History, Facts and Information about Roman Festivals
During Roman Festivals the words of the ceremonies were of vital importance as were other details such as where the festival was held and the choice of the appropriate offering again. The sex of the victim had to correspond to the sex of the deity to whom it was offered. White animals must be given to the gods of the upper world whereas black victims to the deities below. Mars at his October festival must have his horse and Juno her goat. In the more rustic festivals such as the Parilia, the offering would be the simpler gift of millet-cakes and bowls of milk. In the case of the Bona Dea was the curious
provision that if wine were used in the ceremonial, it must, as she was in origin a pastoral deity, always be spoken of as 'milk.' The idea of communion with the sacrificed animal emerged during the early Roman festivals displayed in the smearing of the blood and the wearing of the skin of the sacrificial animal.
Rules concerning the attendance of Roman Festivals
The people who might be present in the various Roman festivals were also rigidly determined. Men were excluded from the Matronalia on March 1, from the Vestalia on the 9th of June, and from the night festival of the Bona Dea. Slaves were allowed to a share in certain festivals such as the Saturnalia and the Compitalia (the festival of the Lares), whereas at the Matralia (the festival of the matrons) a female slave was brought in with the express purpose of being significantly driven away.
Roman Festivals - Festivals of Spring, Summer, Harvest and Winter
Roman festivals divide themselves naturally into three groups:
- Festivals of Spring consisted of Festivals in March, April and May. Spring Festivals expressed of the hopes and fears for the growing crops and herds and the worship of Mars, God of War
- Summer, the festivals of fulfilment, including the celebration of harvest
- Winter, the festivals of sowing, of social rejoicing and in the later months anticipation of the coming year
Roman Festivals Spring - March Festivals
In March there were no festivals relating to agriculture. Practically the whole month was consecrated to the God of War, Mars. Mars was also associated with the growth of vegetation. His special festivals (Feriae Marti) in this month were of a warlike character: on the 9th the priests (Salii) began the ancient custom of carrying his sacred shields (ancilia) round the town from one ordained resting-place to another. On the 19th, Quinquatrus, the shields were solemnly purified, and on the 23rd the same ceremony was performed with the war-trumpets. The Equirria (horse-races) of March 14 may have had an agricultural origin but they were certainly celebrated in a military manner. March 15 and 16 was Bacchanalia, in honour of Bacchus. Liberalia of the 17th March though the cult of Pater Liber and his female counterpart, Libera. The Roman festival of Liberalia celebrated Liberalia with sacrifices, processions, ribald and gauche songs, and masks which were hung on trees. There were then several days of fasting which were broken by Hilaria the festival of joy to Cybele and Attis.
Roman Festivals Spring- April Festivals
The month of April was filled with a series of festivals, all of a clearly agricultural nature with prayers for the crops and the purification of the men and animals on the farm. The series of festivals opened with the Fordicidia on the 15th, when pregnant cows were sacrificed, their unborn calves were torn from them and burnt and their ashes kept by the Vestal Virgin in Vesta's storehouse for use at the festival of Parilia. The Fordicidia festival is closely followed by the Cerealia on the 19th, the festival of another earth-goddess Ceres and connected with the growth of corn. The Parilia of the 21st, the festival of Pales. Three special festivals remain in April. At the Vinalia of the 23rd, the wine-skins of the previous year were opened and the wine tasted dedicated to Jupiter. At the Robigalia of the 25th the offering of a dog was made for the aversion of mildew to the god Robigus. The Floralia of the 28th to the goddess Flora for the blossoming of the flowers.
Roman Festivals Spring - May Festivals
May was a month of more critical importance for the welfare of the crops, and therefore its festivals were mostly of a more sombre character. The 9th, 11th, and 13th were the days set apart for the Lemuria, the aversion of the hostile spirits of the dead. The festival of Ambarvalia with sacrificial offerings of animals and fruits.
Roman Festivals Summer - June Festivals
In June and July the farmer was waiting for the completion of the harvest, and the great state-festivals of the period were not agricultural. Neptunalia was a water-related festival. Vestalia was the festival of Vesta celebrate June 7 to June 15 the curtained sanctum her temple was opened, for the only time during the year, for women to offer sacrifices in. Matralia was the "Festival of Mercury". Mercury was thought to be the god of merchants and commerce. The festival of Fors Fortuna was celebrated on June 24th with a pilgrimage to her temples.
Roman Festivals Summer - July Festivals
Festival of Bellona, the Roman goddess of War, observed on June 3 by the ancient Romans. Her temple was used for the declaration of war, and the notorious "day of blood.". The Day of Blood was so-called because when the priests of Bellona (Bellonarii) offered sacrifices they had to wound their own arms or legs, and either to offer up the blood or drink it themselves, in order to become inspired with a warlike attitude.
Roman Festivals Summer - August Harvest Festivals
Festivals of the Harvest were celebrated by two closely connected festivals on the 21st and 25th in honour of the old divinity-pair, Consus, the god of grain storage and Ops, the deity of the wealth of harvest. At the Consualia festival an offering was made by the flamen Quirinalis, assisted by the Vestal virgins, at an underground altar in the Circus Maximus, specially uncovered for the occasion. A flamen was a name given to a priest assigned to a state-supported god or goddess in Roman religion. The Flamen Quirinalis oversaw the cult of Quirinus and led public rites on the days sacred to Quirinus. Opiconsivia was the state harvest festival which was held in the shrine of the Regia, and attended only by the pontifex maximus and the Vestal virgins. The Portunalia festival on August 17th was another harvest-home Roman festival dedicated to the god Portunus. The Vinalia Rustica_ of August 19 was a festival of wine and the opening of the last year's vintage.
Roman Festivals Summer - October Harvest Festivals
September contained no great Roman festival, and the harvest-season closed on October 11 with the Meditrinalia, the nearest approach to a thanksgiving for the vintage. On that day the first must of the new vintage and the wine of the old were solemnly tasted. Among the other rustic ceremonies of the month were the festival of springs called Fontinalia on October 13 when wells were decorated with garlands and flowers flung into the waters.
Roman Festivals Summer - Winter Festivals
Festivals of the Winter were associated with the festivals connected with agricultural life and those associated with the dead and the underworld or with purification. The sowing of the next year's crop, which was commemorated in the ancient festival of the Saturnalia on December 17. Though the Saturnalia is perhaps the most famous features of the festival - the freedom and license of the slaves, the giving of presents. The completion of the sowing was Paganalia, associated with the earth-goddesses, Ceres and Tellus. A curious feature of the winter worship and the Roman festivals is the repetition of festivals to the harvest deities, Consus and Ops, separated by the same interval of three days, on December 15 and 19 perhaps indicating the final completion of the harvest. Carmentalia was the feast day (11 January and 15 January) of the Roman goddess Carmenta, an ancient oracle who later was deified by the Romans. Other country festivals of the period include Terminalia. Terminus was the god who was concerned with the division of property and protected boundary markers. Compitalia and the offering to the Lares in the worship of the house. Feralia of February 21, the culmination of the festival of the kindred dead. Another Festival pf Parentalia. The festival of the Larentalia is a very mysterious occasion in which sacrifices and prayers were made to Larentia a deity of the dead and the tomb. The festival of Lupercalia occured on on February 15 when worshippers assembled at the Lupercal, a cave on the Palatine hill where goats and a dog were sacrificed.
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