Ancient Roman Feriae

041 Ancient Roman FeriaePeople always like festivals and holidays when their families gather together and they are surrounded by their beloved ones. This is the time of reflections, for showing our love, of course for relax and fun. All nations have their own feasts but there are some well-known holidays that are celebrated by the whole world or a certain group of countries depending on their religion, culture, regional traditions and even political and economic blocks.

It’s true that sometimes we celebrate a feast without being aware of its deep historic roots and origins. I will give you some examples.

We all know about St. Valentine’s Day and we celebrate it on February 14 as the Catholics do (that holiday is quite different in Orthodox Christianity and in Bulgaria, in particular). Despite being very commercialized thanks to all of the “heart” ads, Cupids and pooh “heart” toys and pillows, surely, it’s another lovely way to express our love to our families, children, partners and friends.  Am I right? Well, everything’s really amazing but do you know the “dark” origins of the feast? It’s possibly a pre-Roman pastoral festival. The Romans first celebrated “Februalia” (or “Februatio”) that gave the name to the month of February. At that feast they averted devils and evil spirits and purified their cities. Later that holiday was incorporated into another one – Lupercalia that was celebrated on February 13 through 15 and was connected with an ancient deity, i.e. with God Lupercus (often identified with and compared to the ancient Roman God Faunus or the ancient Greek equivalent – God Pan). It was related to fertility. But instead of presenting flowers, candies and sweet pooh gifts to women, ancient Roman men sacrificed goats and a dog and then beat women with the hides of the animals. Yes, you read well. There is no mistake. Naked and drunk, men hit women and the general notion was that thus they made them fertile. On top of it, after that “romantic” ritual the representatives of the stronger gender coupled up during the feast or for a longer period of time with women (if the match was a “successful” one) by picking up their names from a pot. According to me, there was nothing romantic and gentle in that ancient Roman festival from which some elements were taken and incorporated in the modern version of the day of love. Even it was too cruel and bloody. And last thing here. Probably the ancient Romans were those who gave the name of today’s festival of love. There are two theories. According to the 1st one, two men both bearing the name Valentine were executed on the 14th of February and the Catholics commemorated their martyrdom on that day. While the second one is related to a later period of time when old Lupercalia was combined with St. Valentine’s Day with the difference that the Lupercalian drunken revel was “dressed up in clothes”.

Yes, after a severe winter and cold, spring comes, of course. The air is filled with aroma and gardens – with flowers. The ancient Romans didn’t miss the chance to celebrate the renewal of life with opulent revels, “flower” dances and ludi (i.e. games), i.e. they celebrated Floralia (or Ludi Florae). It was observed from April 27 to May 3 and it was a real nature festival during which people wore colourful clothes, put flowers around their necks and in their hair. Buildings and streets were decorated with scattered flowers in different colours and people themselves were surrounded by flowers in the night. During the feasts mainly plebs attended banquets, danced, sang and drank wine excessively this way intending to awaken nature as well as they enjoyed gladiatorial games, chariot races, theatrical plays performed by naked actresses or women practising the oldest profession, hunted fertile symbols, offered one another milk and honey while hare and goats, being the symbols of fertility, were released in meadows, fields and gardens. Nowadays we still have various flower festivals in honour of the ancient Roman Goddess Flora and her ancient Greek equivalent – Chloris, both being the symbols of fertility, nature, the renewal of life and youthful pleasures.

As great admirers and consumers of the Nectar of the Gods, the ancient Romans had wine festivals in two editions. The first wine feast was observed on April 23, only a few days before Floralia. It was known as Vinalia Urbana or La Vinalia Priora and was organized in honour of Jupiter and Venus.  People opened casks with wine from the preceding year and harvest.  The second one was Vinalia rustica (more typical for the country than for cities) and took place on August 19. As you may guess, this second edition was connected with the new grape harvest when again people prayed for harvest and made wine offerings to Jupiter.

Fertility, flowers and wine …everything was fine, indeed. But it was high time for young men to become grown-ups. It happened during Juvenalia or Ludi Juvenales when young boys at the age of 21 shove their beards for the first time and thus they passed into manhood. This ritual was, of course, followed again by games, theatrical plays, noisy parties and so on, and so on. You might read more about that feast here.

And, yes, the ancient Romans ended up the year in the most decent way, i.e. by celebrating Saturnalia.They observed the festival of the agricultural deity Saturn from December 17 through December 23. They made a public sacrifice at the temple of the God, first, and then their carnival started with banquets, private gift-giving, gambling and never ending parties with music, songs, plays and wine. This was also a true festival of light with all the candles the ancient Romans lighted up before the winter solstice. By the way, today’s surrounding Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are thought to have adopted some customs, traditions and elements from the ancient Roman Saturnalia.

P.S.: Well, I decided to avoid lots of spicy details and facts I know about the feasts (especially the April ones) since this post is a public one, first, and second, it could be stumbled upon by people at any age or with a conservative opinion. I tried to use milder words to summarize the info on the feasts. But if you wanna get to know more about the holidays plus about the “plays”, games performed during the festivals, of course, you could always ask Mr Google. 


5 thoughts on “Ancient Roman Feriae

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