In ancient Roman religion and myth, the Parcae (singular, Parca) were the female personifications of destiny who directed the lives (and deaths) of humans and gods. They are often called the Fates in English, and their Greek equivalent were the Moirai.

Names and history

The Parcae controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal and immortal from birth to death. Even the gods feared them, and by some sources Jupiter was also subject to their power.[1]

The names of the three Parcae are:

The earliest extant documents referencing these deities are three small stelae (cippi) found near ancient Lavinium shortly after World War II.[6] They bear the inscription:

Neuna fata, Neuna dono, Parca Maurtia dono

The names of two of the three Roman Parcae are recorded (Neuna = Nona, Maurtia = Morta) and connected to the concept of fata.[7]

Nona was supposed to determine a person's lifespan on the dies lustricus, that is, the day on which the name of the child was chosen, which occurred on the ninth day from birth for a male and the eighth for a female.[8]

The recurrence of the nundinae was also considered a dies festus and as such nefas by some Roman scholars as Julius Caesar and Cornelius Labeo, because on it the flaminica dialis offered the sacrifice of a goat to Jupiter in the Regia.[9]

One of the sources for the Parcae is Metamorphoses by Ovid, II 654, V 532, VIII 452, XV 781.

Another source is Aeneid by Virgil, in the opening of Book I.

In mythology the Parcae were located on a higher hierarchical level than the highest gods  :

"The power of the Parcae was great and extend. Some suppose that they were subjected to none of the gods but Jupiter; while others support that even Jupiter himself was obedient to their commands; and indeed we see the father of the gods, in Homer's Iliad, unwilling to see Patroclus perish, yet obliged, by the superior power of the Fates, to abandon him to his destiny" [1]

"So that we have the clearest evidence of the poet for it, that whatever happens to us is under the influence of the Parcae. Jupiter himself can not interfere to save his son Sarpedon." [10]

See also


  1. Lemprière, John (1827). A Classical Dictionary: Containing a Copious Account of All the Proper Names Mentioned in Ancient Authors; with the Value of Coins, Weights and Measures, Used Among the Greeks and Romans; and a Chronological Table. Collin & Company. p. 580.
  2. John Day, God's Conflict With the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament, CUP Archive, 1985, p. 308.
  3. L. L. Tels de Jong Sur quelques divinites romaines de la naissance et de la prophetie 1959, pp. 70–77; 83–85.
  4. P. Ramat "Morta" in Archivio glottologico italiano 40, 1960, pp. 61–67.
  5. J. H. Waszinsk Gnomon 34, 1962, p. 445.
  6. G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part 4, chapt.
  7. L. L. Tels De Jong Sur quelques divinites romaines de la naissance et de la prophetie 1959 pp. 67–130.
  8. S. Breemer and J. H. Waszinsk Mnemosyne 3 Ser. 13, 1947, pp. 254–270: on personal destiny as linked to the collation of the dies lustricus.
  9. Macr. Sat. I 16, 30.
  10. Wieland ( Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown ), Christoph Martin (1820). Lucian of Samosata. p. 723.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading

  • Thomas Blisniewski: Kinder der dunkelen Nacht. Die Ikonographie der Parzen vom späten Mittelalter bis zum späten XVIII. Jahrhundert. Thesis. Cologne 1992. Berlin 1992
  • Media related to Moirae at Wikimedia Commons
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