The Roman Holidays

Half of the Roman year was spent in holiday. Two of the most famous Roman holidays are Saturnalia and Lupercalia. Lupercalia came in the spring and was symbolic of the fertility that spring brought forth. A group of young priests, named the Luperci, ran from Lupercal, a cave at the foot of the Palatine, through the streets, back to the Palatine. They were completely naked, except for a goat skin that was left over from a sacrifice earlier that day. As they made their way through the streets of Rome, the Luperci struck topless women on the breasts with strips of goat skin in order to make them fertile. They also purified the ancient site of Lupercal in this interesting festival. Ovid wrote of the Lupercalia, "Neither potent herbs, nor prayers, nor magic spells shall make of thee a mother, submit with patience to the blows dealt by a fruitful hand."

Saturnalia was the winter celebration to the god Saturn. Saturn was identified with the Greek god Kronos, and he was sacrificed to according to Greek ritual during this festival. The Temple of Saturn, the oldest temple recorded by the pontifices, was dedicated on the Saturnalia, and the woolen bonds which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue within were loosened on that day to symbolize the liberation of the god. The Saturnalia festival lasted 7 days and was the favorite of the Roman people. Saturnalia was marked by gift giving and if you're thinking this sounds like Christmas, it is similar. Some sources even believe that Saturnalia was absorbed into the Christian holiday of Christmas. The festival also had a day where the slave and master would trade places. The masters would serve their slaves and the slaves would go out into the streets and gamble with dice, a pastime that was illegal during the rest of the year. On the day of the festival, a sacrifice took place at the Temple of Saturn which was followed by a public banquet. As they left the banquet, the citizens are reputed to have shouted "IO, Saturnalia!"



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