Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays A - Fe
In this hub I collected all important ancient Roman festivals, holidays and celebrations in an alphabetical order from A to Fe.
- Agonalia, in honor of Janus, god of the beginning and the end;
- Anna Parenna, in honor of Anna Parenna, goddess of the circle of the year;
- Apollonian Games, celebrating Apollo, god of restoration and healing;
- Bona Dea, celebrating Bona Dea, a deified woman;
- Cerealia or Cerialia, in honor of Ceres, god of the harvest;
- Equirra, in honor of Mars, god of war;
- Faunalia, celebrating Faunus, god of fertility;
- Feralia, honoring the dead, similar to today's All Saints' Day.
A description of the meaning of each Roman holiday is provided.
Other parts of this series:
Agonalia, Roman festivals and holidays
Janus was the god of the beginning, the end and of portals in Roman mythology. According to legend, Janus was first worshiped by Romulus, one of the two traditional founders of Rome.
Janus is usually portrayed having two faces, one of them looking forward to the future and the other looking backward to the past. The god's image first showed up on an early ancient Roman coin with a ship’s prow on the back side. Similar to how people play "heads or tails" today, boys in ancient Rome used to do the same tossing these coins and calling "heads or ships".
Agonalia was an ancient Roman festival observed in honor of Janus, during the course of which the rex sacrorum or officiating priest sacrificed a ram. Common offerings of incense, wine, cakes and barley were called Januae.
Numa Pompilius, the second king in Roman tradition, dedicated the famous Ianus geminus, the arcade at the northeast end of the Roman Forum, to the god Janus thus paying homage to him. According to popular belief of the time, passing through this arcade brought luck to soldiers who were on their way to war.
Anna Parenna, Roman festivals and holidays
Anna Parenna was an ancient Roman goddess, representing the circle of the year. The name Anna is actually the feminine form of annus, meaning "year," therefore it stands to reason that the ancient Roman Anna Parenna festival was celebrated in March, the first month of the Roman calendar.
Anna Parenna was commonly portrayed as an old woman representing the year that had just passed, whereas Mars was actually the god of the first month of the coming year.
Ancient Roman legend has it that, in 494 B.C., the plebs (common citizens) left Rome to politically pressure the patricians (aristocracy), who were in dire need of the plebs for military purposes. They sought and found refuge on the Mons Sacer, a mountain near Rome. Nearly running short of food and with the constant threat of starvation, they turned to Anna, an old woman from Bovillae, who provided them with food on a daily basis. After the reestablishment of peace, the plebs made her one of their deities and called her Parenna meaning "enduring" or "lasting throughout the whole year".
On the day of the Anna Parenna festival, the commoners of the city of Rome visited Campus Martius, a field outside the walls, laying all about on the grass, often pitching tents or building simple huts out of stakes and branches with togas
stretched across the top. They drank, danced, and sang, and only returned to the city at night, often deeply intoxicated. As they drank, they offered prayers to Anna Parenna to grant them a lifespan of as many years as the number of cups of wine
they had consumed.
Apollonian Games, Roman festivals and holidays
Apollo was an ancient Greek god, adopted by Rome as a god of healing and restoration during a plague in the 5th century B.C. A few hundred years later, after it seemed that Hannibal's army would get the upper hand over the Romans in the Second Punic War, priests decided to honor Apollo by holding games in hopes of a divine intervention from him.
The first year of the ancient Roman festival, the Ludi Apollinares, Apollonian Games, was 212 B.C. Initially the Apollonian Games celebrations were held on July 13, but soon they morphed into an 8-day event due to the huge success with the public.
From the first day, the Apollonian Games festival was showing signs of a Greek influence with chariot races held, "scenic shows" offered or theatrical entertainment, which was clearly a Greek custom. To Apollo was offered the sacrifice of an ox, at least not human slaves as in the course of similar Aztec celebrations more than a thousand years later.
Great feasts were held during the Apollonian Games with everyone's participation. Two days were devoted to races and games in the Circus Maximus, a spacious outdoor arena, while the other six were devoted to plays in theatrical plays and market fairs.
Bona Dea, Roman festivals and holidays
The Bona Dea ancient Roman festival, also the Maia Maiesta Festival, was observed only with the participation of women. Men were not permitted to take part in these festivities honoring Bona Dea, the daughter, sister or wife of the ancient Roman fertility god Faunus.
Similar to the case of Anna Parenna, Bona Dea was an actual woman, deified after her killing by a suspicious husband. Bona Dea revealed her prophesies only to women, the caretakers of her temple were women, and all of her rites were women-only rites.
Held on May 1, the ancient Roman festival of Bona Dea commemorated the day on which the temple of the goddess had been dedicated on the Aventine Hill in Rome. Although the ceremonies and rituals were carried out by vestal virgins as well as some very respectable matrons, these apparently included features of phallic worship and the reciting of indecencies not to be repeated in front of the uninitiated.
The celebration of the Bona Dea festival, without doubt, strengthened the Roman belief, according to which the month of May was unlucky for marriage.
Cerealia or Cerialia, Roman festivals and holidays
Ceres, the ancient Roman goddess of grain and harvests, was commonly equated with the Greek goddess Demeter. Celebrations in her honor were carried out in many places in the ancient world, but the Cerealia originated in Rome, where she was honored at her temple on the Aventine Hill alongside two other important fertility deities, Liber, and his female counterpart, Libera.
The life of the temple of Ceres centered around the activity of the plebs, who often suffered starvation when there was a shortage of grain. The Cerealia festival was celebrated in many places only by Roman matrons, who abstained from wine and other earthly pleasures for many days preceding the Ceres festival.
People in mourning were not permitted to show up at the celebration, therefore it stands to reason that the Cerealia was not celebrated after the Battle of Cannae, when 50,000 Roman troops were slaughtered by Hannibal's forces.
It is sometimes theorized that April Fools’ Day is an old relic of the ancient Roman Cerealia festival celebrations, because it is also held in April. To back this theory, some scholars refer to an ancient Roman legend, in which Ceres’s daughter Proserpine was dragged off to the underworld by Pluto. Ceres, hearing the echo of her crys, tried to follow her voice, but it proved a fool’s errand, as locating the echo's source in the underworld was impossible. The Thesmophoria was a highly similar festival celebrated in ancient Greece.
Equirria, Roman festivals and holidays
February 27 and March 14
According to legend, Romulus, one of the two brothers who traditionally founded Rome, began the Equirria festival dedicating it to Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. Equirria was held on both February 27 and March 14 and for the most part involved racing horses.
Scholars theorize that the reason that there were two yearly Equirrias little more than two weeks apart from each other, was that these were occasions to start training horses in public as well as warriors for military excursions undertaken by Roman soldiers in each spring. The later Equirria might also have been related to the Mamuralia, also held on March 14.
Faunalia, Roman festivals and holidays
December 5 and February 13
Faunus was a god of the forest, also associated with fertility in ancient Roman mythology. Eerie noises sometimes heard in thick woods were believed to originate from Faunus.
The Faunalia festival was, for the main, observed by farmers and other rural workers on December 5 with games and feasting. However, city-dwellers also adopted the festival and celebrated it on February 13, for a shorter period of time.
Faunus was known as either the brother, or the father, or the husband of Bona Dea, the goddess of prophecy. Lupercus, another fertility god associated with the Lupercalia festival, is also believed to have been an equivalent of Faunus, as was Inuus, the fertilizer of cattle.
The Fauni, or fauns, were spirits of the forest after the manner of the satyrs of Greek tradition.
Feralia, Roman festivals and holidays
The Feralia ancient Roman festival signified the culmination of a one-week-long celebration honoring the manes, spirits of the dead.
This Roman holiday began on February 13 with the Parentalia, a private celebration honoring deceased family members, and ended on February 21 with a public celebration known as the Feralia festival.
On this day, people placed gifts and offerings on the graves of deceased friends and family members celebrating the anniversary of the funeral feast. The Feralia is very similar to All Souls’ Day, a well-known Christian holiday.