Welcome to Rome Across Europe!
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.
Keeping that in mind, today we celebrate a pair of events that the Romans held on VI Martius!
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.
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).
A 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Emma. Romulus’ 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, Jörg. The 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.