Vulcanalia: appeasing the God of fire

In ancient Rome, Vulcan (or Volcanus) was well known as the god of fire, both beneficial and hindering fire, particularly in its destructive aspects as volcanoes. Similar to the Greek Hephaestus, he was a god of the forge, and renowned for his metalworking skills, and he is portrayed as being lame. He was patron also of those occupations having to do with ovens such as cooks, bakers, pastry makers and pizza makers. Vulcan is one of the oldest of the Roman gods, and his origins can be traced back to…

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The Vestalia: Celebrating Vesta and Purifying Rome

Vesta was an ancient Roman goddess of the domestic and civic hearth whose annual festival, the Vestalia, was celebrated in this period, between the 7th and 15th of June. The Vestalia marked a pause in everyday life as the Romans honoured Vesta and purified her shrine. It was also a time to commemorate the benefits the goddess had brought to the city, and to ensure the continued safety and well-being of Rome and her people. Vesta was an Italic deity whose cult was popular in Pompeii and Latium before either…

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Floralia: the festival in ancient Rome in honor of the goddess Flora

The Floralia was a festival in ancient Rome in honor of the goddess Flora, held April 27 during the Republican era, or April 28 in the Julian calendar. The festival included Ludi Florae, the “Games of Flora” which lasted for six days under the empire. The festival had a licentious, pleasure-seeking atmosphere and, in contrast to many festivals which had a patrician character, the games of Flora were plebeian in nature. The holiday for Flora (as officially determined by Julius Caesar when he fixed the Roman calendar) ran from April…

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The Roman festival of Robigalia

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…

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Roman festival of Cerealia

The Cerealia was one of the most important festivals in Rome. It was held for seven days from mid- to late April, but the dates are uncertain, possibly the 12th-18th, with the actual festival day on the 19th. This was the main festival for Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain and the harvest, associated with bread and farming, as well as being the goddess of fertility, motherhood and women. Fields and crops were sacred to her. Ceres was also one of the patron deities of the common people (the…

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Fordicidia: Springtime Festival To Tellus in ancient Rome

On the Roman religious calendar, the month of April (Aprilis) was in general dedicated to deities who were female or ambiguous in gender, opening with the Feast of Venus on the Kalends. With celebration of Fordicidia on this day, April 15, all those purifying and propitiatory festivities that characterized the month were launched: the Parilia, a feast of shepherds, on April 21, the Robigalia on April 25, to protect crops from blight, and the Vinalia, one of the two wine festivals on the calendar, at the end of the month.…

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The Roman Goddes Luna

Today, March 31, in ancient Rome, the foundation of Luna’s temple, the moon goddess, on the Aventine Hill, was remembered. It was destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64 C.E. Luna, was Roman goddess of the Moon, animals, and hunting. Varro and Virgilius describe her as one of the twelve fundamental divinity for agriculture. The Romans recognized three aspects of her, also called the triad. As the Moon-goddess, they called her not by chance Luna, italian for Moon while, as an underworld deity of magic Hekate,…

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Hilaria: the roman festival that commemorated the worship of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her devotee Attis

In the last several centuries before the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.), Roman devotees of the goddess Cybele celebrated a festival of laughter and rejoicing on this day, March 25. Known as Hilaria, it was considered the day of the resurrection of the god Attis, who had died three days earlier. As the god of vegetation and beloved son and lover of the goddess Cybele, he represented the god-sacrifice who, after dying, rises again (by the hand of the Goddess) as the spirit of spring. Scholars believe that…

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March 17 | Liberalia: an ancient rite of passage

On March 17 the Romans celebrated Liberalia with sacrifices, processions, ribald and gauche songs, and masks which were hung on trees. After the abolition of the Bacchanalia, from the following year these celebrations were established, wild parties (but much less than the previous ones) in honor of the God Libero and his consort Libera, deities linked to wine, to the joy of living and crowned with ivy, such as Bacchus (the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus). It was not uncommon for a deity to be split into masculine…

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Bacchanalia: the festivals of Bacchus, Roman God of Wine and Fertility

Bacchus was a Roman agricultural god who was associated with the harvest, particularly that of grapevines. The son of Jupiter by a human woman, Semele, he was raised by nymphs after her mother burned to ashes, overwhelmed by the splendor of Jupiter in his true form. Once he grew up, Bacchus wandered the earth learning about the culture of the vine and the mysteries of winemaking. He studied the religious rites of the goddess Rhea, and began sharing the good news far and wide. When Bacchus returned home from his…

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The Ides of March and the celebration of roman goddess Anna Perenna

Julius Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March, on March the 15th. The seer was right, as he was assassinated on that day. His assassination on 15th of March 44 BC, was a turning point in Roman history. Centuries later, the expression “Beware the Ides of March” was found in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1601 in the soothsayer’s message to Julius Caesar, warning of his death. Since then, the Ides of March became notorious as being associated with…

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March 14: Mamuralia

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…

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Salii: the jumping priests of Rome

In ancient Roman religion, the Salii were the “leaping priests” (from the verb saliō “leap, jump”) of Mars supposed to have been introduced by King Numa Pompilius. They were twelve young patrician, dressed as archaic warriors: an embroidered tunic, a breastplate, a short red cloak called paludamentum, a sword, and a spiked headdress called apex. They were charged with the twelve oblong bronze shields with two recesses on the sides, called Ancilia. Among them, there was the authentic shield that Mars dropped from the sky as a gift to king…

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Navigium Isidis: the festival of Isis in Rome

March 5 was the date of an annual, ancient Roman, nautical religious festival called Navigium Isidis, literally “Vessel of Isis”, which was dedicated to Isis, an ancient Egyptian goddess who had been reinterpreted by and for the Greco-Roman world. In the Roman Empire, Isis was identified with various Greek and Roman goddesses, such as Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, Tyche, and Fortuna. These complex theological associations were often expressed pictorially, and she was occasionally depicted as a syncretistic deity with the attributes and iconography of one or more of these goddesses. Along…

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Ancient celebrations of March 1st

March, spring month par excellence, marked the beginning of the Roman year, which did not end in winter, like ours. Nothing gives the idea of a new beginning better than the blooming of the first flowers, used to adorn the altars of Juno Lucina, the goddess who protected childbirth and brought light and fertility. March is named after the god Mars: according to the legend, Romulus chose to call the first month of the year this way in order to honor his divine father. The first day of March in…

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February 15: The Roman Festival of Lupercalia

Lupercalia was one of the most ancient of the Roman holidays, one of the feriae listed on ancient calendars from even before the time Julius Caesar reformed the calendar. It was held each year in Rome on this day, February 15. Although Valentine’s Day shares its name with a (well, one of many) martyred Christian saint, some historians believe the holiday is actually an offshoot of Lupercalia. Unlike our modern Valentine’s Day, however, Lupercalia was a bloody, violent and sexually-charged celebration filled with animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling in…

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Appeasing the Ancestors: The Parentalia and Feralia in Ancient Rome

The Romans held their dead in great respect. They were “di manes”, the “good” dead, or honoured ancestors never to be forgotten. As such, it was customary for living relatives to visit family graves on the deceased’s birthday, to celebrate the day and remember the life of the departed one. However, Roman society as a whole also honoured the dead publicly especially in February, that was the month of the Parentalia, a festival dedicated todi parentes or dies parentales, the family dead. The Parentalia was a nine-day religious festival began…

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Fornacalia, the ancient festival of bread and ovens

In these days, from 7 to 17 February, ancient Romans were celebrating agricultural festivals of Fornacalia. It was a festivity dedicated to the goddess Fornax (hence oven, kiln), who ensured a good bread production, but also protector of the ovens in which bread was baked, and spelled roasting began. In the Forum were brought the symbols of the various curiae, which in the period of the Roman monarchy and the Roman Republic were the thirty wards of the city of Rome. Each day the offering to the goddess took place…

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January 24 – Paganalia: ancient Rome’s “Earth Day”

In ancient Rome, late January marked the beginning of the agricultural calendar because this literally was the time that the farmers prepared to plant their crops for the new year. This important stage consisted of a multi-day purification period dedicated to Tellus, the goddess of Mother Earth, and to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. In the city of Rome itself, this feast day was known as the Sementivae, or “the Festival of Seed Sowing” while, in the rural farm-covered countryside, the same festival was known as the Paganalia, literally “the…

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Io, Saturnalia!

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, whatever your holiday, most of the December holiday traditions that we celebrate today can be traced back to the Ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia (with a healthy dose of inspiration from the Vikings). From tree decorations, wreaths, ornaments, boughs of holly, carolling, gift-giving, and even gingerbread men, most of what we identify as Christmas has roots going back thousands of years. When it comes to celebrations, parties, and downright debauchery, probably no one beats the folks of ancient Rome. And, in this period, around the time of…

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