Originally written on March 14, 2020 – Updated 2023
In ancient Roman religion, the Mamuralia or Sacrum Mamurio (“Rite for Mamurius”) was a festival held on this day, March 14 or 15, named only in a couple of sources from late antiquity. Apparently an old man wearing animal skins was beaten ritually with sticks.
The name is connected to Mamurius Veturius who, according to tradition, was the craftsman who made the ritual shields (ancilia) that hung in the temple of Mars. Because the Roman calendar originally began in March, the Sacrum Mamurio is usually regarded as a ritual marking the transition from the old year to the new.
According to legend, Mamurius was commissioned by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, to make eleven shields identical to the sacred ancile that apparently fell from the heavens as a pledge of Rome’s destiny to rule the world.
The ancile was one of the sacred guarantors of the Roman state (pignora imperii), and the replicas were intended to conceal the identity of the original and so prevent its theft.
The shields were under the care of Mars’ priests the Salii, who used them in their rituals.
As payment, Mamurius requested that his name be preserved and remembered in the song sung by the Salii, the Carmen Saliare, as they executed movements with the shields and performed their armed dance.
Mamurius was also supposed to have made a bronze replacement for a maple statue of Vertumnus, god of seasons, change and plant growth, as well as gardens and fruit trees, brought to Rome in the time of Romulus.
“Mamurius Veturius” also became the nickname of Marcus Aurelius Marius Augustus, a former smith or metalworker who was briefly Roman emperor in 269.
The divine shield is supposed to have fallen from the sky on March 1, the first day of the month Martius, named after the god Mars. In the earliest Roman calendar, which the Romans believed to have been instituted by Romulus, the ten-month year began with Mars’ month, and the god himself was thus associated with the agricultural year and the cycle of life and death. The number of ancilia corresponds to the twelve months in the reformed calendar attributed to Numa, and historians often interpret the Mamuralia as originally a New Year festival.