Major Holidays of Rome July to September
This article is the fifth of a series of articles outlining the basics of a Roman focus of worship and practice and the second in a series about the Roman festival calendar. Future topics will include the remainder of the Roman calendar (4th and 1st quarters), Early Roman Gods and Goddesses, and Roman Methods of Divination (and any other topics which may be inspired or requested). In this article, I will discuss the holidays and festivals of the 3rd quarter (July, August, and September), along with a bit of the lore attached to each.
July is the first lunar month of the semester of summer and autumn. Quinctilis was the first month of the pre-Julian calendar to be named for a number, rather than a deity and was the fifth month of the year until Julius Caesar's calendar reform in the first century BCE. July in Italy is the hottest and driest month of the year, and so the preservation of crops and safeguarding the balance necessary for the survival of plant life are primary concerns. In the country, farmers would be concerned with keeping their crops dry, just as the first harvests of barley and beans begin, while in the Rome, there was the everpresent fear of uncontrolled fires raging through the city. July includes some of the more obscure holidays in the Roman calendar, the details of which are scanty, but over all, it was considered to be Jupiter's month. There are also holidays whose purpose seems primarily to celebrate the virtues of the Roman matrons (Caprotine Nones, and Fortuna Muliebris), and another whose purpose is to acknowledge the class of knights, the military juventus (Transvectio equitum).
July has six dies nefasti days on which no legal or political business could take place, nine days on which public religious festivals may be celebrated, one dies fastus, a day on which legal action is permitted, and fifteen dies comitales days on which citizens may vote on political or criminal matters.
July 6-13— Games of Apollo
What may be the oldest temple to the Greek deity, Apollo, was dedicated on July 13 in 431 BCE to enlist his help as a healing god to alleviate a plague. Because Apollo is a foreign god, the temple had to be built outside the pomerium in the Campus Martius. The Games were instituted in 202 BCE on the advice of an oracle named Marcius and the Sibylline Books, which were consulted in times of crisis. The games, to be held every four years, were to honor Apollo and acknowledge his assistance in defeating Hannibal and the Carthaginians, but from 196 BCE, they were held annually. Originally, the games were only on the 13th, but later the games—very popular with the Romans—were extended to as many as 13 days. With the Praeter Urbanis in charge, celebration of the Ludi Apollinares included plays and gladiatorial games, and later, horse racing, plays, and beast hunts (but no gladiators, since Apollo was a deity of healing). People in Rome attended the games in great numbers, in spite of the heat of summer.
A sacrifice was made by decemviri sacris faciundi by Greek rite on the 13th at the temple. They sacrificed an ox to Apollo, a cow to Latona, and two shegoats to either Diana or Apollo (which is unclear), each with gilded horns. People wore garlands and held feasts in the forecourts of their homes with the doors open. Matrons prayed "everywhere, with open doors, people feasted at the entrance to their houses" (Livy's Roman History, 25, 12, 15). Immediately following the Ludi Apollinares on the calendars were six market days.
July 6—Temple to Fortuna Muliebris— nefastus publicus
On this day, a temple was dedicated on the Via Latina about 4 miles outside of Rome to Fortuna Muliebris, "Fortune of Women." Dionysus of Halicarnasuss relates its significance lies with the story of Corolianus. The Senate wanted to honor women, specifically the wife and mother of Corolianus, because they talked him out of attacking Rome.
Tradition has it that Corolianus had captured the town of Corioli from the Volscians in 493 BCE. A decorated Roman general, he got himself banished from the city by opposing the distribution of grain to starving plebians, then turned traitor by going over to the Volscians. Leading their armies, he nearly made it to the gates of Rome, but his mother Volumnia and wife Vergilia met him outside the city with their two sons and begged him not to attack. At first, their pleas were met with silence; then (according to Plutarch), they four of them threw themselves at Coriolanus's feet, and he cried out, "O mother! What have you done to me?" After her passionate speech, he pulled his mother up off the ground, and said, "You have gained a victory, that is fortunate enough for the Romans. However, it has destroyed your own son. No one else has defeated him; but that is what you have achieved" (Grant 195). Then, according to Livy, he embraced his family and sent them back, and withdrew his forces from before the City. Having then led his army out of Rome's dominions he is said to have perished beneath the weight of resentment this act caused, by a death which is variously described. . . . There was no envy of the fame the women had earned, on the part of the men of Rome—and to preserve its memory the temple of Fortuna Muliebris was built and dedicated.
The temple later became associated with the aspect of marriage of women, and the established practice of women who wanted to marry a second time was that they should touch the statue before they could remarry. However, only newly married women (univirae) should worship the Goddess.
July 7—Nones of the Wild Fig— nefastus publicus
The Ancillarum feriae, is the "feast of the serving women," also known as the Nonae Caprotinae, the Nones of the wild fig. On this day, Juno Caprotina was honored as a patron of female servants. According to Plutarch, this festival commemorates an episode after the Gallic invasion of Rome when the Latins demanded women from the Romans. Several female servants were sent in disguised as a free woman to the Latins. While the Latins slept, the ancillae disarmed them and lit a signal fire on a tall fig tree. Plutarch relates that during the festival there were numerous booths selling fig-tree boughs outside the city, and brightly dressed ancillae ran around and staged mock battles among themselves. Varro, however, indicates that the Caprotinae refers to women who sacrifice to Juno Caprotina under a wild fig tree on this date, using its milky sap for offerings instead of milk. The purpose of the stick cut from the fig tree, he insists, was probably used by ancillae in the mock battle. A more agricultural explanation for the festival is that the sticks from wild fig were cultivated for pollination. The connection to Juno comes from the "marriage" of the male caprificus to the female ficus, and so Juno was involved as the patron of marriage.
July 15—Parade of the Equites— dies nefastus
The Equitum Romanorum probation or transvectio commemorates the assistance from Castor and Pollux at the battle of Lake Regillus in the fourth century BCE. The story of the battle may be fact or myth, but tradition has it that Castor and Pollux led the Romans to victory and were seen watering their horses in the Forum and reported the victory to the Romans in the city. Thereafter, Castor and Pollux were considered patrons of the Roman cavalry, the Equites. This colorful parade of as many as 5,000 mounted knights was established in 304 BCE by the Censor Quintus Fabius Rullianus, lapsed, and was revived by Augustus in the first century CE. It must have been a breathtaking spectacle to see all the Equites decked out in their trabeae (purple robes w/scarlet stripes), crowned with olive wreaths and wearing all their military decorations as they processed by tribe on their white horses from the Porta Capena (home of Mars) past the temple of Castor and Pollux.
July 18—Anniversary of the Battle of Allia— dies comitales
On both the Fasti Antiaes minores and Antiates maiores, July 18 commemorates that black day when Fabii were defeated on the Cremera in 479 BCE, as well as the day the Gauls captured the city of Rome in 390 BCE. Because these two unfortunate events occurred on this day, although it was a diei comitalis, it was considered very unlucky and therefore a terrible day for any business or political transactions, journeys, or marriages.
July 19, 21—Lucaria —dies nefasti
Lucus means "grove," and according to Festus, the sacrifice was celebrated between the Via Salaria and the Tiber river. It is likely that the LUCARIA is a seasonal sacrifice to propitiate those vague spirits of the forest before felling trees, especially those woodland spirits and nymphs related to Leucaria and Rhea Silvia, mother of Romulus & Remus. July would indeed be the appropriate season for ground-clearing and thinning the woods to let the light in and a suitable occasion for Cato's prayer and accompanying sacrifice of a pig:
Be thou god or goddess to whom this grove is dedicated, as it is thy right to receive a sacrifice of a pig for the thinning of this sacred grove, and to this intent, I or one at my bidding do it, may it be rightly done. To this end, in offering this pig to thee I humbly beg that thou wilt be gracious and merciful to me, to my house and household, and to my children. Whilt thou deign to receive this pig which I offer to thee to this end (Scullard 26).
July 23—Neptunalia, Festival of the God Neptune—dies nefast
Neptune is a very old, Italian god of fresh water, and did not become a sea God until he was associated with the Greek God, Poseidon. At the Neptunalia, in any case, he was invoked more particularly as a deity whose concerns were the drainage and irrigation of farmlands. July was the hottest and driest month of the year, and it would have been within Neptune's purview to maintain a constant water supply and prevent crops from drying out and burning, as well as to mitigate against outbreaks of fire in the city. Neptune was one of the first gods listed for at lectisterium (see September 13), where he was seated with Mercury—a pairing of the deities of seafaring and trade. People made arbors of leaves, which were probably used to shade them from the hot July sun. It is significant to note that other than Apollo and Mars, Neptune was the only deity to whom a bull could be sacrificed, although we don't really know anything specifically about the ritual performed on this date.
July 25—Furrinalia, Festival of the Goddess Furrina—dies nefasti
Even Varro doesn't know much about the Goddess Furrina, except to note that "honour was paid to her among the ancients, who instituted an annual sacrifice for her, and assigned to her a special priest, but her name is barely known, and even that to only a few" (Varro VI 19). Presumably she has some association with water, particularly with respect to drilling operations and wells, or at least springs and wells, and we know that the celebration of her State holiday involved an animal sacrifice. She may well have been an Etruscan deity, although the Lucus Furrinae on Janiculum Hill is not referenced any earlier than the third century CE (Scullard 168, 252).
AUGUST— (Mensis Sextilis)
By August, the harvest would be nearly complete on most of the Italian peninsula. The tasks left farmers would involve storing grain and cleaning up. According to Varro, August was the time to cut straw, build haystacks, harrowplow land, collect leaf-fodder, and irrigate the fields a second time. The rustic calendar indicates it was also time to prepare stakes, collect the harvest and wheat, and burn the coarse part of flax. The month was protected by Ceres, and sacrifices were also made to Spes, Salus & Diana. Some of the festivals had connections with the harvest and storage of crops, and many took place near the Aventine, Circus Maximus, and on the bank of the Tiber, all of which were originally part of the cultivated land.
There were six nefasti publici in August, days on which legal action is permitted, as well as six dies nefast, days on which no legal or political business could take place and 16 dies comitales, days on which citizens may vote on political or criminal matters. There is also one endotercisus day in August, which functions as dies fastus in the morning and dies comitalis in the afternoon.
August 3—Supplicia canum—dies comitalis
Not precisely a festival, this date appears on calendars to mark a procession through the city bearing dogs that have been crucified alive. This practice hearkens back again to the ‘black day' when the Gauls sacked Rome, and the dogs remained asleep, rather than warning the Romans of the impending attack. While the laziness of the dogs is commemorated, the ‘sacred' geese—who did awaken in time to keep the Capitoline Hill from being taken—are carried around in a litter all decked out in purple and gold.
August 5—Festival of Salus—dies fasti
The collis Salurtaris, the part of the Quirinal hill where the temple of Salus is located is probably the site of an older altar or shrine used by the early cult of Salus. She may have once been primarily an agricultural and fertility goddess, but as the partner of Aesculapius, she later came to be associated with the personification of health and preservation, just as the Greek Hygieia as the partner of Asklepios. The oldest images of Salus show her holding sheaves of wheat, and on some coins, she is seen feeding a snake from a patera (a dish used specifically for offerings) and holding a scepter. Macrobius indicates that she was also named Semonia and may have shared a cult with Semo Sancus in early times. During the empire, she was honored as Salus Publica populi Romani ("Public Health of the Roman People"). Her temple on Quirinal Hill was dedicated in 302 BCE by Gaius Iunius Bubulcus Salus.
August 12—Festival of Hercules—dies comitalis
Hercules was one of the first Greek gods to make it to Rome, and although he is still considered a foreign god, his temple was actually placed inside the pomerium near the Circus Maximus. Tacitus noted that "the furrow which traced the boundaries of the town began at the Cattle Market (the Forum boarium) to take in the great altar of Hercules." (Rose 90) No Italian equivalent of Hercules was found, and so he wouldn't seem so foreign, he was initially known as Semo Sancus Dius Fedius. His cult was controlled by the families of the Potitii and Pinarii until State took over in 312 BCE.
The sacrifice was celebrated in Greek manner with the head uncovered but crowned with laurel.
The Praetor sacrifices a heifer to Hercules, and during the sacrifice, there must be no reference to any other gods made (no generalis invocatio). No part of the sacrificed animal could be removed from the temple area, so it had to be eaten then and there—a free meal especially appreciated by the poorer residents of the city. There were no restrictions on what Hercules could eat or drink (Herculi autem omnia esculenta, poculenta), and he had quite a reputation for gluttony.
The district where his temple was situated was considered so holy that women were excluded, and even dogs and flies were not permitted to pollute the area of his altar. It is not coincidental that the area of the Forum boarium is central to merchants, who considered Hercules their patron. The regularly tithed part of their income to him to placate him and ask for continued prosperity. They also honored Hercules as one who successfully averted evil, as he had done in his many adventures.
August 13—Festival of Diana—nefastus publicus
Diana was originally an Italian goddess, perhaps originally a wood spirit, but later she came to be associated more generally with the affairs of women. Her cult center at Aricia was associated with politics from an early time, Diana being the chief deity of the Latin League, which met at her sacred grove (nemus) at Aricia. The Rex nemorensi ("King" of the grove of Nemi) was well known as "the priest who slew the slayer and shall himself be slain," and Frazer's Golden Bough begins with the telling of a ritual slaying—if one could break a bough from the tree, he would be entitled to fight the king. Tradition has it that Servius Tullius founded the cult of Diana in Rome, yet outside the pomerium on the Aventine Hill, in order to unite the Latins with the Romans. Two kinds of offerings were made to Diana: models of female reproductive organs or women with children, and stags and other animals associated with the hunt. Slaves were allowed to attend her festival—one of the few they could attend without fear of ‘polluting' the ceremonies, in fact, they could seek asylum in the temple on the Aventine Hill. Ritual practices on this day also included women washing their hair, but the reason for this is unexplained.
August 13—Festival of Vortumnus— nefastus publicus
Originally an Etruscan god of the fullness of fruit, Vortumnus was worshipped as the patron deity of the city of the Volsinii and may indeed have been the chief god of the Etruscans. Like Juno, he probably came to Rome by the rite of evocatio, when the Volsinii were successfully besieged by Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, who triumphed in 264 BCE.
The husband of Pomona, Vortumnus, for whom "the first grape turns blue on its bunch, and the ear of corn swells with a milky juice" was sometimes known as Vertumnus (Propertius 4, 2, 13f ) and associated with changes, particularly the change of seasons. According to Propertius, Vertumnus receives the first fruits of the season and in whose right hand could be seen the first purple grapes of the vintage, the first yellow ears of corn at harvest, sweet blushing cherries, autumn plums, apples, and pears, and mulberries reddening in summer days; there too in the basket lay the dark-green cucumber and swelling gourd, and there, or wreathed about his face, drooped every flower that bloomed in the meadows. (Ovid 438-40) According to Ovid, by appearing to the shy goddess Pomona in many disguises, Vertumnus was finally able to woo her when he appeared in his own form, although she was nearly blinded by his brilliance!
August 17— PORTUNALIA— nefastus publicus
Portunus is an ancient Italian deity. His flamen was responsible for little more than applying grease (persillum) to the armor (arma) on the statue of Quirinus. Portunus is associated with doors and considered to be a protector of doors and, more particularly, keys. His name could be translated as a "a means of carrying across," in which case, very early in Rome's history he could have been the deity who presided over the ferry that crossed the Tiber. Indeed, this August 17 is referred to as the Tiberinalia by the Philocalus calendar. Eventually Portunus was also understood to be the god of ports (harbors).
August 19—Vinalia Rustica—dies fasti
The Vinalia ("wine festival"), originally honoring Jupiter, but later associated with Venus, in her capacity as a deity of the well tended garden, rather than the Goddess of love and beauty she became after being associated with the Greek Goddess, Aphrodite. Varro notes that on this date a "temple was dedicated to Venus and gardens were set apart for her, and then the kitchen-gardeners went on holiday" (Varro VI 20). Vinalia Rustica is the second wine festival of the year, the first being the Vinalia Priora on April 23, when the first wine from the previous year's vintage could be brought into the city.
The Vinalia Rustica was celebrated in the country to celebrate the start of the grape harvest, although but mid-August is really too early for that— harvesting usually takes place at the end of September. Perhaps it was more to gain protection for the growing vine, instead. An offering of a ewe-lamb was made to Jupiter, and before the entrails were laid on the sacrificial fire, the Flamen Dialis officially announced the vintage (auspicatur vindemoniam) and picked the first bunch of the year.
August 21— CONSUALIA —nefastus publicus
Consus is the God of the store bin and the harvested grain that is stored in underground storage bins. Consus had an underground altar lying beneath the track of the Circus Maximus at the first turn at the southeastern end of the spina—a spot traditionally considered to be one of the four corners of Rome's original pomerium. On July 7, a sacrifice is made by the sacerdotibus publicis to bless the storage of grain after the June harvests. The pit was kept covered and opened only when such offerings were made. (See also, the Consualia, August 19 and December 15 at the time of autumn sowing.) The August Consualia celebrates the end of the harvest. In the lower-lying areas of Italy, the grain would be cut by about July 31 and slightly later in areas of higher elevation. It also included attention to the goddesses Seia, Segeta (also known as Segestia), Messia (the Goddess of seedtime and crops), and Tutulina (the Goddess who watched of the preservation of the crops). Consus means "storer," or more precisely refers to the deity in charge of the ensilage of crops or the harvest store.
The Flamen Quirinalis was in charge of the ritual sacrifice, along with the Vestal Virgins. They would remove the soil from the underground altar in the Circus Maximus, and begin with a sacrifice of the first fruits. The festivities continue with horse and chariot races in the Circus Maximus, and horses and asses in the city would be garlanded and given a vacation day in Consus's honor.
Dionysus of Halicarnassus associated those horse races with the story of the Rape of the Sabine Women. Romulus took the opportunity to exploit the Sabine men's love of horse racing by inviting to the Consualia. While they were engrossed in the races, the Romans stole the Sabine women. The Etruscans also had a penchant for horse racing, and there may indeed be a connection between horses, which were funerary animals, with the underground altar of Consus in the Circus Maximus. Later, Consus became equated with the Greek God, Poseidon, because of his association with horses.
August 23—Volcanalia—nefastus publicus
Vulcanus is thought to have originally been an Italian fire god, although his name is not Latin. He is one of the older deities of Rome, however, as he does have his own Flamen. He would have been particularly respected— feared even—during the dry season because he could destroy all the crops and even the city with his destructive fire. He was never associated with the creative fire of the Greek God, Hephaestus; indeed, Vulcanus was the father of the fire-breathing monster Cacus that Hercules had to defeat.
The temple of Vulcanus had to be built outside pomerium because of his the potential for dangerous destructiveness. Offerings were made not just to Vulcan, but also the nymphs Juturna and Ops Opifera, deities of water, whose assistance may have been enlisted in case of an uncontrolled fire. Ops is also associated with corn and the harvest. Vulcanus received a classic substitution sacrifice— people would drive animals into the fire as a substitute for themselves or throw live fish as a substitute for human souls pro se. According to Varro, "on that day the people, acting for themselves, drive their animals over a fire" (Varro VI 20).
Several other deities related to water and harvest, Maia, the Nymphs, Ops, and Hora, receive homage along with Vulcanus. Maia is the consort of Vulcan and the goddess responsible for the growth of living things. She also received a sacrifice of a pregnant sow by the flamen Volcanalis on May 1. On August 23, according to the Fasti Arvales, a sacrifice to her was made supra comitium, that is, the Area Vulcani that rose above the Comitium. Ops Opifera, a deity of water (in case of uncontrolled fire) was also associated with corn and the harvest. In that capacity, she is the Goddess of fertility and plenty. About Hora or the Nymphs we know virtually nothing.
August 25— OPICONSIVIA— nefastus publicus
The cult of Ops ("Lady Bountiful the Planter"), the Goddess of plenty, may be of ancient Sabine origin. She received sacrifice in connection with Volcanalia on August 23. According to Festus, she is regarded as Earth (terra) because human race and all resources come from her omnes opes. The sacrarium (shrine) in the Regia corresponds to the household penus, the domestic store cupboard, and the fruits of the earth were tended by the king's ‘daughters,' the Vestals.
August 27— VOLTURNALIA—— nefastus publicus
Voluturnus is thought to be an Etruscan river or wind god. Although his nature and origins are cause for much speculation, there was a Flamen Volturnalis dedicated to his service. He is variously described as the father of Juturna (a fountain deity), the wind of devastation "whirling around the heights" (Lucretius 5, 745), who raised clouds of dust during battle of Cannae (Liv., 22, 43, 10) and burned the grapes (Col, 5, 5, 15). His name may be related to the verb volvere ("to roll"), lending credence to the idea that he is the embodiment of Eurus, the name for both the southeast wind and a river in Campania. Or Volturnus may be an Etruscan name associated with the family name, Velthuma.
SEPTEMBER— (Mensis September)
September was a month of relaxation; there were lots of games, but no really important festivals. There are no large letter days (used on most calendars to indicate the most important festivals) in the entire month. The campaigning season is over, and September marks the lull between the harvest and the vintage. At this time, farmers would be expected to paint their wine jars with pitch, pick apples, loosen the soil around tree roots, and cut straw. According to the rustic calendar, the month is protected by Vulcan. In September, there is only one nefastus publicus, a day on which public religious festivals are celebrated, five dies fasti, or days on which legal action is permitted, and 21 dies comitales, days on which citizens may vote on political or criminal matters.
September 1—Jupiter & Juno—dies fasti
There are two temples dedicated to Jupiter dedicated by Augustus on this date. One was dedicated to Jupiter Liber or Libertas, the God of liberty of Osco-Umbrian origin. Unlike Dionysus, with whom Liber later became associated, Jupiter Liber had nothing to do with wine. Rather, he presided over creativity or the creative force (Adkins' Dictionary 122).
Also on September 1, Camillus vowed a temple to Juno Regina. Camillus' s capture of the city of Veii in 396 BCE is a fascinating example of the Roman rite of evocatio. The Romans were having a very difficult time capturing the besieged Etruscan city, and so Camillus took a rather drastic move in stealing its patron deity. The rite of evocatio involves luring a deity from her home by promises of more grandiose worship elsewhere. In Camillus's case, it worked like a charm. He built Juno a beautiful temple in Rome in 392 BCE, and in it he put the wooden statue he had brought from Veii. This is how Juno came to be respected as one of the most important deities in Rome.
September 4-19— LUDI ROMANI
The Roman Games were held to honor Jupiter Optimus Maximus, whose temple on the Capitoline was dedicated on September 13 in 509 BCE during the reign of Tarquin the Elder. Originally, they were votive games, but came to be celebrated annually by 366 BCE, and the number of days increased to sixteen days. Cicero relates a story that explains the annual repetition of the games that were first held during the Latin War. Apparently, a slave "bearing a yoke was led about the circus and beaten with rods." After that the dream a man reported having had a dream indicating that Jupiter was greatly displeased. The man was told in the dream to report it to the Senate, and when he failed to do so immediately, he became quite ill. His friends carried him to where the Senate was meeting, at which he related the substance of his dream, then immediately became well. The Senate acknowledged the credibility of the man's dream by having the games repeated (Cicero 283-4).
These rather expensive festivities were organized by the Curule Aediles and were extremely popular, since they included numerous games and lots of free entertainment for nearly half the month of September. Dionysus of Halicarnassus describes in detail the procession beginning the games. In it were athletes, dancers, flute and cithara players, burlesque bands, and statues of Gods and Goddesses carried on litters. Following the procession were chariot races and running, boxing, wrestling, and gymnastic competitions, as well as theatrical shows.
September 13—‘Banquet' with Jupiter (and later Juno, Minerva)— nefastus publicus
This epulum takes place at end of the Ludi Romani to commemorate the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, which was dedicated by Marcus Horatius Pulvillus, the first consul of the Republic. At that temple was the tradition of driving a nail into the temple wall each year to avert plague. By counting the number of nails in the wall, one could tell what year it was.
By the first century BCE, the celebration became a joint feast among magistrates, senators, and the deities of the Capitoline Trio —Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. In 196 BCE, the banquet had become so elaborate that a college of three Epulines was appointed, whose responsibility it was to organize all such banquets. Festivities began with a sacrifice of a white heifer and using the second batch of mola salsa made by the Vestal Virgins. The images of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva presided over the banquet. Jupiter's face was reddened with minium and he reclined on a leculus, a "dining couch," while Juno and Minerva, decked out in the finest of garmets, were seated on sellae, "chairs." Just as one might entertain any dinner guests, the images of the deities were offered food and plied with music.
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_____. On the Latin Language: Books V-VII. Robert G. Kent, trans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938.