Originally written on April 2021, updated 2023
Robigalia were the feasts dedicated to the god Rubigus so that the wheat did not ripen too early, exposing it to the attack of the fungus that caused the so-called “robigine”, that is the “rust of the wheat”, a devastating disease for crops.
During the Robigalia, which were held from 25 to 28 April, the Romans prayed to the god and made various offerings to him so that she would protect the wheat from disease and make the crops abundant.
Its main ritual was a dog sacrifice to protect grain fields from disease.
This type of ritual derives from the archaic era, when the Great Mothers were venerated; in this case the Red Goddess, that is the ferocious aspect of the goddess who had to be sedated with the contribution of offerings, sacrifices and prayers.
Like many other aspects of Roman law and religion, the institution of the Robigalia was attributed to the Sabine Numa Pompilius, in the eleventh year of his reign as the second king of Rome.
The late Republican scholar Varro says that the Robigalia was named for the god Robigus, who was thus a potentially malignant deity, even if the gender of this deity is elusive.
The agricultural writer Columella gives the name in the feminine as Robigo, like the word used for a form of the disease of wheat rust, which has a reddish or reddish-brown color. Both Robigus and robigo are also found as Rubig- which, following the etymology-by-association of antiquity, was thought to be connected to the color red (ruber). The color is thematic: the disease was red, the requisite puppies (or sometimes bitches) had a red coat, the red of blood recalls the distinctively Roman incarnation of Mars as both a god of agriculture and bloodshed.
A very similar thing happened in Egypt for the feasts dedicated to Sekhmet: to quench her thirst for blood she was offered red beer.
Not surprisingly, red is the color that acts as a common thread.
Other April festivals related to farming were the Cerealia, or festival of Ceres, lasting for several days in mid-month, the Fordicidia on April 15, when a pregnant cow was sacrificed, the Parilia on April 21 to ensure healthy flocks, and the Vinalia, a wine festival on April 23.
Varro considered these and the Robigalia, along with the Great Mother’s Megalensia late in the month, the “original” Roman holidays in April.
The Robigalia has been connected to the Christian feast of Rogation, which was concerned with purifying and blessing the parish and fields and which took the place of the Robigalia on April 25 of the Christian calendar.