii, 40) and Cicero (Brut. 62) tell how tradition was impaired by funeral eulogies and family pride which appropriated to itself the glory of exploits belonging to others. It is sometimes said that since the plebeians did not hold the consulship until 367 all plebeian names in the Fasti before that date must be forgeries due to the class and family pride of the great plebeian families; and an occasion for the falsification is found in the Lex Ogulnia (c. 300) which admitted plebeians to the college of pontiffs (p. 111). This raises the question: when were the Tabulae of the pontiffs begun and when were they first publicly exposed? They may not have been made public earlier than c. 300 when popular demand became vocal, because before then the nobility had other ways of getting any information they required. This, however, does not mean that the annales started then. Cicero (de orat., II, 12, 52) expressly says that they went back to the beginnings of the Roman state. Beloch, however, denies this; on the evidence of the only genuine fragments of the annales which refer to an eclipse, also mentioned by Ennius, he assigns the beginning of genuine records to a little before 288, which is the date he conjectures for the eclipse which must have been the first in a series. But the evidence is far from satisfactory and Beloch himself can only find a few interpolations in the consular Fasti of 486–364 BC and has accepted the Fasti Triumphales as a useful source.4 In the Fasti of the fifth century many names occur which were unknown in later times; there can be little reason to suppose that these are interpolations. Further, since patricians and plebeians often had the same names in early times and as original patrician names sometimes passed over to plebeian families, it is not necessary to assume that all the names in the Fasti which were later plebeian need be plebeian inventions. Thus it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Fasti are substantially sound from the beginning of the fifth century and that, despite some later inventions, a reliable list of names is to be found. It is also easy to exaggerate the extent to which the lists used by the later Roman annalists differed from one another.