- Holidays and Celebrations
Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays L - O
In this hub I collected all important ancient Roman festivals, holidays and celebrations in an alphabetical order from L to O.
- Latin Festival or Feriae Latinae, the longest-lived Roman festival;
- Liberalia, honoring the fertility god and goddess Liber and Libera;
- Ludi, holidays devoted to rest and pleasure in ancient Rome;
- Lupercalia, the precedent for modern Valentine’s Day;
- Mamuralia, involving a blacksmith who was chased away from Rome;
- Matralia, in honor of Mater Matuta, goddess of child-birth;
- Matronalia, in praise of Juno, the ancient Roman goddess of women;
- Nemoralia, in praise of Diana, the goddess of the hunt;
- Opalia, honoring another ancient Roman fertility goddess.
A description of the meaning of each Roman holiday is provided.
Other parts of this series:
Latin Festival or Feriae Latinae, Roman holiday
The Latin Festival was one of the longest-lived Roman festivals observed in Rome for over a thousand years. Feriae Latinae was originally celebrated by members of a number of ancient Latin tribes, who led a simple pastoral life and worshiped Jupiter on the Alban Mount, about 13 miles outside Rome.
During the observance all wars were stopped. A sacrifice of a young white cow to Jupiter set off the celebrations followed by a ritual pouring of milk. Roman people of the time didn't know wine, because the grape had not yet been introduced into Italy. Following the ritual, the meat of the sacrificial animal was used for a communal meal.
The ritual itself was an odd sight, with little dolls or puppets, called oscilla, made from tree branches to resemble people. These dolls may have been either symbolic of human sacrifice in earlier times or simple good luck emblem.
It was in the period of the later Republic that the Romans adopted the ceremony commemorating the early Latin peoples, who had already vanished by then. Usually observed in April, The Latin festival was supposed to take place before military activities started for the year.
The people of Rome would get together at the temple of Jupiter, built in the 6th century B.C., to take part in the ceremonial libation and animal sacrifice. They held a feast and the games continued for two more days.
Liberalia, Roman festivals and holidays
The ancient Roman fertility god and goddess Liber and Libera were worshiped the same way that Ceres, the god of harvest. The triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera was equated with the Greek triad of Demeter, Dionysus, and Persephone.
At the Liberalia festival celebrated to honor Liber and Libera on the 17th of March, Roman youth who had just come of age were allowed to put on the toga virilis for the first time.
In the ancient Roman settlement of Lavinium, an entire month was dedicated to the celebrations of the Liberalia festival. The many rituals performed at this time were devised to promote the growth of newly planted seeds.
Ludi, Roman festivals and holidays
Ludi meant public games and holidays devoted to rest and pleasure in ancient Rome.
The Ludi Megalenses were celebrated yearly from April 4 from 191 B.C. onwards honoring Cybele, the Roman Mother Goddess.
After the Megalensian Games were held the Ludi Ceriales honoring Ceres, the goddess of grains, from April 12.
Ludi Ceriales were followed by the Ludi Florales honoring Flora, the goddess of flowers, from April 27.
After fhe Ludi Florales, it was time for a period of hard work in the fields, so and the next holidays could not take place for seven weeks. The Ludi Apollinares, or Apollonian Games, observed in reverence of Apollo, occurred from July 6.
Following the Ludi Apollinares, the Ludi Romani, or Roman Games, started in 366 B.C., occurred from September 4.
The Ludi Plebei, or Plebeian Games, first celebrated between 220 and 216 B.C., occurred from November 4.
There were, in all, fifty-nine days devoted to these ancient Roman festivals and holidays in the Roman calendar before Emperor Sulla who became dictator of the Roman Republic in 82 B.C. These holidays were viewed as the dies nefasti, that is, the days to suspend all civil and judicial business for fear of offending the gods.
Lupercalia, Roman festivals and holidays
During the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia celebrants got together at a grotto on the Palatine Hill in Rome, named the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus had been suckled by a wolf in Roman tradition.
As part of the ceremony worshipers sacrificed goats and dogs to the gods Lupercus and Faunus. Imagine a grotesque scene in which Luperci, the priests of Lupercus, wearing goat skins on their body, with their faces smeared with the sacrificial blood of the goats, run around striking women with thongs of goatskin. Sounds like sort of a goat cult.
This practice of the Luperci during the time of the Lupercalia festival was believed to ensure women's fertility and an easy delivery of babies. The name for the goat skin thongs, februa, meant "tools of purification" giving the month of February its name.
There is a limited amount of evidence to suggest that the Lupercalia was the precedent for modern Valentine’s Day customs. As part of the ceremony, they would drop girls’ names in a box and let boys draw them out, so pairing them up until the next Lupercalia occurred.
Mamuralia, Roman festivals and holidays
Legend has it that Mamurius was a blacksmith who was chased away from Rome, because his shields made for the Roman soldiers failed to deliver on protecting them when substituted for the sacred shield that had fallen to earth from heaven.
Another legend has it that Mamurius, with a name that was an obvious variation of Mars, symbolized the old year, driven away on the day before the first full moon of the new year in the Roman calendar.
The Mamuralia celebrations, held on March 14, included the rite of driving a man, pursued and beaten with long sticks, wearing only animal skins through the streets and out of Rome.
The most unusual aspect of the ancient Roman Mamuralia holidays was that it was the only Roman festival taking place on an even-numbered day. According to some scholars, Mamuralia was originally observed on the 15th of March, the Ides of March, but was knocked back a day enabling people to go to both the horse races of the Equirria holiday and the Anna Parenna festival also observed on the Ides of March.
Matralia, Roman festivals and holidays
The Roman Matralia festival was held in honor of Mater Matuta, a goddess without mythological reference. Mater Matuta's cult was well-established in Roman times, as a deity of the light of the dawn and of child-birth. The dawn was believed to be the luckiest time for child-birth. Only matrons and freeborn women were permitted to take part in the holiday celebrated at her sacred shrine in a round temple called the Forum Boarium.
During the Matralia festival, only the wife of a first marriage was authorized to dress up the image of the goddess. Female slaves were not permitted to enter the temple, with the exception of one, who was deliberately allowed in to be run out after receiving a slap on the face.
The female worshipers offered prayers mainly on behalf of their nieces and nephews, as their own children were viewed as of lesser importance. They made offerings of various flowers and took their relatives' children to the temple carrying them in their arms.
Matronalia, Roman festivals and holidays
Matronalia, also known by the Latin name Matronales Feriae, was an ancient Roman holiday held in praise of Juno, the ancient Roman goddess of women. Matronalia was celebrated on March 1, the same day on which the temple of the goddess was raised. The cult of Juno was founded by the King Titus Tatius of the Sabines, and the festival of Juno celebrated the sacred nature of marriage as an institution as well as the peace that set in after the first marriages between Roman men and Sabine women.
Married women usually formed a procession to Juno’s temple, where they made offerings to the goddess. When they got home, women received gifts from their husbands on this day, they prayed for peace and harmony within their marriage and held feasts for their female slaves.
Nemoralia, Roman festivals and holidays
The ancient Roman Nemoralia festival was held in praise of Diana, the goddess of the hunt in the territory of Aricia, at Nemi, about 16 miles southeast of Rome. Diana was believed to preside over the forests of Aricia, where there was a grove, or nemus housing a famous shrine dedicated to the goddess. Diana's priest was called rex nemorensis, the king of the grove. It was customary that the rex nemorensis should be a runaway slave who got into his royal office by hunting down and killing his predecessor.
Nemoralia, the holiday of Diana occurred throughout Latium on August 13, on which day the temple of the goddess on the Aventine Hill had been originally dedicated by Servius Tullius. The headquarters of her cult was in Aricia, and there the Nemoralia was celebrated to protect the vines and fruit trees, and also to restore Diana’s power over these.
According to some scholars, the Christian feast of the Dormition, or Assumption on August 15, incorporated the harvest-blessing of the ancient Roman Nemoralia, as it is not uncommon in some factions of the Orthodox Christian Church of today that celebrants should offer up new wheat and cakes to the Theotokos on that day.
Opalia, Roman festivals and holidays
Ops was yet another ancient Roman fertility goddess who was known by several different names, such as Rhea, Cybele, Bona Dea, Magna Mater, Thya, and Tellus. She married Saturn and bore a child to him that she called Jupiter. Ops commonly appeared as a matron, with a loaf of bread in her left hand and making a gesture with her right hand if offering assistance.
The Opalia festival, observed on December 19, when a sacrifice to Ops was made in the temple of Saturn, was actually only one of the two holidays held in her praise. On August 25, was a second celebration, the Opiconsivia, during which the same sacrifice occurred in the Regia, the king’s house.
Some experts believe that Ops was actually not the wife of Saturn, but the wife of another ancient Roman god, Consus. The fact that the Opalia was observed 4 days after the Consualia on December 15, and that the Opiconsivia was observed 4 days after the celebrations in praise of Consus on August 21 has been used to back this theory.
Either way the fact remains that women had an important role to play in the Opalia festival, as they were thought to be able to invoke the fertility goddess Ops by touching the earth.