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 1 The festivals Lupercalia, Saturnalia, and Lemuria were three of Rome’s most important celebrations. Each were valuable to the empire, as they celebrated the gods that acted as the stitches of Rome that pulled the diverse parts of the land together. The festivals also dealt with the spirits that were thought to haunt the city, whether it was to dispel them or celebrate their memory. This trio of festivals impacted the development of Rome’s culture and influenced holidays celebrated today. Most importantly, though, while Lupercalia, Saturnalia, and Lemuria each honored various gods and had differing rituals, all of them helped to shape Rome into a dominant empire. Lupercalia is one of the oldest Roman festivals, meant to celebrate love, to purify the city from evil spirits, and to aid with fertility. Celebrated from the thirteenth of February to the fifteenth, Lupercalia dates possibly to before Rome was established as a city. Because it is celebrated to honor the she­wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, the festival’s name derives from the Latin word for wolf, “lupus” and translates to “wolf festival.” The festival has a number of rites to be performed. The priestly Luperci, who were considered to be brothers of wolves, took command of those rites. The Luperci would only wear goatskins during the festival. There were three sectors of Luperci: the Quinctiliani, the Fabiani, and the Julii (who were created in honor of Julius Caesar). Directed by the Luperci, the festival began with the sacrifice of two male goats and one dog. Two young Luperci­in­training were brought to the altar, where they were anointed with the sacrificial blood, wiped from a knife with milk­soaked wool. After the anointing was a feast. Young boys would dress only in goatskins, like the older Luperci. They would take whips made from the goatskins and would run about the city, lashing everyone they could. While the men and boys would try to avoid getting whipped, 2 young women and girls tried to receive a few lashings: the strike of the Lupercalian whips was thought to benefit fertility. Lupercalia is similar to Valentine’s Day today, as love is one of the three dedications of the festival. Lupercalia honored fertility, which in turn encouraged the Romans to expand their population. The rites at the beginning of the festival also liberated Rome from evil spirits, which brought peace of mind to the citizens. The traditions of Lupercalia therefore helped to create better relationships among the Romans, increasing the strength of the empire. Lemuria was another Roman festival, meant to ward off the spirits of the deceased. It took place in May on the ninth, the eleventh, and the thirteenth. Roman emperors would often create holidays for themselves: for instance, the eleventh of May was the birthday of Constantinople. During Lemuria, the ghosts of the dead were thought to be up and about, and the Romans tried to keep them happy by walking barefoot and throwing black beans over their shoulders at night. The head of each household had to do the bean­throwing nine times at midnight. While they did so, the rest of the household would clash together metal pots and tell the ghosts of the ancestors to go away, to leave them be. The Roman poet Ovid pointed out that Lemuria began with Romulus’s guilt over what he had done to his brother Remus: the one twin had murdered the other, and thus began Lemuria. Because of the abundance of the spirits and the exorcisms, May was considered unlucky for marriages. Similar to a different Roman festival, Parentalia, Lemuria was one of the many influences of the modern celebration of Halloween with the heavy focus on spirits and the dead. However, Lemuria appeased vengeful spirits and did not try to honor their memories, while Parentalia celebrated ancestors and their beloved memories. In observing these traditions, Romans believed that the spirits of the dead would not 3 cause them any misfortune or harm that year. An important aspect of any well­run civilization is peace of mind of its citizens, and the soothing effect of these two holidays brought a fresh sense of calm to the Romans. Saturnalia was a joyful festival celebrated in late December or early January. The festival only lasted one day at first, but began to stretch over time. During the republic, it stretched to two or three days, to over three days in the Augustan empire, and the emperor Caligula made Saturnalia grow to four days. By the end of the first century BCE, it had stretched to seven days. The celebration itself began with the sacrifice of young pigs. There was merry drinking and eating. The Romans would roll dice that would randomly choose the Saturnalian king ­ who could even be a slave. Everybody had to obey the absurd commands of the “king”. The pigs that were sacrificed at the beginning of the celebration were served on the day of the Saturnalian king. The Romans dispelled darkness during Saturnalia by adorning the halls with lamps and candles, as well as decorating their homes with green trees and laurel. They exchanged gifts, making the celebration similar to Christmas today. Everybody wore comfortable clothes and the laws against gambling were relaxed and everybody took the opportunity to partake, even slaves and children. (Children, however, would use nuts to gamble, rather than anything valuable.) Saturnalia was such a joyful, infectious celebration that it even spread to Athens. The festival of Saturnalia was a cheerful, appealing holiday that relaxed the Romans and helped them form new bonds, strengthening the empire from within. These three festivals all played a part in unifying the massive Roman empire. Lupercalia encouraged fertility and devoted rites to satisfying spirits (a common aspect of many other Roman festivals), which brought peace of mind to the people of Rome. Lemuria also addressed 4 the spirits, trying to keep them at bay and appease the ghosts. Each of the festivals included practices that would bring people together, such as honoring the dead or taking part in elaborate celebrations. Saturnalia was an especially social holiday, with its fun games, festive decorations, and appealing, cheerful themes. Because the empire was spread far and wide and contained many different cultures, these sociable traditions unified the people of Rome and help to keep the empire strong and together. If the culturally different parts of the empire were at war with each other, then Rome would never have risen to power. Instead, these three festivals united the different cultures and encouraged loyalty to one another. Lupercalia, Lemuria, and Saturnalia thus helped to link the diverse parts of the Roman empire and make it powerful from within. 5 Works Cited "Ancient Roman Holidays & Festivals at The Detective & the Toga." ​
Ancient Roman Holidays & Festivals at The Detective & the Toga​
. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015. "Lemuria (festival)." ​
. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. "Lupercalia." ​
. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.