Roman Festival and Carnaval
Roman Festival and Carnaval
Blue_Diamond02F7.gif (991 bytes)THIS PAGE
All Souls Trinity
Rite of Passage
Vestal Virgins
Valentine's Day
Rome on HBO

Liber Bacchus is ever loved,
And is into their bellies shoved,
By day and by night;
Liber Codex is neglected
And with scornful hand rejected
Autumn by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

Far out of their sight.
AAnd as if the simple monastic folk of modern times were deceived by a confusion of names, while Liber Pater is preferred to Liber Patrum, the study of the monks nowadays is in the emptying of cups and not the emending of books; to which they do not hesitate to add the wanton music of Timotheus, jealous of chastity, and thus the song of the merry-maker and not the chant of the mourner is become the office of the monks

The Philobiblon
by Richard de Bury
Chapter V

Myth, Cult, Art and History
AA Spring Festival
A Spring Festival by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

The slave had no rights, while the rights of the master included unrestricted sexual access to the slave's body. So radical an inequality created a realm of compliant submission (servilis patientia) that shaped profoundly the sexual behavior and attitudes of Romans. Not even the "Romans of old," records Plutarch, "thought it shameful for a man to love male slaves who were in their season of youthful beauty." Most Romans thought it self-evident law of nature that attractive adolescent males, before they grew up and began to be desired by women, should be desired by men. 

The growth of art, and of poetic art especially, in antiquity was intimately associated with the development of national festivals. The thanksgiving-festival of the Roman community, which had been already organized in the previous period essentially under Greek influence and in the first instance as an extraordinary festival, -- the -ludi maximi- or -Romani-,(1) -- acquired during the present epoch a longer duration and greater variety in the amusements. Originally limited to one day, the festival was prolonged by an additional day after the happy termination of each of the three great revolutions of 245, 260, and 387, and thus at the close of this period it had already a duration of four days.

Nevertheless the government adhered to the practice of allowing the spectacle proper -- namely the chariot-race, which was the principal performance -- to take place not more than once at the close of the festival. On the other days the multitude were probably left mainly to furnish amusement for themselves, although musicians, dancers, rope-walkers, jugglers, jesters and such like would not fail to make their appearance on the occasion, whether hired or not But about the year 390 an important change occurred, which must have stood in connection with the fixing and prolongation of the festival, that took place perhaps about the same time. A scaffolding of boards was erected at the expense of the state in the Circus for the first three days, and suitable representations were provided on it for the entertainment of the multitude. That matters might not be carried too far however in this way, a fixed sum of 200,000 -asses- (2055 pounds) once for all appropriated from the exchequer for the expenses of the festival; and the sum was not increased up to the period of the Punic wars. The aediles, who had to expend this sum, were obliged to defray any additional amount out of their own pockets; and it is not probable that they at this time contributed often or considerably from their own resources. That the new stage was generally under Greek influence, is proved by its very name (-scaena-, -- skene -- ). It was no doubt at first designed merely for musicians and buffoons of all sorts, amongst whom the dancers to the flute, particularly those then so celebrated from Etruria, were probably the most distinguished; but a public stage had at any rate now arisen in Rome and it soon became open also to the Roman poets

In the 2nd century B.C. the Greek Gods invaded the Roman Empire and easily conquered the weary Roman deities. Rome was an early pioneer of creating syncretic polytheism, gladly absorbing and blending local gods into their pantheon. The evolution of Dionysianism continued in the Roman Empire, with the Bacchic Mysteries, as they were known in Italy.  Here Dionysos was merged with the local fertility god Liber, whose consort Libera was the inspiration for the statue of liberty, a principle she and her partner also represented.

Yet Rome's strength, like that of Carnaval today, was its successful multiculturalism where the role of festivals brought together foreigners and natives in a space devoted to celebration and joy. Over time the church took over the year end holiday season with Christmas as well as the spring holiday Easter and gave the irrepressible Carnaval holiday a space in between just before the season of fasting and penitence leading up to the rebirth of Christ. Yet even the church respected the nature traditions by setting Easter like Passover based upon the first Sunday following the first full moon following the Spring Equinox where day and night are equal in time and naming the holiday after the   was moved to a point midway between Christmas and Easter as determined by the lunar calendar and Spring Equinox which picks Easter's date.

We  acclaim Rome not for its military victories but its role in civilizing the Mediterranean beyond the trading cities and instilling the best from a myriad of sources on its subject peoples. Rome represents the agent of change at the beginning of the last great age. Great ages are defined by the changes in the night sky as brought about by the 26,000 year full cycle caused by the earth's wobble as it circles the sun. The Roman empire was most responsible for the changes in the transition of the last great age about 2,160 years ago when we moved from the age of Aries to Pisces.  Rome's last act was to convert it's empire to the monotheism of Christianity which is symbolized by the fish of Pisces. However, Rome's reign was most successful under the pagan gods of its conquered subjects and their unifying festivals.

 The Roman Bacchic Cult typically emphasized the sexual aspects of the religion, and invented terrifying, chthonic ordeals for it's Mystery initiation. It was this aspect that led to the cults banning by the Roman authorities in 186 BC, for alleged sexual abuse and other criminal activities, including accusations of murder. Whether these charges were true or not is uncertain, there may have been individual cases of corruption as in any institution, but there is no evidence of widespread corruption, and the general opinion is that these were trumped up charges levelled against a cult seen as a danger to the State. The Roman Senate thus sought to ban the Dionysian rites throughout the Empire, and restricted their gatherings to no more than a handful of people under special licence in Rome. However this was never fully successful and only succeeded in pushing the cult underground.

They gained even more infamy due to the claims that the wife and inspirer of Spartacus, leader of the Slave Revolt of 73BC, was an initiate of the Thracian Mysteries of Dionysos, who considered her husband an incarnation of Dionysos Liber. But they were revived in a slightly tamer form under Julius Caesar around 50 BC, with his one time ally Mark Anthony becoming an enthusiastic devotee, and gaining much popular support in the process. They remained in existence, along with their carnivalesque Bacchanalian street processions, until at least the time of Augustine (A.D. 354-430)) and were implanted in most Romanised provinces.


There were two allies a December year end festival is the most often sited origin for the Carnaval celebration , most do not appreciate its many ties to Christmas and New Years Day. The Romans feast of Flowers is the best source for perhaps the most widely recognized official holiday, May Day on May 1st. Valentine's Day relates to the ritual commemorating the founding of Rome. Christianity most important ally in its domination of West culture was Roman civilization whose openness to religious concepts was ended when the emperor Justinian  Mayday and Inherent in the Christian holidays and customs (Christmas, Shrovetide, Easter, Midsummer Day, Holy Cross Day, etc.) are different heathen rites and magic symbols. The pagan pantheon is related to the Christian saints -

February: The month February is derived from the latin word Februum, literally, instrument of purification, was the last month of the Roman year when injustices and ill fortunes of the old year were purged.

The Vestals were chosen between the ages of six and ten and served for thirty years, ten as students, ten in service, and ten as teachers.  A violation of their vow of chastity led to execution by being buried alive.

In Roman state cult, each Vestal Virgin, one of six virginal attendants to the goddess Vesta's sacred flame, dressed as a bride to ascend her throne. After she took her vow, the Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, embraced her and called her his beloved, and the two symbolically became man and wife. Graves sees this as a relic of early Vestals' coupling in a sacred marriage with the Roman king's attendants; the resulting children became heirs to the throne.

The Temple of Vesta was located in the southwest corner of the Roman Forum.  The most important job of the six Vestal Virgins was to maintain the fire in a the public hearth of the temple.  It was said that disaster would strike Rome if the fire ever went out.   In addition, the Vestals made a special kind of flour called mola which was sprinkled on all public offerings to a god. 

They appeared often in public and had special, reserved seats at banquets and games.

I'm a path of cinders
Burning under your feet
You're the one who walks me
I'm your one-way street -
Bjork, "Bachelorette" 
A Bath by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

One of the most ancient festivals at Rome, celebrated several times in the year. (Var. L.L. vi.12; Ov. Fast. i.333; Festus, s.v. Agonium), A ram was slaughtered and presented to the guardian gods of the state, and the rex sacrificulus and the regia could be employed only for such ceremonies as were connected with the highest gods and affected the wealth of the whole state.


Lemuria | the name Lemuria indicates the time during which the lemures, or "hungry ghosts", wandered the earth

March was the first month of the ancient Roman religious calendar. The month of March was sacred to the god Mars, father of the founder of Rome, Romulus.
Valentine's Day

"Because it's always good to know where your manufactured holidays really come from. Always healthy to pay homage to the true origins, realize how much calculated deceit has happened along the way. Just like Christmas and Easter and Halloween and any major holiday worth mentioning that the church gutted and renamed and from whose moist tremulous soul they tried to suck the pithy throbbing joy, ya gotta give props to the old gods, throw a karmic kiss to Lupercus and Juno and the she-wolf. Word.

Whip My Roman Sex Gods
You want the true Valentine's Day? Forget roses and candy, sweetheart, and kneel before the Lupercalia By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, February 14, 2003

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day,
All in the morning betime,
and I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

William Shakespeare, Ophelia in Hamlet
ROME on HBO: where the sexes played differently
PUBIC HAIR: "Ovid's advice on grooming includes hair removal, and not just men's beards. Whether this was accomplished by shaving, plucking or other depilatory practices is sometimes hard to tell. Julius Caesar was noted by Suetonius to have been meticulous in hair removal. Seems he didn't want hair anywhere except where he didn't have it (the crown of his head, hence the famous comb-over).
"Not that hair is inherently dirty or stinks; but there was an aesthetic of cleanness, of refining the surface. I've read somewhere that pervasive hair removal was characteristic of Egyptian priests, maybe as a form of purification; for practical purposes, it reduces susceptibility to lice, for instance.
"When on HBO." It's like a free creative pass, is it not? Violence can be off the charts, the sex can be dirtier, swearing can buttress both and, when it comes to nudity, well, you've got full-frontal male nudity here. Several times over. Let's see Fox try that.  Tim Goodman for 25AUG05
HBO has picks up Rome for a second 12 episode season, but which will begin airing sometime in 2007.
Dionysos, along with Aphrodite (Venus), Hermes (Mercury) and Demeter is one of the people's favorite divinities

Lupercalia February 15
The female wolf, feeding the baby twins Romulus and Remus

 Fertility and purification were the goals of the the Lupercalia. Greek writers and their followers among the Romans represent it as a festival of Pan. Comparative mythologists would say its greatest importance was as the creation story for Roman culture.
The festival was held every year, on the 15th of February, in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf; the place contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus (Aurel. Vict. de Orig. Gent. Rom. 22; Ovid. Fast. ii.267). 

 The Lupercalia was celebrated to worship the she-wolf who suckled Romulus & Remus. It started with a group of specially appointed priests gathering at the Lupercal, a cave at the bottom of the Papatine Hill. The priests would offer a sacrifice a goat, and anoint the Lupercii (young male participants) on their foreheads with the blood. The blood was wiped away with a piece of wool dipped in milk by other priests. Ovid thought this a reference to an earlier time when human sacrifice was practiced.  The Lupercii them skinned the sacrificed goat and ripped the hide into strips which they tied around their  bodies which were naked except for the wreaths on their heads. They then got joyfully drunk, and ran around Rome striking everyone they met with goatskin thongs. Young women who were touched in this manner were thought to be specially blessed, especially in regards to fertility and procreation.

The Lupercalia continued to be celebrated in Rome till the very end of the 5th Century A.D.

Parentalia, Feralia & Carista :
All Souls Trinity of Holidays in February

February was the last month in the "old" Roman calendar, but strangely enough (from our point of view), the first day of spring was celebrated on February 5 (the Nones). It was a month, accordingly of "spring cleaning," i.e. purifcation and fertility rituals - something akin to the way Christians think of Lent. According to Ovid, the Latin word februa, ("the means of purification") derived from an Etruscan word equivalent for "purgamentum" ["purging"].  

Parentalia The first of three related festivals in February for appeasing the dead which started on the Ides and lasted until the 22nd. From noon on February 13 through the 21st (the Feralia, FP or F, the feast of infernal powers)all temples were closed, marriages were forbidden, and public officials lay down their insignia of office.
Although the Parentalia always began with the performance of ceremonies in honor of dead parents by a Vestal Virgin, Romans basically celebrated the Parentalia at the family level. Families walked outside the city to visit the family tombs and performed private sacrifices in honor of dead kin. The sacrifices were simple, a little wine, a little corn or bread, perhaps some votive garlands. It was a quiet, personal, reflective day, followed by a quiet reflective week or so to think about loved ones and the importance of the family.


 Feralia,  the closing ceremony for the Parentalia. A darker, scarier rite which in Ovid's description has overtones of witchcraft and magic and at which sheep were sacrificed to the spirits of the dead. On February 22,and was the last day of the Parentalia,

 Carista,  was  a family reunion, where the living, now that they had paid respect to the dead, gathered to celebrate their own family (and resolve any outstanding quarrels). It was a potluck dinner and sacrifices were made to the Lares (every family had personal gods which Romans referred to as their "Lares and Penates." If your family didn't invite you to the Carista it meant that they thought you were unkind or guilty of something pretty nasty. Also said to be the last day of of the week of remembrance.

Terminalia: February 23

On this day, landowners would honor the boundaries of their land at the boundry markers. Garlands were placed over the boundry stones, and altars were built near them. Offerings of grain and homey were given by the children, and the adults would offer wine. Everyone was dressed in white, and were required to keep silent throughout the offerings. A picnic feast was held at the end of the ritual.


 Liberalia 16th of March

"Fresco of the Triumph of Bacchus from the Palazzo Boncompagni-Viscoglios" Giclee Print

DownloadBacchanalia or Liberalia  
Dionysiac festivals held in honor of the god Bacchus or Liber. Introduced into Rome (c. 200 BC) from the Greek culture of lower Italy

While the Bacchanalia was officially suppressed, another more simple and innocent festival of Bacchus, the Liberalia (from Liber, or Liber Pater, a name of Bacchus), continued to be celebrated at Rome every year on the 16th of March (Ovid. Fast. iii.713). A description of the ceremonies customary at this festival is given by Ovid (l.c.), with which may be compared Varro (Varr. De Ling. Lat. v.55, ed. Bipont.). Priests and aged priestesses, adorned with garlands of ivy, carried through the city wine, honey, cakes, and sweet-meats, together with an altar with a handle (ansata ara), in the middle of which there was a small fire-pan in which from time to time sacrifices were burnt.

 Old women, acting as priestesses of Liber Pater, wear ivy wreaths and displaying cakes (libia) made of oil and honey. They would sacrifice these cakes to Liber Pater for the passersby.
In the countryside, a large phallus was carted around  to encourage fertility and protect the crops from evil, after which a wreath was placed upon it by a virtuous matron

BOYS TO MEN: male rites of passage

On this day Roman youths who had attained their sixteenth year received the toga virilis  Boys  took off for the last time their purple-bordered purple togas (the toga praetexta) and donned the unbleached woollen toga virilis, or toga libera that represented their manhood .(Cicero. ad Att. vi.1).This was a festival of liberation from “the powerlessness of childhood”. They removed the phallic bullae charms - which had

"Teenage boys, goaded by their surging hormones run in packs like the primal horde. They have only a brief season of exhilarating liberty between control by their mothers and control by their wives.
Camille Paglia


 protected them in youth - from around their necks and offered them to the household gods. Their fathers took them to the Forum in Rome and presented them as adults and citizens.
 That the Liberalia were celebrated with various amusements and great merriment, might be inferred from the general character of Dionysiac festivals; but we may also see it from the name Ludi Liberales, which is sometimes used instead of Liberalia; and Naevius (ap. Fest.) expressly says that persons expressed themselves very freely at the Liberalia.


 Bearded Dionysos leading the Horai (Seasons). Roman artwork of the Imperial Era, c. 1st century C.E. copy of a neo-attic work.
Location: Louvre (MR 720), part of the Albani collection.
Photograph: Jastrow (2005)


St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, vii.21) speaks of a high degree of licentiousness carried on at this festival in the south of Italy, for a very long time Liberalia
Calendar of Holidays and Festivals


Main Page:/font>