History for the Rest of Us

Mercuralia – Festival of Mercury

Mercuralia – Festival of Mercury

May 14, 2013

Mercuralia was a Roman celebration that was also known as the ‘Festival of Mercury’. Mercury, was a Roman messenger god whose attributes were mainly borrowed from the Greek god Hermes although there are myths regarding Mercury that are distinctly Roman. He was a god of trade, thieves, and travel. The name is closely related to merx, mercari, and merces which respectively mean merchandise, to trade, and wages. For good luck, on the Ides of May (May 15th) which was considered his birthday, the merchants of Rome would use laurel boughs to sprinkle their merchandise, their ships, and their heads with water from a fountain at Porta Capena known as aqua Mercurii. They also offered prayers to Mercury for forgiveness of past and future perjuries, for profit, and the continued ability to cheat customers! Related Stories: Neptunalia Ludi Apollinares Vestalia Matralia Portunalia Items from the Creating History...

Consualia and the Sabine Women

Consualia and the Sabine Women

Dec 15, 2012

The Consualia Festival was held twice a year, on August 21st and December 15th. CONSUALIA [was] a festival, with games, celebrated by the Romans…in honour of Consus, the god of secret deliberations, or…of Neptunus Equestris. Plutarch…say[s] that Neptunus Equestris and Consus were only different names for one and the same deity. It was solemnized every year in the circus, by the symbolical ceremony of uncovering an altar dedicated to the god, which was buried in the earth. For Romulus, who was considered as the founder of the festival, was said to have discovered an altar in the earth on that spot. The solemnity took place on the 21st of August with horse and chariot races, and libations were poured into the flames which consumed the sacrifices. During these festive games, horses and mules were not allowed to do any work, and were adorned with garlands of flowers. It was at their first celebration that, according to the ancient legend, the Sabine maidens were carried off. Virgil, in speaking of the rape of the Sabines, describes it as having occurred during the celebration of the Circensian games, which can only be accounted for by supposing that the great Circensian games, in subsequent times, superseded the ancient Consualia… SOURCE:A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities Livy describes the abduction of the Sabine women as follows: And now the Roman state was become so powerful, that it was a match for any of the neighboring nations in war, but, from the paucity of women, its greatness could only last for one age of man; for they had no hope of issue at home, nor had they any intermarriages with their neighbors. Therefore, by the advice of the Fathers, Romulus sent ambassadors to the neighboring states to solicit an alliance and the privilege of intermarriage for his new subjects…No where did the embassy obtain a favorable hearing…The Roman youth resented this conduct bitterly, and the matter unquestionably began to point towards violence. Romulus, in order that he might afford a favorable time and place for this, dissembling his resentment, purposely prepares games in honor of Neptunus Equestris; he calls them Consualia. He then orders the spectacle to be...

Faunalia or Faunalia Rustica

Faunalia or Faunalia Rustica

Dec 6, 2012

On February 13 and December 5, festivals were held in Rome to honor Faunus. According to legend, Faunus was one of the first kings of Latium and the grandson of Saturnus. He succeeded his father King Picus (who was turned into a woodpecker by Circe after spurning her love), and was succeeded by his son Latinus. He reigned before Aeneas and his Trojans, and even before the foundation of Rome by Romulus. He was considered a rustic god of woods and flocks, fields and shepherds. According to Virgil he was the husband of Marica. Faunus was also considered an oracular and prophetic divinity and was believed to reveal the future to man in dreams or through voices of unknown origins in sacred groves. He was also considered to be the author of spectral appearances and terrifying sounds. He promoted agriculture and the breeding of cattle among his subjects. Faunus lived in the woods and was said to be fond of nymphs. Originally thought to only be a local god, evidence of his cult has be found in England. He was the Roman equivalent of Pan. Legend has it that Numa was able to compel Faunus and his father Picus, through stratagem, to reveal the method for calling lightning down from heaven. Faunus has also been identified as Lupercus (“he who wards off the wolf”) who was originally worshiped at the Lupercalia, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple, February 15, when his priests (Luperci) wore goat-skins and hit onlookers with goat-skin belts. The wolfskin, wreath, and a goblet are his attributes. On Mount Caelius in Rome there was a round temple of Faunus, surrounded with columns and in 196 BC, another was built on the island in the Tiber. It was here that sacrifices were offered to him on the ides of February, the day on which the Fabii had perished on the Cremera. Virgil described the rites observed on the island in the Tiber: a priest offered up a sheep and other sacrifices; and the person who consulted the oracle had to sleep one night on the skin of the victim, during which the god gave an answer to his...

Portunalia – Festival Honoring Portunus

Portunalia – Festival Honoring Portunus

Aug 17, 2012

Portunus, an ancient Roman god, was the god of keys, gates or doors (porta), and livestock. He protected grain warehouses and barns. Eventually he also became associated with ports, and harbors (portus – gateway to the sea) as well. Specifically, Portunus protected the portus Tiberinus, a river harbor within Rome, and the wharves at Ostia. The portus Tiberinus was located near the Forum Boarium, also known as the ‘Cattle Market’. The Temple of Portunus was consecrated on August 17 in the first century BC, and still stands to this day. Portunalia, the festival celebrated in honor of Portunus, was held annually on August 17. It was celebrated at Rome by the Pons Aemilius and also at Ostia. The Romans threw keys (the symbol of Portunus) in a solemn manner into a fire during Portunalia for good luck. During the Roman Republic, Portunus was one of the fifteen deities with an official cult. A priest (flamen) was assigned to each of the deities which were divided into three flamen maiores (major priests) and twelve flamen minores. The priest of Portunus was one of the flamen minores. The flamen Portunalis performed a ritual of oiling a spear (hasta) on the statue of the god Quirinus with an ointment especially prepared for this purpose and stored in a small vase (persillum). Related Stories: Neptunalia Ludi Apollinares Vestalia Mercuralia...

Neptunalia

Neptunalia

Jul 23, 2012

July 23 was the beginning of a two-day festival in Rome honoring Neptune. Neptune was the Roman god of the seas and of all waters, having the characteristics of the Greek god Poseidon. The Romans sought, during Italy’s hot and dry summer, the assurance that they would have adequate rainfall for their crops and protection over their irrigation systems. Honoring Neptune was thought to provide this assurance as well as preventing drought. As part of the festival, the citizens would build small huts (umbrae or tabernaculi) out of Laurel branches. They would picnic in the shade of these huts drinking spring water and wine to keep cool. The wealthy would often sacrifice a bull to Neptune. Camping out in fields and forests where their huts were constructed and building campfires was common and the festival continued into the next day. The Roman calendar identifies the festival as Nept. ludi et feriae. The basic notion of feriae indicates the hounouring of the gods, restrictions on public life (courts were closed, some agricultural work was restricted), and in some cases holidays given to other workers. Feriae in its simplest sense meant ‘festival’ or ‘holiday’. The calendar name would also indicate that the festival was celebrated with games (ludi). There are also writings that imply that boats also played a role in the festival. Originally the festival was mostly private, focusing on the protection of agricultural water. After Marcus Agrippa dedicated a temple and porticus to Neptune following his naval victories over Marc Anthony in 31 BC, the festival took on greater public significance. Coins honoring Agrippa frequently feature Neptune as part of the design. Related Stories: Ludi Apollinares Vestalia Mercuralia Matralia...

Matralia – In Honor of Mater Matuta

Matralia – In Honor of Mater Matuta

Jun 11, 2012

The Matralia was celebrated on the 11th of June in honor of Mater Matuta. Mater Matuta was the goddess of growth, childbirth, motherhood, and the raising of children. Mothers were honored on this day by their husbands and children. Sacred Rites at the Temple of Mater Matuta Roman matrons would bring their nieces and nephews with them to the temple of Mater Matuta. One slave was admitted into the temple, and given a blow on the cheek and then sent away. The matrons would then embrace their nieces and nephews and pray for their well-being. This was done to symbolically reinforce to the mothers that they should care for their nieces and nephews as well as their own children and shouldn’t leave them to careless slaves. Sacrifices were made to the goddess in the form of testuacia (sacred cakes) cooked in testu (earthenware). A univira (wife of a first marriage) would then crown the statue of Mater Matuta with a garland. This holiday was one of the dies nefasti, a day on which no legal action could take...