Category Archives: Religion / Mythology

Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus: Paying Homage to an Ancient & Mysterious Cult

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Religion and politics are touchy subjects these days, but in Ancient Rome they were whole-heartedly part of daily life. One did not have to walk on eggshells about a particular topic, only speak with facts and conviction in an open debate.

Just like now, however, some things were kept secret. For those considered special enough there were secret societies and cults not open to the general citizenry of Rome.

Get your spelunking hats on because today we’re headed underground in Rome as we explore the Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus!

Before we begin our journey, let’s understand what exactly a Mithraeum was. A Mithraeum (Latin pl. Mithraea) is a Mithraic temple, erected in classical antiquity by the worshippers of Mithras, designed to hold up to 40 people at a time.

Mithraeum in the lowest floor in the Basilica of San Clemente.

The Mithraeum was either an adapted natural cave or cavern, or a building imitating a cave. When possible, the Mithraeum was constructed within or below an existing building, such as the Mithraeum found beneath Basilica of San Clemente in Rome.

While a majority of Mithraea are underground, some feature open holes in the ceiling to allow some light in, perhaps to relate to the connection of the universe and the passing of time. The site of a Mithraeum may also be identified by its singular entrance or vestibule, which stands opposite from an apse-shaped wall in which a pedestal altar at the back stood, often in a recess.

Also its “cave”, called the Spelaeum or Spelunca, with raised benches along the side walls for the ritual meal. Many Mithraea that follow this basic plan are scattered over much of the former territory of the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), particularly where the Legiones Romanae (Roman Legions) were stationed along the frontiers (such as Britannia).

Romans vs Sassanid Persians

Though scholars debated its origins, it seems the Mithraic cult came to Rome in the 1st Century BC from Persia, brought back by Roman soldiers who had been fighting in the east. Although the Mithras worshipped in Rome is not identical to the Mithra of Persia, there are enough similarities to imply that they are somehow related.

The Mithraeum primarily functioned as an area for initiation, in which the soul descends and exits. The Mithraeum itself was arranged as an “image of the universe”.

It is noticed by some researchers that this movement, especially in the context of mithraic iconography, seems to stem from the neoplatonic concept that the “running” of the sun from solstice to solstice is a parallel for the movement of the soul through the universe, from pre-existence, into the body, and then beyond the physical body into an afterlife.

The Tauroctony, Mithras slaying the Cosmic Bull (Museo Nazionale, Roma).

The cult and religious sanctuaries were open only to initiates, and their rituals secret. The central imagery is of the god Mithras slaying a bull, a motif known as Tauribolium, found in most if not all Mithraea.

Most Mithraea can be dated between 100 BC and AD 300. Although several Mithraea have been discovered throughout the ancient holding of the Roman Empire, including sites in Londinium, and several in Germania, Gallia, and Pannonia, little is known about the actual religious practices of the movement’s followers.

The Circus Maximus was Rome’s largest venue for Ludi (Public Games) connected to Roman religious festivals. Ludi were sponsored by leading Romans or the Roman state for the benefit of the Roman people (Populus Romanus) and gods.

Model of the Circus Maximus in all its glory.

Even at the height of its development as a chariot-racing circuit, the Circus remained the most suitable space in Rome for religious processions on a grand scale, and was the most popular venue for large-scale venationes. With the advent of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, Ludi gradually fell out of favor.

Banquet scene on the Fiano Romano Mithraic relief. At bottom are Cautes (l) and Cautopates (r).

Dating back to the 2nd Century AD, one of the largest secret Mithraic temples is in Rome hidden next to the famous Circus Maximus. The site features 5 parallel but separate chambers with a central sanctuary paved in white marble, with 2 niches for statues of Caute and Cautopates, and a place of honor which would have held a statue of Mithras.

Beside the Circus Maximus, an ex-pasta factory and current Rome Opera scenery storage facility sits atop the ruins of a sanctuary dedicated to the god Mithras. Discovered in 1931 as part of Rome’s fascist-era building projects, the small subterranean space was once dedicated to the mystery cult.

Who knows what lies beneath the streets of Rome?

Buried 25 feet beneath the modern city, the 2nd Century AD place of worship was adapted from a preexisting public building of the 1st Century AD. The rooms of the original structure were converted into the sacrificial and ritual areas where followers of the god Mithras would venerate their god, make sacrifices, and participate in a ritual meal of bread and wine.

The Mithraeum of the Circus is one of the many places in Rome that reveal the complex urban stratification of the city. The building was built on top of, filled in with silt from the Tiber and debris, and forgotten about until its rediscovery in the 19th Century.

It’s here waiting for you to make an appointment.

Today, the Mithraeum under the Circus Maximus is accessible by appointment only.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again for more. Please make sure to check extra posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beck, Roger. “Ritual, Myth, Doctrine, and Initiation in the Mysteries of Mithras: New Evidence from a Cult Vessel”, The Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 90. 2000.

Bowersock, G.; Green, P.; Grabar, O. Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World. Harvard University Press, 1999.

The Mithraeum at Circus Maximus”. Atlas Obscura.

Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus”. Katie Parla.

Hercules (2014): A Film Made by The Rock

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you’ve made it to this page then you certainly know a thing or two about Classical Antiquity. Based on this presumption, we shall infer that you are also familiar with Greco-Roman Mythology.

One of the most revered Classical Heroes was a well-known demi-god. Even though he was supposed to be Greek by birth, you know him by his Roman name.

Since many a movie has been made about this hero, today we review the 2014 film Hercules!

Theatrical release poster of or Hercules (copyright Paramount Pictures).

Based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, Hercules is an action/fantasy/adventure film directed by Brett Ratner and written by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Starring Dwayne Johnson (Hercules), Ian McShane (Amphiaraus the Seer), Rufus Sewell (Autolycus the Rogue), and John Hurt (Cotys, King of Thrace), the film was distributed jointly by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

As 1 of 2 Hollywood-studio Hercules films released in 2014 (the other one being Lionsgate‘s The Legend of Hercules), this version earned $244 million on a $100 million budget and received mixed reviews from critics, who, however, praised the action sequences and Johnson’s acting.

Full cast of the film

Also in the film are Aksel Hennie (Tydeus the Wild Child/Barbarian), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Atalanta the Archer), Reece Ritchie (Iolaus the Storyteller), Joseph Fiennes (King Eurystheus), Tobias Santelmann (Rhesus), Peter Mullan (Sitacles), Rebecca Ferguson (Ergenia), Isaac Andrews (Arius), Joe Anderson (Phineas), Steve Peacocke (Stephanos), Irina Shayk (Megara), and Barbara Palvin (Antimache).

To prepare for the role of Hercules, Johnson took on a grueling training routine, stating:

I trained and worked harder than ever for 8 months for this role. Lived alone and locked myself away (like a moody 260-lb. monk) in Budapest for 6 months while filming. Goal was to completely transform into this character. Disappear in the role. Press journalist asked me today, with the mental and physical toll the role had on me, would I do it again? Not only would I do it again…I’d do it twice.

In North America, Hercules was released on 25 July 2014 at 3,595 theaters, and grossed $11 million its opening day and $29 million its opening weekend. Hercules, described as “pumping some much-needed life into a lackluster summer at U.S. and Canadian theaters,” did financially better than expected, as it “topped the expectations of analysts by roughly $4 million”.

Dwayne Johnson truly could be the modern Hercules.

Outside North America, the film was released in 26 foreign markets in 3,364 locations and earned $28.7M. Hercules dominated the Russian box office with a strong debut ($12M from 930), along with Australia ($3.5M from 222), Malaysia ($1.6M from 110), Philippines ($1.2M from 134), Taiwan ($1.2M) and Singapore ($1.1M from 27).

Hercules received mixed reviews from critics with the general sentiment being, however, that the film was a pleasant surprise. Ridiculously critical review site Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 60%, based on reviews from 104 critics, with an average rating of 5.4/10.

Actor Dwayne Johnson and director by Brett Ratner seen on set of the movie Hercules.

Scott Foundas, chief film critic for Variety, wrote a positive review stating that the film was grandly staged, solidly entertaining, and cuts the mythical son of Zeus down to human size (or as human as you can get while still being played by Dwayne Johnson). Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News stated Hercules was fun and packed with eye-popping action and impressive effects, but star Dwayne Johnson’s massive powerful physique perfectly suited the title role of the large-scale movie.

The film is about the hero Hercules, leader of a band of mercenaries composed of the these not so merry men: a spear-wielding prophet, a knife-throwing thief, a feral warrior, an Amazon archer, and Hercules own nephew storyteller. Hercules is said to be the demigod son of Zeus, who completed the legendary Twelve Labors, only to be betrayed by Hera who drove him insane and caused him to murder his wife Megara and their children during a visit to King Eurystheus.

Hercules fighting the Nemean lion as on of his Twelve Labors.

Throughout the film, it is not clearly established that Hercules is truly the son of Zeus, and many are skeptical of the claim as well as of the stories of Hercules’ famous Twelve Labors. Despite this, Hercules displays unusual strength and unmatched skill in combat.

After finishing a recent mission and saving his nephew on the Macedonian Coast in Northern Greece in 358 BC, Hercules and his team are celebrating and drinking at a tavern. During the celebration they are approached by Ergenia on behalf of her father Lord Cotys who wants Hercules to train the armies of Thrace to defend the kingdom from bloodthirsty warlord Rhesus.

Hercules accepts after he and his men are offered his own weight in gold, and the band is welcomed to Thrace by King Cotys and General Sitacles, leader of the Thracian army. However, Rhesus has reached the Bessi tribe in Central Thrace and Cotys insists that Hercules lead the army into battle to defend the Bessi, despite their lack of training.

Atalanta and Hercules lead the Thracians.

After the Bessi are defeated, Hercules properly trains the army, then Hercules and Sitacles confront Rhesus and his soldiers on the battlefield before Mount Asticus. The Thracians force Rhesus’ army to retreat, but Rhesus himself rides out to confront Hercules and is defeated by him.

Rhesus is taken back to Thrace as a prisoner, where he is tortured and humiliated. Hercules mentions Rhesus’ actions of burning down villages, but Rhesus tells him it was not him or his army and that Hercules has been fighting on the wrong side.

Ergenia confronts Hercules

Later in the palace hall, Rhesus has been chained up and left on display. Noticing that Ergenia has taken pity to him, Hercules confronts her and finds out Rhesus was telling the truth in that he was merely retaliating against Lord Cotys’s aggressive attempts to expand his kingdom.

After receiving their reward, the mercenaries are ready to leave. Hercules, though, decides to stay behind to stop Cotys, and all but Autolycus choose to follow him.

Coming to collect their gold.

However, they are overpowered and captured by Sitacles and his men. While chained, Hercules is confronted by King Eurystheus, who is in league with Lord Cotys.

Eurystheus reveals that he drugged Hercules the night his family died, viewing him as a threat to his power. Hercules’s family was in fact killed by 3 vicious wolves sent by Eurystheus, resulting in Hercules’s constant hallucinations of Cerberus.

I am Hercules!

When Lord Cotys orders Ergenia to be executed for her betrayal, Hercules is encouraged by Amphiaraus to believe in himself just as everyone believes in him. In a show of superhuman strength, Hercules breaks free of his chains, saving Ergenia and slaying the wolves with his bare hands.

Hercules releases the prisoners, including Rhesus, and then confronts King Eurystheus, impaling him with his own dagger. He is attacked by Sitacles, who is then stabbed by Iolaus.

Outside, Hercules and his forces battle Lord Cotys and his army. Arius is taken hostage, but then rescued by Autolycus, who has decided to return to help his friends.

Hercules tumbles the Thracian statue of Hera.

In the final battle, Tydeus is mortally wounded while protecting Arius, but fights on slaughtering numerous Thracian soldiers. Hercules again uses inhuman strength and pushes a massive statue of Hera from its foundations and uses it to crush Lord Cotys and many of his soldiers.

The remaining soldiers see Hercules as lightning flashes in the background. The surviving soldiers bow to Hercules, and Arius takes the throne, with Ergenia at his side, while Hercules and his men depart in search of other adventures.

As the credits roll, an animated retelling of the Twelve Labors shows how Hercules accomplished these feats with the help of his companions.

He is Hercules

As the professionals had previously stated, Hercules is, indeed, a role perfectly suited for Dwayne Johnson. The new take on a familiar character, along with the action and special effects, make for quite the entertaining film.

You don’t have to write articles for a living to recognize a fun, adventurous film when you see it. If you are looking for some fast-paced adventure, with a little history mixed in, then look no farther than Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson.

We hope you enjoyed today’s look into a worthwhile film. Maybe you’ve seen it already and care to reply, or maybe you’ll now want to watch it.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Berardinelli, James. “Hercules”ReelViews, 25 July 2014.

Busch, Anita. “Box Office: ‘Lucy’ To Overpower ‘Hercules’ And ‘Apes’ This Weekend”., 21 July 2014.

DeFore, John. “Brett Ratner’s ‘Hercules’ is actually entertaining in places”The Washington Post, 25 July 2014.

Kay, Jeremy. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes surges to $54.8m international box office”., 27 July 2014.

Kit, Borys. “Ian McShane Joins Dwayne Johnson in ‘Hercules’ for MGM and Paramount (Exclusive)”The Hollywood Reporter. 21 March 2013.

Kroll, Justin. “Ingrid Bolsø Set to Battle with Dwayne Johnson in ‘Hercules’ (Exclusive)”Variety, 2 May 2013.

McClintock, Pamela. “Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules to Hit Theaters in August 2014”The Hollywood Reporter, 15 January 2013.

Weitzman, Elizabeth. “Hercules: movie review”New York Daily News, 25 July 2014.

Zuckerman, Esther. “The Most Unexpected Quotes from ‘Hercules’ Reviews”The Wire, 24 July 2014.

“Hercules 3D Blu-ray”

“Hercules (2014)”. Box Office Mojo. 25 July 2014.

“The Rock Opens Up About ‘Hercules’ Preparation”.

“Hercules”. Rotten Tomatoes. 1970-01-01.

“Hercules Reviews”. Metacritic.

From Centurion to Saint: The Path of Longinus

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

For our readers of the Christian faith, our Lenten journey is coming to an end. Hopefully  all of the prayer, doing penancerepentance of sins, almsgivingatonement, and self-denial was not too taxing.

Since it is Good Friday today, that means Easter Sunday is right around the corner. The stories of Easter and the Nativity of Jesus (aka Christmas) are easily the most recognizable, even for those not following the faith.

Keeping that in mind, today we take a look into the life of a man who played a part of the Easter story as we explore the life of Longinus!

Saint Longinus in Bom Jesus do Monte (Tenões, Portugal).

Longinus is a legendary name of Christian history given in medieval and some modern Christian traditions to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus in his side with a lance, the Holy Lance (Lancea) during the Crucifixion. This act created the last of the Five Holy Wounds of Christ.

This individual, unnamed in the Gospels, is further identified in legend as the Centurion present at the Crucifixion, who testified “This man certainly was the Son of God.” But who was this Roman who left us with a single, very cool quote?

View of Cappadocian landscape

In tradition, he is called Cassius before his conversion to Christianity, and was said to be born in Cappadocia. However, an old tradition links the birthplace of Longinus with the village of Anxanum (Lanciano), Samnite territory, in today’s Abruzzo region of Central-Southern Italy.

Longinus did not start out as a saint, especially since no name for him was actually given in the Gospels. The name Longinus is instead found in the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Nicodemus that was appended to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate.

An early tradition, found in the 4th Century pseudepigraphal “Letter of Herod to Pilate“, claims that Longinus suffered for having pierced Jesus. He was supposedly condemned to a cave, where every night a lion came and mauled him until dawn. Every morning his body healed back to normal, in a pattern that would repeat till the end of time.

Later traditions turned him into a Christian convert, but as Sabine Baring-Gould observed:

The name of Longinus was not known to the Greeks previous to the patriarch Germanus, in AD 715. There is no reliable authority for the Acts and martyrdom of this saint.

Jesus’ side is pierced with a spear, Fra Angelico (circa 1440), Dominican monastery of San Marco, Florence.

The name is probably Latinized from the Greek lonche, the word used for the lance mentioned in John 19:34. It first appears lettered on an illumination of the Crucifixion beside the figure of the soldier holding a spear.

Written, perhaps contemporaneously, the name is in horizontal Greek letters, LOGINOS (ΛΟΓΙΝΟC). This was mentioned in the Syriac gospel manuscript illuminated by a certain Rabulas in the year 586 AD, housed in the Laurentian Library, Florence.

The spear used is now known as the Holy Lance, and even more recently as the Spear of Destiny, which was revered at Jerusalem by the 6th Century, although neither the Centurion nor the name Longinus were invoked in any surviving report. As the Lance of Longinus, the spear figures in the legends of the Holy Grail.

In some medieval folklore, such as the Golden Legend, the touch of Jesus’s blood cures his blindness:

Christian legend has it that Longinus was a blind Roman centurion who thrust the spear into Christ’s side at the crucifixion. Some of Jesus’s blood fell upon his eyes and he was healed. Upon this miracle Longinus believed in Jesus.

Veneration of Longinus

Longinus is said to have subsequently converted to Christianity after the Crucifixion, and returned to his home in Cappadocia where he made many conversions. He was sentenced to torture and death by beheading under the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Governor of the Roman Judaea who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion.

The body of Longinus is said to have been lost twice. Its latter recovery was at Mantua in 1304, together with the Holy Sponge stained with Christ’s blood, wherewith it was told that Longinus had assisted in cleansing Christ’s body when it was taken down from the cross.

It was at this time that Longinus’ role was extended into an almost mythical state. The relic, corpuscles of alleged blood taken from the Holy Lance, enjoyed a revived cult in late 13th Century Bologna under the combined drive of the Grail romances, the local tradition of Eucharistic miracles, the chapel consecrated to Longinus, the Holy Blood in the Benedictine monastery church of Sant’Andrea, and the patronage of the Bonacolsi.

Frescoe of Longinus in Basilica of St Peter and St Paul (Vyšehrad, Prague).

The relics are said to have been divided and then distributed to Prague and elsewhere, with the body taken to the Basilica of Sant’Agostino in Rome. However, official guides of the Basilica do not mention the presence of any tomb associated with Saint Longinus.

It is also said that the body of Longinus was found in Sardinia. Greek sources assert that he suffered martyrdom in Gabala, Cappadocia.

Longinus’ legend grew over the. He is traditionally venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic ChurchEastern Orthodox Church, and several other Christian communions.

There are two categories of saints: martyr and confessors. A Christian martyr is regarded as one who is put to death for his Christian faith or convictions, while confessors are people who died natural deaths.

Longinus is venerated, generally as a martyr, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. His feast day is kept on 15 March in the Roman Martyrology, which mentions him, without any indication of martyrdom, in the following terms:

At Jerusalem, commemoration of Saint Longinus, who is venerated as the soldier opening the side of the crucified Lord with a lance.

St. Longinus is the patron of Mantua which is where his relics are preserved. There is a patron for virtually every cause, profession or special interest, so prayers are considered more likely to be answered by asking a patron directly for intercession on their behalf.

Bernini’s statue of Saint Longinus (Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City).

The statue of Saint Longinus, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is 1 of 4 in the niches beneath the dome of Saint Peter’s BasilicaVatican City. A spear point fragment from the Holy Lance is also conserved in the Basilica.

It is helpful to be able to recognize Saint Longinus in paintings, stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, architecture and other forms of Christian art. Since artistic representations reflect the life or death of saints, or an aspect of life with which the person is most closely associated, Saint Longinus is represented in Christian Art wearing the uniform of a Roman soldier, and has a lance or spear in his hand.

In Irving Pichel‘s 1939 film, The Great CommandmentAlbert Dekker portrays Longinus as the commanding officer of a Roman Army company escorting a tax collector about Judea. Subsequently, he is converted to Christianity through the kindness of Joel bar Lamech and by his own experiences at Golgotha.

John Wayne as Longinus in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

In the George Stevens‘s 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, Longinus is identified with the Centurion who professed, “Truly this man was the Son of God” on Golgotha. This moment of conversion was portrayed by John Wayne in a cameo role.

Longinus is a leading character in the 2005 4-issue comic The Light Brigade by DC comics. The comic takes place in 1944 during World War II and features an immortal Longinus doomed to walk the Earth to atone for his deed by fighting fallen angels and their allies.

Casca Rufio Longinus, in a popular series entitled Casca by Barry Sadler, accidentally ingests some of Christ’s blood after lancing him. He is condemned by Christ to walk the earth as a soldier until they meet again at the Second Coming.

Moriones Festival in Marinduque

Longinus and his legend are the subject of the annual Moriones Festival held during Holy Week on the island of Marinduque, the Philippines.

The “Moriones” are men and women in costumes and masks replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers as interpreted by local folks. The Moriones tradition has inspired the creation of other festivals in the Philippines where cultural practices or folk history is turned into street festivals.

The mask was named after the 16th and 17th Century Morion helmet. The masked and costumed penitents march around the town for 7 days searching for Longinus, scaring the kids, or engaging in antics or surprises to draw attention.

More from the Moriones Festival

The festival is characterized by colorful Roman costumes, painted masks and helmets, and brightly colored tunics. The towns of Boac, Gasan, Santa Cruz, Buenavista and Mogpog in the island of Marinduque become a gigantic stage.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey from Soldier to Saint. Stop back again soon to see where we’ll be or what we’ll being doing.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Bunson, M. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. Facts on File, 1994. ISBN 0-8160-2135-X.

Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First GospelIndiana University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-253-34235-X.

Godwin, Malcolm. The Holy Grail: Its Origins, Secrets & Meaning Revealed. Viking Penguin, 1994. ISBN 0-670-85128-0.

Sniadach, Keith. Relics of God: A Supernatural Guide to Religious Artifacts, Sacred Locations & Holy Souls. Keith Sniadach, 2010.

Torretto, Richard. A Divine Mercy Resource: How to Understand the Devotion to Divine Mercy. iUniverse, 2010.

John 19:34

Mark 15:39

Matthew 27:54

Cinco, Maricar. “Last of Moriones mask makers looking for heirs”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 13 April 2014.

One of the Philippines most Colorful Festivals

The Reliquary of Saint Longinus

Catholic Forum: St. Longinus

St. Longinus

Catholic-Saints St. Longinus

Revisiting Calvary: Where the Crucifixion of Jesus Took Place

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we get closer to the end of the season of Lent, we here at RAE are going back to the past to bring something new today. This article about will have 3 different videos to watch, and will also be supplemented with some data to read.

So kick up your feet as we journey to Calvary!

The Way to Calvary
The Way to Calvary

Most people are at least familiar with the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. After he was found guilty by the Jews and condemned under Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus was made to haul the cross on which he was to be crucified on through the streets of Jerusalem to a mount just outside the city walls.


Calvary, also called Golgotha, was a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls and just north of Mount Zion according to the Gospels. Calvary as an English name for the place is derived from the Latin word for skull (calvaria or Calvariæ Locus), which is used in the Vulgate translation of “place of a skull”.

This explanation is given in all 4 Gospels of the Aramaic word Gûlgaltâ which was the name of the place where Jesus was crucified.

Panoramic view of Calvary as seen today.

The text does not indicate why it was named Calvary or Golgotha, but there are 3 prominent theories. First is that as a place of public execution, Calvary may have been strewn with the skulls of abandoned victims.

This would be contrary to Jewish burial traditions, but not the Romans.

Second is that Calvary is named after a nearby cemetery which matches modern sites. Third is that the name was derived from the physical contour of its location meaning the mount appears to look like a skull.

(Crucifixion begins at 30:54)

The Gospels describe it as a place near enough to the city that those coming in and out could read the inscription Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The location itself is mentioned in all 4 Gospels:

Matthew: And when they came to a place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).

Mark: And they brought him to the place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).

Luke: And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.

John: So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol’gotha.

The traditional location of Golgotha derives from its identification by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, in 325 AD. A few yards nearby, Helena also identified the location of the Tomb of Jesus and claimed to have discovered the True Cross.

Constantine then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the whole site. In 333 AD, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux wrote in the Itinerarium Burdigalense, entering from the east described the result:

On the left hand is the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified. About a stone’s throw from thence is a vault [crypta] wherein his body was laid, and rose again on the third day. There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica; that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty.

Jerusalem is not in Europe so this may be passed our limits. There is a connection with the Roman Empire though, and Easter is almost upon us.

We hope you will join us again here at Rome Across Europe for more fun and exploration.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!Calvary Hill


Ball, Warwick. Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire.

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. “Calvary”. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1911.

Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. Archaeological researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874.

Hunt, Emily Jane. Christianity in the second century: the case of Tatian. Psychology Press, 2003.

Lande, George M. Building Your Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary Learning Words by Frequency and Cognate. Resources for Biblical Study 41. Society of Biblical Literature, 2001. ISBN 1-58983-003-2.

Lehmann, Clayton Miles. “Palestine: History”. The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. The University of South Dakota, 22 February 2007.

Wilson, Charles W. Golgotha and The Holy Sepulchre, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1906.


Liberalia: Celebrating Maturity

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

A couple of weeks ago we explored the deities that are the Aventine Triad, specifically Liber. You can check out the articles: The Aventine Triad: Watchers of the Plebs and Liber: The Free One.

On this special day, we take advantage of the festivities to celebrate Liberalia!

Liberalia Feast
Liberalia Feast

The Liberalia was the festival of Liber Pater (The Free Father) and his consort Libera. Held after the Ides of March, on 17 March, the Romans celebrated Liberalia with sacrifices, processions, ribaldry, ungraceful songs, and masks which were hung on trees.

The celebration on 17 March was meant to honor Liber Pater, an ancient god of fertility and wine (like Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus). Liber Pater was also a vegetation god, responsible for protecting seed.

Celebrating Liberalia

Priests and aged priestesses, adorned with garlands of ivy, carried through the city wine, honey, cakes (libia), and sweet-meats, together with an altar with a handle (ansata ara). In the middle of the ansata ara there was a small fire-pan (foculus), in which from time to time sacrifices were burnt.

Over time this feast evolved and included the goddess Libera, and the feast divided so that Liber governed the male seed and Libera the female. Ovid in his almanac entry for the festival identifies Libera as the celestial manifestation of Ariadne.

bulla praetexta
Bulla Praetexta

This feast celebrates the maturation of young boys to manhood. Roman boys, from age 14 to 16, would remove the bulla praetexta (a hollow charm of gold or leather) which parents placed about the necks of children to ward off evil spirits.

At the Liberalia ceremony the young men might place the bulla on an altar (with a lock of hair or the stubble of his first shave placed inside) and dedicate it to the Lares, who were gods of the household and family. Mothers often retrieved the discarded bulla praetexta and kept it out of superstition.

toga virilis
The Toga Virilis

If the son ever achieved a Triumphus (Public Triumph), the mother could display the bulla to ward off any evil that might be wished upon the son by envious people. The young men discarded the toga praetexta, which was probably derived from Etruscan dress and was decorated with a broad purple border and worn with the bulla, by boys and girls.

The boys donned the clothing of adulthood, the pure white toga virilis (man’s gown). The garment identified him as a citizen of Rome, making him an eligible voter.

To the Forum
Presentation of Roman Citizenship in the Forum.

The fathers of the young men took them to the city’s Forum and presented them as adults and Citizens. This was in the days when male rites of passage were encouraged.

An infans (infant) was incapable of doing any legal act. An impubes (under-age), who had passed the limits of infantia (childhood), could do any legal act with the Auctoritas (Authority) of his tutor.

Without such Auctoritas the boy could only do those acts which were for his benefit. With the attainment of pubertas, a person obtained the full power of his property, and the Tutela ceased. The now Roman Citizen could also dispose of his property by will, and he could contract marriage.


This ancient ceremony was a country or rustic ceremony. The processional featured a large phallus which the devotees carried throughout the countryside to bring the blessing of fertility to the land and the people.

The procession and the phallus were meant also to protect the crops from evil. At the end of the procession, a virtuous and respected matron placed a wreath upon the phallus.

While Liberalia is a relatively unknown event in the modern time, references to Liberalia and the Roman goddess Libera are still found today online and in astrology.

It seems that Liberalia would be similar to the Jewish tradition of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, or the Latin American Quinceañera.

Pottery depicting Liberalia celebration.

All across the world rites of passage, for young men or women, are quite important. It’s not really how it is celebrated simply that it is indeed celebrated.

Back in 2015 we shared a video about being a youth in Ancient Rome entitled A Glimpse of Teenage Life in Ancient Rome. This will help showcase a bit of the festivities.

Liberalia may not have been the biggest of Roman parties, but it was definitely one that was to be enjoyed by Rome’s newest Citizens.

We hope you enjoyed this little party and look forward to having you back again soon. Make sure to stop by again for we never know what we might be celebrating or where we may be journeying off to.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



T.P. WisemanRemus: a Roman myth, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Fasti 3.459-516.

Junonalia: Festival for the Protector & Special Counselor of the Roman State

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With this being the month of Martius (March), we sadly don’t have as many festivals as we did in Februarius (February). But don’t let that fool you, the Romans had celebrations in every month.

That brings us to today’s celebration, so please join us as we revel in Junonalia!

Procession in honor of Juno.

Before we get into the party, let us understand why we party. Today is a celebration of the ancient Roman goddess Juno, the Protector and Special Counselor of the Roman State.

Juno Sospita, a plaster cast based on an original in the Vatican Museums.

As the patron goddess of Rome and the Roman Empire, Juno was called Regina (Queen) and, together with Jupiter and Minerva, was worshipped as a the Juno Capitolina (Capitoline Triad) in Rome. Juno was a daughter of Saturn and sister (but also the wife) of the chief god Jupiter, as well as being the mother of Mars and Vulcan.

Juno’s theology is one of the most complex and disputed issues in Roman religion. Even more than other major Roman deities, Juno held a large number of significant and diverse epithets, names and titles representing various aspects and roles of the goddess. In accordance with her central role as a goddess of marriage, these included Pronuba and Cinxia (she who loses the bride’s girdle).

Juno looked after the women of Rome, with her Greek equivalent as Hera and her Etruscan counterpart was Uni. Hera was the Greek goddess for love and marriage, so Juno was Rome’s goddess of love and marriage.

Juno’s own warlike aspect among the Romans was apparent in her attire, as she often appeared sitting with a peacock armed and wearing a goatskin cloak. The traditional depiction of this warlike aspect was assimilated from the Greek goddess Athena, whose goatskin was called the aegis.

Ancient etymologies associated Juno’s name with iuvare (to aid, benefit) and iuvenescendo (rejuvenate), sometimes connecting it to the renewal of the new and waxing moon. This perhaps implied the idea of a moon goddess.

While her connection with the idea of vital force, fullness of vital energy, eternal youthfulness is now generally acknowledged, the multiplicity and complexity of her personality have given rise to various and sometimes irreconcilable interpretations among modern scholars.

2nd Century AD statue of Juno known as La Providence (Louvre Museum, Paris).

Juno was certainly the divine protectress of the community, who showed both a sovereign and a fertility character, often associated with a military one. She was present in many towns of ancient Italy, which leads us to her celebration.

The Iunonalia or Junonalia was a Roman festival in honor of Juno, held on 7 March (the Nonae). Among extant Roman calendars, it appears only in the Calendar of Filocalus (354 AD), and was added to the festival calendar after the mid-1st Century AD.

On this day, Ancient Romans observed the Junonalia to honor their Queen of Heaven. This festival was celebrated by the matrons of Rome in which a procession of 27 girls accompanied a statue of Juno carved out of a cypress tree.

Temple of Juno Moneta

There were processions in which statues of Juno were carried through the streets and ending at the Temple of Juno. Prayers and generous offerings of flowers and flowering plants were brought to Juno.

There was dancing, merriment, and wonderful feasting (for the Romans were known for their feasts). From how it sounded, it would be very similar to a modern “girls night out”.

The Junonalia was also attested in a fragmentary poem De Iunonalibus, attributed to Claudian. In it, Juno is addressed as mistress of the celestial pole, and the spouse and sister of the king of heaven.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Rome, Italy), some topographers’ possible location for the temple of Juno Moneta.

Her function as a goddess of marital bonds is also noted. Although the text is conjectural at this point, she may be asked to grant a return.

The Junonalia may have concluded a 3-day festival begun 5 March with the Isidis Navigium (Sailing of Isis). In the Metamorphoses of the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, Isis is addressed as Queen of Heaven, and by the 2nd Century a number of goddesses, including Juno, shared the epithet Caelestis.

Modern reenactors as Roman matrons in the parade for Junonalia.

We hope you enjoyed today’s celebration, and if you are a woman (with or without children) here’s to your strength. Check us out again soon to see what we’ll be celebrating or to where we’ll travel.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Benko, Stephen. The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology. Brill, 2004.

Corbishley, Mike. Ancient Rome. Warwick Press, 1986.

Palmer, Robert E. A. Roman Religion and Roman Empire. Five Essays Philadelphia, 1974.

Patrich, Joseph. Studies in the Archaeology and History of Caesarea Maritima. Brill, 2011.

Riese, Alexander. Anthologia Latina. Teubner, 1906.

Rodgers, Nigel. Life In Ancient Rome. Anness Publishing Ltd, 2007.

Salzman, Michele Renee. On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity. University of California Press, 1990.

Junonalia”. ladyisisrose. 7 March 2011.

March 6th: A Day to Celebrate

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It is officially March, or Martius as the Romans knew it. This meant a return to the active life of farming, military campaigning, and sailing for the Romans.

Statue of Mars from the Forum of Nerva (2nd Century AD), Capitoline Museums.

The month was named for Mars, the Roman god of war who was also regarded as a guardian of agriculture and an ancestor of the Roman people through his sons Romulus and Remus. His month of Martius was the beginning of the season for both farming and warfare, and the festivals held in his honor during the month were mirrored by others in October, when the season for these activities came to a close.

Martius was densely packed with religious observances dating from the earliest period of Roman history. Because of its original position as the 1st month of the earliest Roman calendar, a number of festivals originally associated with the New Year occurred in March.

Martius remained the start of the Roman calendar year perhaps as late as 153 BC, when it became the 3rd month, following Februarius (February) and preceding Aprilis (April). Even in late antiquity, Roman mosaics picturing the months sometimes still placed March first.

In the Imperial period, March was also a time for public celebration of syncretic or international deities whose cultus was spread throughout the empire, including Isis and Cybele.

Keeping that in mind, today we celebrate a pair of events that the Romans held on VI Martius!

Roman Calendar

The earliest of the 2 events celebrated today was a Supplicatio for Vesta and the Di Penates. In Ancient Roman religion, a Supplicatio was a day of public prayer when all the people of Rome traveled in procession to religious sites around the city praying for divine aid in times of crisis.

Wreaths and laurel twigs

During this process the population as a whole wore wreaths, carried laurel twigs, and attended sacrifices at temple precincts throughout the city. Supplications might also be ordered in response to prodigies (prodigia).

Supplicatio was decreed for 2 different reasons: 1) as a thanksgiving when a great victory had been gained or 2) as a solemn supplication and humiliation decreed in times of public danger and distress and on account of prodigies to avert the anger of the gods.

The number of days during which the Supplicatio was to last would be proportionate to the importance of the victory.

The Triumph of Julius Caesar by Andrea Mantegna.

A Supplication of 10 days was first decreed in honor of Pompey at the conclusion of the war with Mithridates, while Caesar was a Supplicatio of 20 days after his conquest of Vercingetorix.

No great victory had been recorded on 6 March by the Romans, so today’s Supplicatio was to avert the anger of the gods. It may have well even been considered a thanksgiving of sorts since Vesta was the virgin goddess of hearth, home, and family.

The Virgo Vestalis Maxima depicted in a Roman statue.

Vesta was among the Dii Consentes, 12 of the most honored gods in the Roman pantheon. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, and sister of Jupiter, NeptunePlutoJuno, and Ceres.

The myths depicting Vesta and her priestesses were few. Most were limited to tales of miraculous impregnation by a phallus appearing in the flames of the hearth – the manifestation of the goddess.

Remains of the Temple of Vesta located in the Roman Forum near the Regia and the House of the Vestal Virgins.

Rarely depicted in human form, Vesta was often personified by the fire of her temple in the Forum Romanum. Entry to her temple was permitted only to her priestesses, the Vestals, who tended the sacred fire at the hearth in her temple.

As she was considered a guardian of the Roman people, her festival, the Vestalia (7-15 June), was regarded as one of the most important Roman holidays. Such was Vesta’s importance to Roman religion that hers was one of the last republican pagan cults still active following the rise of Christianity until it was forcibly disbanded by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I in AD 391.

The Di Penates, or simply Penates, were among the dii familiares (household deities) invoked most often in domestic rituals. When the family had a meal, they threw a bit into the fire on the hearth for the Penates.

Di Penates with Lares

They were thus associated with Vesta, the Lares, and the Genius of the paterfamilias in the little universe of the domus. Like other domestic deities, the Penates had a public counterpart.

An etymological interpretation of the Penates would make them in origin tutelary deities of the storeroom or innermost part of the house, where they guarded the household’s food, wine, oil, and other supplies. As they were originally associated with the source of food, they eventually became a symbol of the continuing life of the family.

The Penates of Rome (Penates Publici Populi Romani) had a temple on the Velia (Velian Hill) near the Mons Palatinus (Palatine Hill). Dionysius of Halicarnassus says it housed statues of 2 youths in the archaic style.

Aeneas and the Penates, from a 4th-Century manuscript.

The public cult of the ancestral gods of the Roman people originated in Lavinium, where they were also closely linked with Vesta. One tradition identified the public Penates as the sacred objects rescued by Aeneas from Troy and carried by him to Italy thus becoming portable deities.

Busts of the co-Emperors Marcus Aurelius (left) and Lucius Verus (right), British Museum.

Up next on the celebrations for today came the dies imperii for the joint reign of Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. A Roman Emperor’s dies imperii was the date on which he assumed Imperium aka the anniversary of his accession as Emperor.

The date was observed annually with renewed oaths of loyalty and Vota Pro Salute Imperatoris, vows and offerings for the wellbeing (salus) of the Emperor. Observances resembled those on 3 January, which had replaced the traditional vows made for the salus of the Roman Republic after the transition to one-man rule under Augustus.

The dies imperii was a recognition that succession during the Empire might take place irregularly through the death or overthrow of an Emperor. This contrasted the annual terms of office for the Republic’s Magistrates when the year was designated by the names of Consuls serving their 1-year term.

Portrait head of Lucius Verus, found in Athens (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).

Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus came to office in 161 AD. Verus would reign until he succumbed to symptoms attributed to food poisoning in 169, while Marcus Aurelius would reign until his death in March 180 AD.

During their reign, the Roman Empire defeated a revitalized Parthia in the east. In Central Europe, Aurelius fought the MarcomanniQuadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars.

Despite the minor differences between them, Marcus Aurelius grieved the loss of his adoptive brother Verus. He accompanied the body to Rome, where he offered games to honor his memory.

Bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Musée Saint-Raymond (Toulouse, France).

After the funeral, the Roman Senate declared Verus deified and to be worshipped as Divine Verus (Divus Verus). Marcus Aurelius acquired the reputation of a philosopher king within his lifetime, and the title would remain his after death when he too was immediately deified.

We hope you enjoyed today’s celebrations, since you had more than 1 choice. Please join us again soon as we explore some other time and place in Roman History.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary; North, John; Price, Simon. Religions of Rome: Volume 1, A History. Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0 521 30401 6.

Chance, Jane. Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433–1177. University Press of Florida, 1994.

Dench, EmmaRomulus’ Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hahn, Frances Hickson. “Performing the Sacred: Prayers and Hymns”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Lefkowitz, Mary R.; Fant, Maureen B. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-8018-8310-1.

Morford, Mark P.O.; Lenardon, Robert J.; Sham, Michael. Classical Mythology (9th ed.). Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 9780195397703.

Nixon, C.E.V. In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini. University of California Press, 1994.

Noehden, G. H. “On the Worship of Vesta, and the Holy Fire, in Ancient Rome: with an Account of the Vestal Virgins”. The Classical Journal, 1817.

Noreña, Carlos F. Imperial Ideals in the Roman West: Representation, Circulation, Power. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Rosenberger, Veit. “Religious Actors in Daily Life: Practices and Related Beliefs”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Rüpke, JörgThe Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Salzman, Michele Renee. On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity. University of California Press, 1990.

Scheid, John. “Sacrifices for Gods and Ancestors”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Schutz, Celia E. Women’s Religious Activity in the Roman Republic. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Cornell University Press, 1981.

Quirinalia: Celebrating Quirinus and Rome’s Civil Society

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we carry on in this month of Februarius (February), we shall continue to celebrate. As Saint Ambrose said, “Cum Romae esse, uti non Romanis” (When in Rome, do as the Romans do)!

Since Februarius was all about partying for the Romans, today we are going to be like the Romans and celebrate Quirinalia!

The ancient pagan festival of Quirinalia.

Held on 17 February, Quirinalia was the festival of Quirinus. In Roman mythology and religion, Quirinus was an early god of the Roman state.

In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus. His name may be derived from the Sabine word quiris (spear).

Janus Quirinus

Some scholars connect the Quirinalia festival with the anniversary date of the murder of Romulus by his subjects on the basis of the calendar of Polemius Silvius and of Ovid. The story of Romulus’s apotheosis seems to be related, and accordingly the festival has been interpreted as a funerary parentatio.

Another interpretation has been mentioned based on the fact that the only religious ritual recorded for that day are the Stultorum Feriae (the last day of the Fornacalia). This festival used to be celebrated separately by each of the 30 Curiae.

This would mean that the Fornacalia had no fixed date, and thus not mentioned on calendars. Every year the Curio Maximus established the days for each Curia, and those who had missed their day (stulti, fool ones) were allowed an extra off day to make amends collectively.

Festus and Plutarch state that the Stultorum Feriae were in fact the Quirinalia. Their assertion seems acceptable for if it were not so then no Roman writer gave any indication of their content, and the Stultorum Feriae bring to an end the organized operation of the Curiae in the Fornacalia.

Flamines from the south frieze of Augustus’ Ara Pacis.

This connection between the Flamen Quirinalis and an activity regulated through the Curiae is important as it supports the interpretation of Quirinus as a god of the Roman civil society. The Curiae were in fact the original smallest grouping of Roman society.

Quirinus is probably an adjective meaning Wielder of the Spear. Other suggested origins are from the Sabine town Cures; from curia; or as the oak-god (quercus), and Quirites as the Men of the Oaken Spear.

Quirinal Hill

Quirinus was most likely a Sabine god of war. The Sabines had a settlement near the eventual site of Rome, and erected an altar to Quirinus on the Collis Quirinalis (Quirinal Hill), one of the Seven Hills of Rome.

When the Romans settled in the area, the cult of Quirinus became part of their early belief system. This occurred before the later influences from the classical Greek culture.

Romolus Quirinus

In Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, he writes that shortly after Rome’s founder had disappeared under what some considered suspicious circumstances, a Roman noble named Proculus Julius reported that Romulus had come to him in a vision. He claimed that the king had instructed him to tell his countrymen that he, Romulus was Quirinus.

By the end of the 1st Century BC, Quirinus would be considered to be the deified legendary king.

Historian Angelo Brelich has argued that Quirinus and Romulus were originally the same divine entity which was split into a founder hero and a god when Roman religion became de-mythicized. To support this, he points to the association of both Romulus and Quirinus with the grain spelt, through the Fornacalia or Stultorum Feriae, according to Ovid’s Fasti.

The Vintage Festival by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

The combination of a festival involving a staple crop, a god, and a tale of a slain founding hero whose body parts are buried in the soil is a recognized archetype that arises when such a split takes place in a culture’s mythology. The possible presence of the Flamen Quirinalis at the festival of Acca Larentia would corroborate this thesis, given the fact that Romulus is a stepson of hers, and one the original 12th arval brethren (Fratres Arvales).

The association of Quirinus and Romulus is further supported by a connection with Vofionos, the 3rd god in the Grabovian triad of Iguvium. Vofionos would be the equivalent of Liber or Teutates, in Latium and among the Celts respectively.

His early importance led to his inclusion in the original Capitoline Triad, along with Mars (then an agriculture god) and Jupiter. Overtime, however, he became less significant, and he was absent from the later, more widely known triad.

Templum Quirinus

Varro mentions the Capitolium Vetus, an earlier cult site on the Quirinal, devoted to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Eventually, Romans began to favor personal and mystical cults over the official state belief system.

These included those of BacchusCybele, and Isis, leaving only his Flamen to worship him. The Flamen Quirinalis who remained, however, were the patrician Flamines Maiores (Greater Flamens) who had oversight over the Pontifex Maximus.

In earlier Roman art, Quirinus was portrayed as a bearded man with religious and military clothing but was almost never depicted in later Roman belief systems. He was also often associated with the myrtle.

Even centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Quirinal Hill in Rome was still associated with power. It was chosen as the seat of the royal house after the taking of Rome by the Savoia and later it became the residence of the Presidents of the Italian Republic.

Piazza del Quirinale panorama.

In Rome, Quirinus and his Quirinalia still live on today. We thank you very much for joining our celebration and look forward to having you back for further adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Brelich, Angelo. “Quirinus: una divinita’ romana alla luce della comparazione storica.” Studi e Materiali di Storia delle religioni, 1960.

Evans, Jane DeRose. The Art of Persuasion. University of Michigan Press, 1992. ISBN 0-472-10282-6.

Fishwich, Duncan. The Imperial Cult in the Latin West Brill, 2nd edition (1993). ISBN 978-90-04-07179-7.

Orlin, Eric. Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire. Oxford University Press, 2010.

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Ryberg, Inez Scott. “Was the Capitoline Triad Etruscan or Italic?”. The American Journal of Philology 52.2 (1931).

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“Quirinus”. Encyclopædia Britannica 1911.

Lupercalia: Purifying Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As some may think we are going to be talking about a certain romantic celebration, we’ll stop that right now. The celebration is correct, but it’s not about romantic love.

Today we are celebrating Lupercalia!

Lupercalia by Domenico Beccafumi

In Ancient RomeLupercalia, observed 13–15 February, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa (Juno the purifier or the chaste Juno) was celebrated on 13–14 February.

Drawing of the month of February (Mensis Februarius) based on the Calendar of Philocalus (354 AD), with a caption explaining that because the wandering Manes or souls of the dead can permeate the earth in this month, “the shades” (ghosts) are placated by commemorative honors.

On the ancient Roman calendarmensis Februarius or Februarius (February) was the 2nd and shortest month, from which the English name of the month derives. It was preceded by Ianuarius (January) and followed by Martius (Mars‘ month, March).

Februarius was the only month in the pre-Julian calendar to have an even number of days (28). Ancient sources derived Februarius from februum, a thing used for ritual purification.

Most of the observances in this month concerned the dead or closure, reflecting the month’s original position at the end of the year. The Parentalia was a 9-day festival honoring the ancestors and propitiating the dead, while the Terminalia was a set of rituals pertaining to boundary stones that was probably also felt to reinforce the boundary of the year.

Bronze wolf head from 1st Century AD used to celebrate Lupercalia (Cleveland Museum of Art).

Lupercalia pastoral festival was used to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. The name Lupercalia was believed in antiquity to evince some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia (from Ancient Greek: lukos, “wolf”, Latin lupus) and the worship of Lycaean Pan, assumed to be a Greek equivalent to the god Faunus, as instituted by Evander.

In Roman mythology, Lupercus is the god of shepherds with his priests wearing goatskins. His festival, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple was called the Lupercalia.

The Lupercal cave beneath the Domus Livia on the Palatine Hill (photo taken by probe).

The historian Justin mentions an image of “the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus,” nude save for the girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. There, on the Ides of February (in February the Ides is the 13th), a goat and a dog were sacrificed, and salt mealcakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt.

The ancient cult of the Hirpi Sorani (Wolves of Soranus, from Sabine hirpus “wolf”) practiced at Mt. Soracte, 28 mi north of Rome. They too had common elements with the Roman Lupercalia.

Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, described Lupercalia:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, explaining the name of the festival, Lupercalia (Wolf Festival). The festival was celebrated near the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine Hill (the central hill where Rome was traditionally founded), to expiate and purify new life in the Spring.

Lupa Capitolina (The Capitoline She-Wolf) suckling the orphaned Romulus and Remus, future founders of Rome.

A known Lupercalia festival of 44 BC attests to the continuity of the festival but the Lupercal cave may have fallen into disrepair, and was later rebuilt by Augustus. It has been tentatively identified with a cavern discovered in 2007, some 50 feet below the remains of Domus Augusti (House of Augustus).

The rites were directed by the Luperci (Brothers of the Wolf), a corporation of sacerdotes (priests) of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin. The Luperci were divided into 2 collegia, called Quinctiliani (or Quinctiales) and Fabiani, from the gens Quinctilia (or Quinctia) and gens Fabia.

The Luperci (Brothers of the Wolf) performing the rituals at the altar.

At the head of each of these colleges was a Magister. Then in 44 BC, a 3rd college, the Julii, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar, the 1st Magister of which was Mark Antony.

Caesar Refuses the Diadem (1894), when it was offered by Mark Antony during the Lupercalia.

Antony offered Caesar a crown during the festival, an act that was widely interpreted as a sign that Caesar aspired to make himself king and was gauging the reaction of the crowd. In imperial times the members were usually of Equites.

The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the Flamen Dialis) of 2 male goats and a dog. Next 2 young Patricii Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility.

The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the animals (februa), dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats (in imitation of Lupercus), and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city which was marked with stones. With thongs in each hand in 2 bands, the Luperci struck the people who crowded near.

Provoking fertility and a good pregnancy with throngs.

Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

By the 5th Century, when the public performance of pagan rites had been outlawed, a nominally Christian Roman populace still clung to the Lupercalia in the time of Pope Gelasius I (494–96). It had been literally degraded since the 1st Century, when in 44 BC as Consul, Mark Antony did not scruple to run with the Luperci.

Pope Gelasius I

Now the upper classes left the festivities to the rabble. Whatever the fortunes of the rites in the meantime, they prompted Pope Gelasius I’s taunt to the Senatus Romanus who was intent on preserving them:

If you assert that this rite has salutary force, celebrate it yourselves in the ancestral fashion; run nude yourselves that you may properly carry out the mockery.

The remark was addressed to the Senator Andromachus by Gelasius in an extended literary epistle that was virtually a diatribe against the Lupercalia. Gelasius finally abolished the Lupercalia after a long dispute.

St Valentine baptizing St Lucilla, Jacopo Bassano.

Some authors claim that Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” (14 February) but researchers have stated that there is no written record of Gelasius ever intending a replacement of Lupercalia. Other researchers have made a separate claim that the modern customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originate from Lupercalia customs.

Still other researchers have rejected this claim, saying there is no proof that the modern customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originate from Lupercalia customs. The claim seems to originate from misconceptions about festivities.

The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer‘s poetry about “Valentines” in the 14th Century. Popular modern sources claim links to unspecified Greco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St. Valentine’s Day, but prior to Chaucer in the 14th Century, there were no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love.

Jupiter and Juno (aka Rome’s version of Zeus and Hera) embrace.

Earlier links as described above were focused on sacrifice rather than romantic love. In the ancient Athenian calendar the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Alban Butler in his Lifes of the Principal Saints (1756–1759) claimed without proof that men and women in Lupercalia drew names from a jar to make couples, and that modern Valentine’s letters originated from this custom. In reality, this practice originated in the Middle Ages, with no link to Lupercalia, with men drawing the names of girls at random to couple with them.

Lupercalia has been written about by contemporary authors. In Horace‘s Ode III, Line 18 describes Lupercalia.

William Shakespeare‘s play Julius Caesar begins during the Lupercalia, with the tradition described above. Mark Antony is instructed by Caesar to strike his wife Calpurnia, in the hope that she will be able to conceive:

CAESAR (to Calpurnia)

Stand you directly in Antonius’ way,
When he doth run his course. Antonius!


Caesar, my lord?


Forget not, in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.

Later, after Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony delivers his funeral speech (Act III, Scene II, line 74) in which he refers to how, at the Lupercal, he had offered Caesar the crown three times.


You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Whether or not you have gotten into the romantic mindset, or just feel like running around in a goatskin, this is your day to make it happen. Remember, Lupercalia only comes once a year.

Thanks for stopping by today. We hope you enjoyed yourself and look forward to having you for furthers celebrations and adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Forsythe. Time in Roman Religion.

Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Cornell University Press, 1981.

VarroDe re rustica.

Calendarium Romanum ex Decreto Sacrosancti

The Aventine Triad: Watchers of the Plebs

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

In what little free time there is lately, we have been trying to come up with new content (or at least bring a previous article back to life with some additional content). Two days ago we brought you Liber: The Free One which made mention of his status among 3 other dieties.

So having some bit of a background on the subject, today we explore the world of the Aventine Triad!

The Aventine Triad: (from L to R) Ceres, Liber and Libera.

The Aventine Triad, also referred to as the Plebeian Triad or the Agricultural Triad, is a modern term for the joint cult of the Roman deities CeresLiber and Libera. Established around 493 BC, the cult was located within a sacred district (templum) on or near the Aventine Hill, traditionally associated with the Roman Plebs.

Later accounts describe the temple building and rites as Greek in style. Some modern historians describe the Aventine Triad as a Plebeian parallel and self-conscious converse to the antiquated Capitoline Triad of JupiterMars and Quirinus and the later Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno.

Model of what and where the Aventine Temple would be in Ancient Rome.

No trace remains of the temple building today. The historical and epigraphical record offer only sparse details to suggest its exact location.

The Aventine Triad, temple and associated ludi (games and theatrical performances) served as a focus of plebeian identity. Sometimes in said ludi were in direct opposition to Rome’s original ruling elite, the Patricians.

The Aventine relationship between Ceres, Liber and Libera was probably based first on their functions as agricultural and fertility deities of the Plebs as a distinct social group. Liber had been companion to both Ceres and to Libera in separate and disparate fertility cults that were widespread throughout the Hellenized Apennine Peninsula, long before their official adoption by Rome.

1st Century AD seated Ceres from Emerita Augusta (National Museum of Roman Art – Mérida, Spain).

As Ceres’ own cult appears to have been considered more tractable and obedient than Liber’s, her own cult was adopted in Rome far earlier. Their Aventine cults, reported in later Roman sources as distinctively Greek in character, may have been further reinforced and influenced by their Interpretatio Graeca (perceived similarities to particular Greek deities): Ceres to Demeter, Liber to Dionysus (Roman Bacchus) and Libera to Persephone (Roman Proserpina).

In keeping with Roman theology, the internal and external equivalence of the Aventine Triad remained speculative, broad and flexible. Long after its establishment, Cicero rejects the equivalence of Liber and Dionysus and asserts that Ceres is mother to Liber and Libera.

The Aventine Triad was established soon after the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom and establishment of the Republic. Rome’s majority of common citizens (Plebs) were ruled by the Patricians, a small number of powerful, landed aristocrats who asserted a traditional, exclusive right to Rome’s highest religious, political and military offices.

The Plebs not only served in Rome’s Legions, they were the backbone of its economy. Plebs were smallholders, laborers, skilled specialists, managers of landed estates, vintners, and importers and exporters of grain and wine.

Liber – the god of wine, ecstasy, winemaking, festivity, theatre and madness.

Against a background of famine in Rome, an imminent war against the Latins and a threatened Conflict of the Orders, the dictator Aulus Postumius vowed a temple to the patron deities of the Plebs (aka Ceres, Liber and Libera) on or near the Aventine Hill. The famine ended and Rome’s plebeian citizen-soldiery cooperated in the conquest of the Latins.

In 493 BC, a new built temple on or near the Aventine hill was dedicated to the Triad and Rome’s 1st recorded ludi scaenici (religious dramas) were held in honor of Liber, for the benefit of the Roman people. The Liberalia, Liber’s festival, may date from this time.

The Capitoline Triad: (from L to R) Minerva, Jupiter, and Juno.

Patrician dominance was manifest in the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus on the Capitoline Hill, at the heart of the city. The Capitoline temple lay within Rome’s sacred boundary (pomerium), while the Aventine lay outside it.

A bronze assarion of Septimius Severus showing Liber with a thyrsos and a bunch of grapes.

In most versions of the Roman founding myth, this was the hill on which the unfortunate Remus lost to his brother Romulus in a contest of augury to decide Rome’s foundation, name and leadership. Among other religious innovations based on his antiquarian interests, the Emperor Claudius redrew the pomerium to encompass the Aventine.

Postumius’ vow has been interpreted as a pragmatic, timely recognition of the plebeian citizenry as a distinct social and political grouping with its own values, interests and traditions. The vow may have intended confirmation of the Plebs and their deities as fully Roman, but its fulfillment focused plebeian culture and identity on a Triad of deities only part-assimilated into official Roman religion.

Libera – Fertility goddess

Some aspects of their cults were still considered morally “un-Roman” by Rome’s authorities. Thus the Aventine Triad gave the Plebs what has been variously described by modern historians as a parallel to the official Capitoline Triad, and its “copy and antithesis”.

Evidence is lacking for the earliest priesthoods of the Aventine Triad, whether in joint or individual cult to its deities. The plebeian aediles, named after their service of aedes (shrine or temple) may have acted as cult priests for their community and may have served Liber and Libera in this capacity.

Ceres was served by a Flamen Cerealis, usually a Pleb. His duties included the invocation of her assistant deities and cult service to the earth-goddess Tellus.


From as early as 205 BC, a joint mystery cult to Ceres and Proserpina was held at the Aventine Triad’s temple, in addition to its older rites. This ritus graecus cereris recognised Libera as equivalent to Proserpina, with Liber’s involvement (if any) unknown.

Initiation was reserved to women, and the cult was served by priestesses of high social caste. According to Cicero, men were to use a separate cult image or the use of the same images just in different, gender-segregated rites.

The Aventine Triad’s temple was known by the name of its leading deity, thus Roman sources describe it as the Temple of Ceres. Within the temple, though, each deity had a separate internal sanctuary (cella).

Late 18th Century porcelain model of Ceres with cereals by Dominik Auliczek of the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory.

The temple served as a cult center for the patron deities of the Plebs, a sacred depository for plebeian records and the headquarters for the plebeian aediles. The minutes of decrees from the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate) were also placed there, under the protection of Ceres as the guardian of laws on behalf of the Roman people.

While the original temple fabric and furnishings may have been funded in whole or part by its Patrician sponsors, its cult images and its maintenance were supported partly through voluntary offerings and partly through the fines collected by the plebeian aediles from those who infringed plebeian civil and religious laws. By the late Republic, it may have fallen into disrepair.

Augustus undertook its restoration, which was completed by his successor TiberiusPliny the Elder later describes its style and designers as Greek, which is further evidence of continued plebeian cultural connections with Magna Graecia.

Liber with a panther

The Plebs continued to establish and administer their own laws (plebiscita). They even went so far as to hold a formal Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council) from which Patricians were excluded.

The Plebs elected their own magistrates and sought religious confirmation of their decisions through their own augury, which in plebeian religious tradition had been introduced by Marsyas. Meanwhile, the Plebeian Tribunes, an emergent Plebeian nobility and a small but growing number of popularist politicians of Patrician ancestry gained increasing influence over Rome’s religious life and government.

Any person who offended against the sacred rights and person of a Plebeian Tribune was liable to declaration as homo sacer, who could be killed with impunity and whose property was forfeit to Ceres. Even so, official Ludi Cereales were not established until as late as 202 BC.


Liber’s festival and the Bacchic or Dionysian aspects of his cult were suppressed om 186 BC under the ferocious Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. The Liberalia rites were transferred to Cerealia, but after a few years they were restored to Liber.

Varro‘s complex, investigative Late Republican theology groups Ceres with Tellus and Venus, therefore (in Varronian reasoning) with Victoria. Ceres was grouped with Libera, when the latter is understood as the female aspect of Liber.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey to a far gone religious trinity. We look forward to having you join us again soon for whatever our next adventure may be.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



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