Category Archives: Religion / Mythology

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!



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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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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!



Ando, CliffordThe Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire. University of California Press, 2008.

Beard, M.; Price, S.; and North, J. Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Cornell, T. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000–264 BC). Routledge, 1995.

Green, C.M.C. “Varro’s Three Theologies and their influence on the Fasti”, in Geraldine Herbert-Brown, (ed) Ovid’s Fasti: historical readings at its bimillennium. Oxford University Press, 2002.

LivyAb Urbe Condita.

Scheid, John. “Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 97. Integration, 1995.

Spaeth, Barbette Stanley. The Roman goddess Ceres. University of Texas Press, 1996.

Spaeth, Barbette Stanley. “The Goddess Ceres and the Death of Tiberius Gracchus”. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 39, No. 2 (1990).

Wiseman, T.P. Remus: A Roman Myth. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Liber: The Free One

Hello and Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Ancient Rome was built on 2 foundations when it came to religion, paganism and then Christianity. The common link for the pair was that both had origins in the Latin language.

We do our best to share information about both, plus it adds to the content level. Our focus for now will be on the mythology of Rome.

Today we are going to experience a freedom like no other as we explore Liber!

In ancient Roman religion Liber (The Free One) was a god of freedom. Included in this freedom was viticulture, wine, and fertility.

Also known as Liber Pater (The Free Father), he was a patron deity of Rome’s Plebeians and was part of their Aventine Triad. His festival of Liberalia (17 March) became associated with free speech and the rights attached to coming of age.

One was an agricultural and fertility goddess, Ceres, of Rome’s Hellenized neighbors. The other was Libera, who was Liber’s female equivalent.

In ancient Lavinium, Liber was a phallic deity. In Latin liber means “free” or the “free one”.

Liber Pater by Troxatu.

When coupled with pater, it means The Free Father. He was supposed to personify freedom and champion its attendant rights, as opposed to dependent servitude.

The word liber is also understood in regard of the concept libation, ritual offering of drink, which in Greek relates to spondé, literally related to English ‘to spend’. Roman writers of the late Republic and early Empire offer various etymological and poetic speculations based on this trope, to explain certain features of Liber’s cult.

Liber entered Rome’s historical tradition soon after the overthrow of the Rēgnum Rōmānum (Roman Kingdom), the establishment of the Republic and the first of many threatened or actual Secessio Plebis (Secession of the Plebs) from Rome’s Patrician authority. According to Livy, the dictator A. Postumius vowed games (ludi) and a joint public temple to a Triad of Ceres, Liber and Libera on Rome’s Aventine Hill, c.496 BC.

In 493 the vow was fulfilled. The new Aventine temple was dedicated and ludi scaenici (religious dramas) were held in honor of Liber, for the benefit of the Roman people.

These early ludi scaenici have been suggested as the earliest of their kind in Rome, and may represent the earliest official festival to Liber, or an early form of his Liberalia festival. The formal, official development of the Aventine Triad may have encouraged the assimilation of its individual deities to Greek equivalents: Ceres to Demeter, Liber to Dionysus and Libera to Persephone or Kore.

Statue of the Capitoline Triad

Liber’s patronage of Rome’s largest, least powerful class of citizens (the Plebs) associates him with particular forms of Plebeian disobedience to the civil and religious authority claimed by Rome’s Republican Patrician elite. The Aventine Triad has been described as parallel to the Capitoline Triad of JupiterMars and Quirinus on the Capitoline Hill.

The Aventine Triad was apparently installed at the behest of the Sibylline Books but Liber’s position within it seems equivocal from the outset. He was a god of the grape and of wine.

His early ludi scaenici virtually defined their genre thereafter as satirical, subversive theatre in a lawful religious context. Some aspects of his cults remained potentially un-Roman and offered a focus for civil disobedience.

Liber Pater

Liber asserted Plebeian rights to ecstatic release, self-expression and free speech. After all, he was Liber Pater, the Free Father who was a divine personification of liberty, father of Plebeian wisdoms and Plebeian augury.

Liber’s cult and functions were increasingly associated with Romanized forms of the Greek Dionysus/Bacchus, whose mythology he came to share. Before his official adoption as a Roman deity, Liber was companion to 2 different goddesses in 2 separate, archaic Italian fertility cults.

Liber was closely, often interchangeably identified with Bacchus, Dionysius and their mythology but was not entirely incorporated by them. In the late Republican era, Cicero could insist on the “non-identity of Liber and Dionysus” and describe Liber and Libera as children of Ceres.

Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne by Annibale Carracci.

Liber, like his Aventine companions, carried various aspects of his older cults into official Roman religion. He protected various aspects of agriculture and fertility, including the vine and the “soft seed” of its grapes, wine and wine vessels, and male fertility and virility.

As his divine power was incarnate in the vine, grape and wine, he was offered the first, sacred pressing of the grape-harvest, known as sacrima. The wine produced under Liber’s patronage was his gift to humankind, and therefore fit for profane (non-religious) use.

It could be mixed with old wine for the purposes of fermentation, and otherwise adulterated and diluted according to taste and circumstance. For religious purposes, it was ritually impure (vinum spurcum).

Seated with a wine cup

Roman religious law required that the libations offered to the gods in their official cults should be vinum inferum, a strong wine of pure vintage, also known as temetum. It was made from the best of the crop, selected and pressed under the patronage of Rome’s sovereign deity Jupiter and ritually purified by his Flamen (senior priest).

Liber’s role in viniculture and wine-making was thus both matching and subservient to Jupiter’s. Liber also personified male procreative power, which was ejaculated as the “soft seed” of human and animal semen.

His temples held the image of a phallus. In Lavinium, this was the principal focus for his month-long festival, when according to St. Augustine, the “dishonorable member” was placed “on a little trolley” and taken in procession around the local crossroad shrines, then to the local forum for its crowning by an honorable matron.

The rites ensured the growth of seeds and repelled any malicious enchantment (fascinatus) from fields. Liber’s festivals are timed to the springtime awakening and renewal of fertility in the agricultural cycle.

In Rome, his annual Liberalia public festival was held on 17 March. A portable shrine was also carried through Rome’s neighborhoods (vici).

Parade for Liber

Liber’s aged, ivy-crowned priestesses offered honey cakes for sale, and offered sacrifice on behalf of those who bought them. The discovery of honey was credited to Liber-Bacchus.

Embedded within Liberalia, more or less at a ritualistic level, were the various freedoms and rights attached to Roman ideas of virility as a divine and natural force. Young men celebrated their coming of age as they cut off, and dedicated, their 1st beards to their household Lares.

If the men were citizens they wore their 1st toga virilis (manly toga). The poet Ovid, perhaps by way of poetic etymology, instead called the toga virilistoga libera (Liber’s toga or Toga of Freedom).

To the Forum for Liberalia

These new citizens registered their citizenship at the forum and were then free to vote, to leave their father’s domus (household), choose a marriage partner and, thanks to Liber’s endowment of virility, father their own children. Ovid also emphasizes the less formal freedoms and rights of Liberalia, such as an opportunity for uninhibited talking.

Very little is known of Liber’s official and unofficial cults during the early to middle Republican era. Their Dionysiac or Bacchic elements seem to have been regarded as tolerably ancient, home-grown and manageable by Roman authorities until 186 BC, shortly after the end of the Second Punic War.

Livy, writing 200 years after the event, gives a highly theatrical account of the Bacchanalia‘s introduction by a foreign soothsayer, a “Greek of mean condition… a low operator of sacrifices”. The cult then spread in secret, “like a plague”.

The lower classes – Plebeians, women, the young, morally weak and effeminate males (“men most like women”) – were all particularly susceptible for all such persons have leuitas animi (fickle or uneducated minds). But even Rome’s elite were not immune.

Celebrating Liberalia

The Bacchanalia‘s priestesses urge their deluded flock to break all social and sexual boundaries, even to visit ritual murder on those who oppose them or betray their secrets. Livy’s dramatis personae, stylistic flourishes and tropes probably draw on Roman satyr-plays rather than the Bacchanalia themselves.

Pliny the Elder describes the Aventine Triad’s temple as designed by Greek architects, and typically Greek in style. Although no trace remains of it, and the historical and epigraphical record offers only sparse details to suggest its exact location, so Pliny’s description may be further evidence of time-honored and persistent Plebeian cultural connections with Magna Graecia, well into the Imperial era.

Vitruvius recommends that Liber’s temples follow an Ionic Greek model, as a “just measure between the severe manner of the Doric and the tenderness of the Corinthian,” respectful of the deity’s part-feminine characteristics.

The Via Labicana Augustus—Augustus as Pontifex Maximus.

During the start of the Empire, Augustus successfully courted the Plebs supported their patron deities and began the restoration of the Aventine Triad’s temple. It was re-dedicated by his successor, Tiberius.

Septimius Severus inaugurated his reign and dynasty with games to honor Liber/Shadrapa and Hercules/Melqart, the Romanized founding hero-deities of his native town, Lepcis Magna (North Africa).  Severus then built them a massive temple and arch in Rome.

The reverse of a coin of Septimius Severus showing Liber Pater with a panther.

Even later during the Empire, Liber Pater was of 1 of many deities served by the scholarly, deeply religious Senator Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (c. AD 315 – 384). A Bacchic community shrine dedicated to Liber Pater was established in Cosa (in modern Tuscany), probably during the 4th Century AD.

Said shrine remained in use for decades after the edicts of Theodosius in 391 and 392 AD outlawing paganism. Its abandonment, or perhaps its destruction by zealous Christians, was so abrupt that much of its cult paraphernalia survived virtually intact beneath the building’s later collapse.

Around the end of the 5th Century, in Orosius‘s Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, Liber Pater‘s mythic conquest of India is taken as an historical event. It was said to have left a harmless, naturally peaceful nation “dripping with blood, full of corpses, and polluted with [Liber’s] lusts.”

Household Gods

Gods named Liber and Libera play a major role in the science fiction/time-travel novel Household Gods by Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarr.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey into the religion of old, and look forward to having you join us again soon. Who knows what we’ll be exploring?

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary. The Roman Triumph. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

Beard, M.; Price, S.; North, J. Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Bowman, A.; Cameron, A.; Garnsey, P. (Eds). “The Crisis of Empire, AD 193-337”. The Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd edition, Volume 12 (2005).

Cicero. De Natura Deorum.

Collins-Clinton, Jaquelyn. “A late antique shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa”. Etudes Preliminaires aux Religions Orientales dans l’Empire Romain, Volume 64. BRILL, 1977.

Green, C.M.C. “Varro’s Three Theologies and their influence on the Fasti”, in Geraldine Herbert-Brown, (ed)., Ovid’s Fasti: historical readings at its bimillennium. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Grimal, Pierre. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Wiley-Blackwell, 1996. ISBN 978-0-631-20102-1.

Matthews, J. F. “Symmachus and the Oriental Cults”. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 63 (1973).

Orosius, Paulus. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans (trans. and ed. A T Fear). Liverpool University Press, 2010.

Pliny. Historia Naturalis.

Rouselle, Robert. “Liber-Dionysus in Early Roman Drama”. The Classical Journal, 82, 3 (1987).

Rykwert, Joseph. The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1996.

Spaeth, Barbette StanleyThe Roman goddess Ceres. University of Texas Press, 1996

Tacitus. Annals.

Takács, Sarolta A. Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion. University of Texas Press, 2008.

Takács, Sarolta A. “Politics and Religion in the Bacchanalian Affair of 186 BCE”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 100, (2000).

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

College of Pontiffs: An Old World Tradition in the Modern Era

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we explored a primarily religious role in Ancient Rome that ended up bleeding over into the government when we uncovered the Pontifex Maximus. For further information on this role please check out both Pontifex Maximus: The Greatest Bridge-Builder and Pontifex Maximus: From the Republic’s End to the Present.

Exploring that supreme position leads us into today’s journey as we discover the College of Pontiffs!

College of Pontiffs

The College of Pontiffs (LatinCollegium Pontificum) was a body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the state religion. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus and the other Pontifices, the Rex Sacrorum, the 15 Flamines, and the Vestales.

Goddess (Vesta or Concordia), extending a patera, emblem of the Epulones.

The College of Pontiffs was 1 of the 4 major priestly colleges of Rome. The others were the Augurs (who read omens), the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis (15 men who carry out the rites), and the Epulones (who set up feasts at festivals).

The title Pontifex comes from the Latin for Bridge Builder, a possible allusion to a very early role in placating the gods and spirits associated with the Tiber River. Ancient Roman scholar and writer Varro cites this position as meaning “able to do”.

The Pontifex Maximus was the most important member of the college. Until 104 BC, the Pontifex Maximus held the sole power in appointing members to the other priesthoods in the college.

The Flamens were priests in charge of 15 official cults of Roman religion, each assigned to a particular god. The 3 Major Flamens (Flamines Maiores) were the Flamen Dialis (High Priest of Jupiter), the Flamen Martialis (High Priest of Mars), and the Flamen Quirinalis (High Priest of Quirinus).

Flamines, distinguished by their pointed headdress, as part of a procession on the Augustan Altar of Peace.

The deities cultivated by the 12 Flamines Minores were Carmenta, CeresFalacer, FloraFurrina, Palatua, Pomona, Portunes, Volcanus (Vulcan), Volturnus, and 2 whose names are lost.

One of their most important duties was their guardianship of the Libri Pontificales (Pontifical Books). Among these were the ActaAnnales (yearly records of magistrates and important events), Fasti,  Indigitamenta, Ritualia (rituals) and Commentarii. These items were under the sole possession of the College of Pontiffs and only they were allowed to consult these items when necessary.

The Lex Acilia de Intercalando bestowed power on the college to manage the calendar. Thus, they determined the days which religious and political meetings could be held, when sacrifices could be offered, votes cast, and senatorial decisions brought forth.

The most prominent feature of the ruins that were once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth (seen here in the foreground).

The Vestal Virgins were the only female members of the college. They were in charge of guarding Rome’s sacred hearth, keeping the flame burning inside the Temple of Vesta.

Young girls were chosen for this position between ages 6 to 10 years old. These girls were obligated to perform the rites and obligations, including remaining chaste, for 30 years.

Membership in the various colleges of priests, including the College of Pontiffs, was usually an honor offered to members of politically powerful or wealthy families. Membership for the male priests was for life, while the female Vestal Virgins had a time limit.

During the Rēgnum Rōmānum of Roman history, the Pontiffs were primarily Concilia (Advisers) of the kings. However, after the expulsion of the last Roman King in 510 BC, the College of Pontiffs became religious advisers to the Roman Senate.

Chief Pontiff Lepidus (seated), Antony and Octavian in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (c. 42 BC).

As the most important of the 4 priestly colleges, the College of Pontiffs’ duties involved advising the Senate on issues pertaining to the gods, the supervision of the calendar and thus the supervision of ceremonies with their specific rituals, and the appeasement of the gods upon the appearance of omens.

In the early Res Publica Romana, only Pātriciī (Patricians) could become priests. However, that changed in 300 BC when the Lex Ogulnia opened up college to Plebeians.

Until the 3rd Century BC, the Collegium elected the Pontifex Maximus from their own number. The right of the Collegium to elect their own Pontifex Maximus was returned, but the circumstances surrounding this are unclear.

This changed again after Sulla, when in response to his reforms, the election of the Pontifex Maximus was once again placed in the hands of an assembly of 17 of the 25 tribes. However, the College still controlled which candidates the assembly voted on.

The Regia

The College of Pontiffs occupied the Regia during the early Republican Period, replacing the religious authority that was once held by the king. A position, the Rex Sacrorum, was even created to replace the king for purposes of religious ceremonies.

Prior to the start of the Imperium Rōmānum, the office was publicly elected from the candidates of existing Pontiffs. This changed when Julius Caesar automatically assumed the title of Pontifex Maximus upon taking control of Rome, and the Emperors from Augustus on simply followed suit.

The Pontifex Maximus was also a powerful political position to hold, and the candidates for office were often very active political members of the College. Many, such as Julius Caesar, went on to hold Consulships during their time as Pontifex Maximus.


The Pontiffs were assisted by Pontifical Clerks or Scribes (Scribae). This position was known in the earlier Republican period as a Scriba Pontificius, but by the Augustan period as a Pontifex Minorum.

Pontifex Minorum assisted at the rite (Res Divina) for Juno performed each Kalends, the first day of the month. He took up a position in the Curia Calabra, a sacred precinct (templum) on the Capitoline Hill, to observe the new moon.

Around AD 440, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Pope Leo I began using the title Pontifex Maximus to emphasize the authority of the Pope. The term Chief Priests in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 15:11) is translated as Pontifices in the Latin Vulgate and High Priest as Pontifex in Hebrews 2:17.

A hip logo

We hope you enjoyed concluding our journey of the Pontifex Maximus and the College of Pontiffs. Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary. “Roman Priesthoods” in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. 3 vols. Scribner’s, 1988.

Cameron, Alan. “The Imperial Pontifex”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 2007.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities II. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 1 January 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24991-2.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. New Tales of Ancient Rome. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-41790821-9.

North, John A. “The Constitution of the Roman Republic” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Plutarch. “Numa: The Institutions of Roman Religion, 7th Cent. BCE”.

Richardson, Lawrence. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Rüpke, Jörg. “Communicating with the Gods” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

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

Szemler, G.J. The Priests of the Republic: A Study of the Interactions between Priesthoods and Magistracies. Collection Latomus, 1972.

Christmas Traditions Across Central Europe

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Even if you aren’t Christian, we’re fairly certain you know what today is. Let us be one of the first to wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Since this is our 1st article posted on December 25th, we figured it only fitting if it was written about Christmas. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this holiday, simply open-minded enough to enough having a good time with friends and family.

Because Christmas is now a global celebration we thought it might be cool to see how others celebrate. We then thought it’d be even better if those places and cultures in areas that were once part of the Roman Empire.

Beginning today, we are hopefully starting our own practice of showcasing Christmas traditions from various locations each Christmas day. With that we bring to you Christmas Traditions: Central Europe!

Christmas time in Slovakia

Christmas traditions vary from country to country. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreathsChristmas stockingscandy canes, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby JesusSt NicholasSanta ClausFather Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a Midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve (December 24), the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents.

In countries of Central Europe (roughly defined as the German-speaking countries Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve. The day is usually a fasting day, and in some places children are told they’ll see a golden pig if they hold fast until after dinner.

When the evening comes preparation of Christmas Dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region.

For example, in Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish or cabbage soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to 12 dishes.

This in fact reveals that when Christmas comes around all the kids get presents from neighbors and house guests. Even the house pet gets a little something.

Christmas Tree

After the dinner comes the time for gifts. Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas tree, with name stickers.

An interesting example of the complicated history of the region is the “fight” between Christmas beings. During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) in the place of Little Jesus won.

Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production. Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic midnight mass celebration.

In many areas of Central Europe, St. Nicholas or Santa Claus does not come for Christmas. He visits families earlier, on the dawn of St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and for the well-behaved children he has presents and candy-bags to put into their well-polished shoes that were set in the windows the previous evening.

A 1900s greeting card reading ‘Greetings from the Krampus!’

Although he neither parks his sleigh on rooftops nor climbs chimneys, his visits are usually accompanied by a diabolic-looking servant named Krampus who gives golden colored birch sticks for so called badly behaved children.

In some German-speaking communities of Europe (particularly in Catholic regions of western and southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, South Tyrol and Liechtenstein) the Christkind (literally Christ child) brings the presents on the evening of December 24 (Holy Evening or Heiliger Abend). The Christkind is invisible so as never to be seen by anyone, but he rings a bell just before he leaves in order to let children know that the Christmas tree and the presents are ready.

It is a tradition to lavishly decorate a Christmas tree in the days directly before Christmas or on the morning of Christmas Eve. On late Christmas Eve, after the bell rings, the tree is shown to the children and presents are exchanged.

Old Bavarian crib found in St Mang Basilica, Füssen, Bavaria.

Many Catholic churches also have a first Mass of Christmas, called Christmette, on Holy Evening about 4 pm for the children and parents to attend before the families return home for their meal. The crib is a very important part of the celebrations in Catholic areas especially Bavaria.

In the largely Catholic Austria, Christmas markets are a long-standing tradition. In Vienna, for instance, the market is held in the large square in front of City Hall.

Innsbruck opens its romantic Christmas market in the narrow medieval square at the foot of the Golden Roof. In Salzburg, the Christmas market takes over the square in front of the Cathedral with its picturesque stalls, while the tree vendors occupy Residenzplatz on the side of the huge Cathedral.

Christmas market in front of the town hall in Vienna, Austria.

In Austria, Christmas trees play a very important part of Christmas celebrations. Every town sets up its own huge tree on the main square all decorated with candles, ornaments and candies and frequently there will be an extra one, adorned with bread crumbs, for the birds. In families the tree is decorated with gold and silver ornaments or stars made out of straw, sweets and candy wrapped in tinfoil, gilded nuts, etc.

The feast of St Nicholas marks the beginning of Christmas in Austria. On Christmas Eve the tree is lit for the first time and the whole family gathers to sing Christmas carols like “Silent Night”.

Austrian Advent bowl

Gifts that are placed under the tree are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve. Austrian Christmas tradition has it that it is the Christ Child himself who decorates the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and brings the children their Christmas presents.

The Christmas Eve dinner is the main event of the night often served with fried carp. The famous sachertorte and different kinds of chocolates are served as dessert, with Austrians also having special crescent shaped cookies.

St. Nicholas postcard from Germany.

In Germany, Christmas traditions vary by region. Till the reformation St. Nicholas’ Day, Saint Nicholas was the main provider of Christmas presents.

St. Nicholas still puts goodies in children’s shoes on that day. Sometimes he visits children in kindergarten, schools or at public events. They have to recite a short poem or sing a song in order to get sweets or a small gift.

Knecht Ruprecht (the servant Ruprecht), dressed in dark clothes with devil-like traits, sometimes accompanies St. Nicholas. His duty is to punish those children who haven’t behaved during the year.

Traditional Miner’s figures as Christmas light bearers.

The Sorbs, a minority in Saxony and parts of Brandenbuerg with a language similar to Polish, have some specific traditions. One tradition is related to the Wooden toymaking in the Ore Mountains, especially Seiffen provides Christmas related decorations like the Christmas pyramid and toys around the year.

Christmas letters may be addressed to Engelskirchen (Angel’s church) or Himmelpforten (Heaven’s gate) or some other in municipalities with matching names. After privatization, Deutsche Post kept the tradition of dedicated Christmas offices, one in each state, answering letters and requests from children.

Currently the actual Christmas gift-giving usually takes place on Christmas Eve. This tradition was introduced by Reformator, Martin Luther, as he as of the opinion that one should put the emphasis on Christ’s birth and not on a saint’s day and do away with the connotation that gifts have to be earned by good behavior.

The gifts should be seen as a symbol for the gift of God’s grace in Christ. This tradition quickly became common in predominantly Catholic regions as well.

Weihnachtsmann bringing presents.

Gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man), who resembles either St. Nicholas or the American Santa Claus, or by Christkindl, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus. Till 1930, there was sort of south-north divide between the realms of southern and Silesian Christkind and Nordic Weihnachtsmann.

The Christmas tree is first put up and decorated on the morning of the 24th. The gifts are then placed under the tree.

Christmas services in the church serve as well to exchange greetings with neighbors and friends. After an evening meal one of the parents usually goes into the room where the tree is standing, lights the candles and rings a little bell.

The children are then allowed to go into the candlelit room. In many families it is still a custom to sing Christmas songs around the tree before opening up the presents.

Christmas goose in Bavaria.

The culinary feast either takes place at supper on Christmas Eve or on the first day of Christmas. Traditions vary from region to region, but carp is eaten in many parts of the country.

Potato salad with frankfurter or wiener-sausages is popular in some families. Another simple meal which some families favor, especially in regions where Christmas Eve still has the character of a fast day, is vegetable or pea soup.

In some regions, especially in Schleswig-Holstein where Danish influence is noticeable, a roasted duck or goose filled with plums, apples and raisins is family tradition. In other regions, especially in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, many families prefer kale with boiled potatoes, special sausages and ham.

Many families have developed new traditions for themselves and eat such meals as meat fondue or raclette. In almost all families in all parts of Germany you find a wide variety of Christmas cookies baked according to recipes typical for the family and the region.

Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic – Christmastime.

Christmas Eve is celebrated as Štědrý den/Štedrý deň (Generous Day) when the gifts are given in the evening. December 25 and 26 are Public holidays in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, but Christmas (Vánoce/Vianoce), is most commonly associated with the 24th.

According to tradition, gifts are brought by Ježíšek/Ježiško (baby Jesus). Fish soup and breaded roasted carp with special homemade potato salad are a traditional dish for the dinner.

Christmas Wafer in a basket.

In Slovakia, before eating, everyone exchanges Christmas greetings with each other by sharing a piece of Christmas wafer (Oblátky) with honey and walnuts. Traditional dinner depends on region, but common Christmas dinner is cabbage soup (Kapustnica) or lentil soup and breaded roasted carp with special homemade potato salad or handmade gnocchi with poppy (šúľanky s makom).

The gifts are surreptitiously placed under the Christmas tree (usually a spruce, pine or fir), usually just before or during dinner. After Christmas dinner, Children have to wait for the ringing of a Christmas bell on the tree to run for the presents.

Other Czech and Slovak Christmas traditions involve predictions for the future. Apples are cut crosswise and if a perfect star appears in the core, the next year will be successful, distorted star means a bad year or illness, while a cross may suggest death.

Girls throw shoes over their shoulders and if the toe points to the door, the girl will get married soon. Another tradition requires pouring some molten lead into water and guessing a message from its shapes.

In Catholic Slovakia, the tradition of Jasličkári involves young men dressed as shepherds or angels visiting their neighbors and presenting recitations and songs about the story of the birth of Jesus.

Although the role of gift-giver on Christmas Day itself is assigned to the Christ Child, on the night before St. Nicholas Day Hungarian children traditionally place a boot on their windowsill waiting for Mikulás (or Szent Miklós) to come by and fill it with treats.

Baumkuchen in Budapest

In Hungary, celebrations begin with Christmas tree decoration and gift packaging during daytime on December 24, then comes a family dinner with traditional Christmas meals. In some parts of Hungary, a traditional supper called fish soup (halászlé) is served for Christmas Eve meal, otherwise the day is a fast-day.

There is also a popular folk custom during December and especially on Christmas Eve, in which children or adults present the birth of Jesus. The custom is called playing Bethlehem, and it is an acting performance, where the actors are wearing costumes, and telling stories about the 3 kings, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and of course the birth of the Holy Child.

A Christmas crib and a church are used as the scene. The actors go from house to house, and they receive gifts for their performance.

In the largely Roman Catholic Poland, Christmas Eve begins with a day of fasting and then a night of feasting. The traditional Christmas meal is known as Wigilia (The Vigil), and being invited to attend a Wigilia dinner with a family is considered a high honor.

Traditional Polish Wigilia meal.

A traditional Wigilia supper in Poland includes fried carp and barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (little ears, also known as meatless ravioli). Common dishes are fish soup, with potato salad, pierogi, gołąbki filled with kasza, pickled herring and fruit kompot.

The dinner contains 12 dishes symbolizing the Twelve Apostles. In many homes, an extra place setting is set and is symbolically left at the table for a lonely wanderer who may be in need of food, an angel, the Baby Jesus or the Holy Spirit should appear to share the feast.

Before eating, everyone exchanges Christmas greetings with each other. The supper begins with the breaking of the opłatek. By sharing a piece of Christmas wafer (Opłatki), when everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ.

Carolers walk from house to house receiving treats along the way.

The meal is followed by the exchange of gifts. The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. In some areas of the country, children are taught that “The Little Star” brings the gifts. As presents are unwrapped, carolers may walk from house to house receiving treats along the way.

On the night of Christmas Eve, the appearance of the first star in the sky is watched for, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. This star has been given an affectionate name of “the little star” or Gwiazdka (the female counterpart of St. Nicholas).

Christmas Star

On that evening, children watch the sky anxiously hoping to be the first to cry out, “The star has come!” After the first star appearance is declared, the family members sit down to a dinner table.

According to tradition, bits of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. Others partake in the practice of placing money under the table cloth for each guest, in order to wish for prosperity in the coming year.

Christmas Eve ends with Pasterka, the Midnight Mass at the local church. The tradition commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem and their paying of respect and bearing witness to the new born Messiah.

The next day (December 25) begins with the early morning mass followed by daytime masses. According to scripture, the Christmas Day masses are interchangeable allowing for greater flexibility in choosing the religious services by individual parishioners.

Christmas market in Sibiu, Romania.

Christmas (Romanian: Crăciun) in Romania is on December 25 and is generally considered the second most important religious Romanian holiday holiday after Easter. In Moldova, although Christmas is celebrated on December 25 like in Romania, January 7 is also recognized as an official holiday.

Celebrations begin with the decoration of the Christmas tree during daytime on December 24, and in the evening Moş Crăciun (Father Christmas) delivers the presents.

The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities. On the first day of Christmas, many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages, holding a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible.

Romanian children singing traditional Christmas carols, they are called “colindatori”.

Romanian tradition has the smallest children going from house to house, singing carols and reciting poems and legends during the whole Christmas season. The leader of the group carries with him a star made of wood, covered with metal foil and decorated with bells and colored ribbons with an image of the Nativity painted on the star’s center.

Romanian food served during the holidays is a hearty multi-coursed meal, most of which consists of pork (organs, muscle, and fat). This is mainly a symbolic gesture for St. Ignatius of Antioch.

We hope you enjoyed today’s Christmas tour around Central Europe. Be sure to join us again next year as we venture to another part of Europe.

Have a Merry Christmas and a safe holiday season. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Ball, Ann. Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices. 2003. ISBN 9780879739102.

Ernst, Eugen. Weihnachten im Wandel der Zeiten, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2. Aufl. Darmstadt 2000.

Forbes, Bruce David. Christmas: a candid history. University of California Press, 2007, ISBN 0-520-25104-0


“Christmas Season in Austria”.

“Christmas traditions in Poland”.

“Deutsche Botschaft Bern – Startseite”.

“Hungarian Heritage Museum”.

“St. Nicholas Around the World: Hungary”.

Celebrating Sol Invictus

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With the holidays upon us there’s been lots to do. Between work, family, shopping and celebrations we’re a bit worn out.

To give us a break, we’re taking a trip make in time (1 year to be exact). Today we’re revisiting 23 December 2015 in our article Happy Sol Invictus! as we celebrate Sol Invictus one more time!Constantine as Sol Invictus

Prior to Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, due to Emperor Constantine the Great, the Romans were pagans. Technically even Constantine was a pagan for much of his life.

Romans believed in several deities, incorporated gods from conquered peoples throughout the empire, and held celebrations accordingly. All of this was to hold the Empire together through a conglomeration of religions and celebrations of all included gods.

One of said celebrations just happened to be held on December 25th. The god honored on this day was Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

DNSISolInvictus 4The festival held was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). Sol Invictus was the sun god of the Roman Empire and patron of soldiers.

The Roman cult to Sol Invictus begins with the early history of the city and continues through the institution of Christianity as the exclusive state religion. Inscribed on a Roman phalera was the following: Inventori Lucis Soli Invicto Augusto (To the Contriver of Light, Sol Invictus Augustus).

Circular Dacian phalera having the representation of a horseman with shield (c. 1st Century BC).

After victories in the East, the Emperor Aurelian made changes the Roman cult of Sol Invictus, from top to bottom. Thusly, it elevated the sun-god to one of the premier divinities of the Empire.

From this point forward, the Roman gens Aurelian is typically associated with the sun-god. This made priests previously associated with Sol Invictus raise up from the lower ranks of Roman status to the highly regarded priesthoods of the senatorial elite.

Sol Invictus was indeed a championed god for prior to his conversion to Christianity, Constantine was a follower of the sun-god.

The Emperor, as Emperors tended to do, portrayed himself as Sol Invictus on coins he issued. Constantine even went so far as to put SOLI INVICTO COMITI, which claimed the Unconquered Sun as a companion to the Emperor.

A gold multiple of “Unconquered Constantine” with Sol Invictus, struck in 313 AD.

On 7 March 321 AD, Constantine decreed dies Solis, day of the sun or “Sunday”, as the Roman day of rest:

“On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”

During the reign of Constantine, Christian writers likened this feast as the birthday of Jesus. In Malachi 4:2 this is mentioned as Sol Iustitiae, Sun of Righteousness.

Coin of Septimius Severus

Other Emperors, such as Septimius Severus, followed suit with the usage of the pagan Sol Invictus however. This was done on coins as being a primary Roman god beginning around 325 AD.

A very general observance required that on the 25th of December the birth of the “new Sun” should be celebrated, when after the winter solstice the days began to lengthen and the “invincible” star triumphed again over darkness. This was all based on the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

The Julian calendar was a reform of the Roman calendar, and a Julian year was 365.25 days. Depending on what calendar was being used at the time would determine when festivals were celebrated. So until the 4th Century AD dates were constantly being changed.

There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or early post apostolic times. Christianity did not begin celebrating the Birth of Jesus on December 25th, beginning first in Rome, until between 354 and 360 AD.

Jesus as The Light
Jesus as The Light

The point of this article is not to say Christianity simply took over a pagan celebration. It may be true, it may have been intentional, or it may have been coincidence.

The point is to provide insight that other gods and celebrations were held in the Empire. The celebration of Sol Invictus just happens to coincide with modern-day Christmas.

No matter what your opinion is on the celebration of a pagan god orJesus Christ’s birth is not to be debated. That can be done some other time, on some other website.

Thanks for joining us on this revisited journey. Be safe in all of your celebrations throughout the new year.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Browning, W. R. F. A Dictionary of the Bible. Oxford University Press, 8 October 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-954398-4.

Cumont, Franz. Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans. Dover Publications, Inc., 1960.

Guarducci, M. “Sol invictus augustus”. Rendiconti della Pont. Accademia Romana di archeologia, 3rd series. 1957/1959.

Richard, J. C. “Le culte de Sol et les Aurelii. A propos de Paul Fest.” Mélanges offerts à Jacques Heurgon. L’Italie préromaine et la Rome républicaine, Rome, 1976.