Ancient Roman sacred and votive feasts

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The Sacred and Votive Feasts of Rome

To list some of the many sacred feasts and games we have the regularly held Sacred Ludi (games) and the Votive Ludi ("one-off" petitions when setting off on a great task and asking for favour).

Amongst the Sacred Ludi we have:

The Ludi Megalenses, Megalensia or Megalesia: They took place around the middle of April and lasted six days. They were a period of invitation and entertainment amongst friends as well as scenic representations and sports. The procession included women dancing before the image of the goddess. All the priestly orders would participate. Slaves were forbidden from joining in.

Ludi Cereales

These games held in the Circus in honour of the goddess Ceres during eight days in mid April. The procession included images and statues of the gods and famous men which were paraded around together with Magistrates, important women and horsemen.

Ludi Romani

Amongst the most ancient of the games, these were started with the building of the Circus Maximus by the king Tarquinius Priscus. They were held in honour of the Capitoline Trinity: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The lasted nine days from the day before the nones to the day before the ides of September.

Ludi Consuales

Stemming from the name of the ancient god of counsel called Confus who was associated with Neptune and hence with horse riding. The games were first organised by Romulus in honour of the Sabine virgins which the Romans had abducted. These games consisted mostly of horse races and games in the Circus. The event was held on the twelfth of the kalends of September.

Ludi Compitalitii

Named after the "Compita" or cross roads around which the earliest city of Rome grew. These public sacred games were in honour of the Lares, the family spirits who watched over streets and houses. The feast consisted chiefly of offering sacrifices to these gods.

Ludi Saeculares

The Ludi Saeculares were held every hundred years or so. They were started on behest of the Sibylline oracles who announced that the Romans and the city of Rome would flourish and dominate all other nations if they honoured the gods Pluto, Proserpine (daughter of Ceres), Juno, Apollo, Diana, Ceres and "the three fates" called Parcae. These celebrations were to take place at the beginning "of every age" and lasted three days and nights.

Before the empire the games were held on the city's nativity whilst during the empire they were held in correspondence to the current emperor's ascent to the imperial throne.

The Votive Ludi include:

The Ludi Funebres

These were one of the earliest types of public games held in honour of the deceased. At first the person being celebrated was a high dignitary but with time this could also include the rich, who might include such fights to the death as part of their final wills. With time it came to be that the situation reversed itself in that the common people themselves came to expect the shows as a result of an important funeral. As a result of this the shows were increasingly organised out of public coffers.

Suetonius tells us that Julius Caesar also allowed the honour of Gladiatorial combat to be extended to the funeral of women when he treated the people of Rome with a show in honour of his deceased daughter.

Much more is said about the Gladiatorial shows in a specific section about the Colosseum and the Gladiators.

The Lupercalia

As already mentioned in the section about the priestly orders the feast of the Lupercalia was a feast of purification. The festivity was linked to the god of shepherds and woodlands Faun or Pan and focused on the image of the Wolf.

Although the name is reminiscent of the She wolf which had bred Romulus and Remus the very myth of Romulus tells us of the Lupercalia being celebrated by the Arcadians: a pastoral population which had come to Italy from Greece. The feast was regularly celebrated for some 1300 years of ancient Rome right through to the sixth century.

The ceremony began in the Lupercal cave on (in?) the Palatine hill where a goat and a dog would be sacrificed. The goat was intended as a symbol of the god because he had goat's feet, whilst the dog was sacrificed because it is the shepherd's usual companion and guards the sheep against wolves.

The blood stained knives would then be wiped over the foreheads of two children of noble family and subsequently the same blood would be wiped off with locks of wool dipped in milk. It seems that it was important that the boys should laugh when their foreheads were wiped clean.

The boys would then clothe themselves in the goat's skin and run down the streets, in the manner of the god Faun/Pan, lashing out at the bystanders with whips, called "februa", made of the same sacrificed hide they wore. Plutarch tells us that to be hit or touched was actually a good thing and was meant to assist women in conceiving or delivering children.

The name of the month February is derived from this feast.

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Ancient Roman Gods | ancient roman religion | The Gods of Rome and Politics | Christianity in Ancient Rome |

ancient roman religion: The Origins of Religion in Ancient Rome | Mysticism and Signs in Ancient RomeFamily Spirits - Lares | Religious Orders of Ancient Rome | vestal virgins | Religious Rites  | Rituale Romanum  | The Sacred and Votive Feasts of Rome | marriage in ancient rome | Ancient Roman Marriage | Ancient Roman WeddingsFunerals in Ancient Rome | Sacrifices in Ancient Rome |

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"The Sacred and Votive Feasts of Rome" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com - Rome apartments