Liberalia: Celebrating Maturity

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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.

bacchaeteam
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.

Liberalia
Liber

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.

dionysuspillar_hires
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!

 

References:

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

Fasti 3.459-516.

http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Liberalia