History for the Rest of Us

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...