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Ancient Roman Festivals Carnivals & Celebrations

A variety of Gods were very important to the early Romans, apart from the major Gods and Goddesses they believed that natural entities such as trees and plants and inanimate objects like doors, porches and windows each had there own spirits, the people worshipped their Gods and Godesses with animal sacrifices, prayer and offerings of food and wine.

It was believed that the Gods caused sicknesses and that Gods should be consulted when people got married, so to keep them happy festivals often included extra rituals to those normally practiced and if not celebrated correctly the Gods would be angry and cease their benevolence, so in addition to private prayer and sacrifice, important ceremonies were conducted by public officials and only work sanctioned by the pontiff was permitted on these days.

As Rome and it's religions evolved, the number of Gods and the number of special feast days & festivals (dies ferialis) also increased to the extent that there were more festival days than working days. This was a happy situation for the lower classes, because legally citizens were obliged NOT to work on these days, but they were not legally forced to attend temples or to worship, they could spend the holy day (holiday) in merryment or just relax and enjoy their lives. (the roman economy didn't grind to a halt though, as there were no "work free" weekends or rest days). There was often no distinction between religious and secular activities, so that carnivals and celebrations in praise of Spirits & Gods were often events of great merry making. Originally on feast day "holidays" the local aristocracy would pay for meals for the poor. Later, this custom ended and the types of festivals were divided into three categories:
feriae stativae, annual festivals which occurred on fixed days.
feriae conceptivae, festivals whose dates were set yearly by priests or magistrates, and
feriae imperativae, irregular holidays proclaimed by consuls, praetors, or dictators usually to celebrate military victories.

When Paganism was abolished by Theodosius 1st, several of the Roman Carnivals / Festivals were "transferred" to Christianity.

The festival of Sol Invictus on 25th December became Christ's birthday and hence Christmas Day.

Some Roman Feasts


Feast of Lupercalia
Saturnalia Festival


Saturnalia is the feast with which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of the god Saturn, originally for one day on December 17th but it eventually spread to almost a week of festivities. Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters switched places. It involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch ( lectisternium ) set out in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year. A "Saturnalicius Princeps" was appointed master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents ( saturnalia et sigillaricia ) and a special market ( sigillaria ). Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves. It was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e. colorful, informal "dinner clothes"; and the pileus (freedman's hat) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with (a pretense of) disrespect. The slaves were allowed to celebrate a banquet before, with, or served by the masters.


The Ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, was held on February 15th. It honoured the legend of the twin-founders of the city of Rome, Romulus and Remus. As infants they were thrown into the River Tiber by the order of their usurping uncle Amulius. They did not drown but were washed ashore and found by a she-wolf (Lupa), who suckled them and raised them with her mate. They were later found, living feral, by the shepherd Faustulus, he and his wife Acca Larentia took them in and reared them to adulthood, they discovered their true identities, and avenged themselves and their parents by killing their wicked uncle Amulius.
Now restored to their rightful status as regal leaders of the tribes, the twins founded a new city and named it Rome. They declared that the she-wolf's den be called the Lupercal (the wolves cave) and it became a sacred site where the original Lupercalia festivities were held. The identity of the diety honoured in Lupercalia and the reason for the festivities appear to be lost in the mists of time, but seems quite pastoral and likely to invoke increased fertility in land, animals & people. (mythology names Lupercus / Faunus as a roman version of Pan the Greek God of shepherds & flocks) Two animals sacrificed were a goat (herd animal) and a dog (herd defender) Two young men (representing Romulus & Remus? or just two head priests?) smeared with blood and milk and wearing only strips of the goat's hide would run around dancing laughing and cavorting, they carried thongs of the blood drenched hide which would impart fertility and easy childbirth on any girl or young woman struck with it.

Roman God
Mythological Role / Sphere of Influence
Greek Name
Jupiter Ruler of the gods Zeus
Venus Goddess of beauty and love Aphrodite
Apollo God of the sun, prophecy and archery Apollo
Mars God of War Ares
Diana Goddess of hunting and of the moon Artemis
Aesculapius God of medicine and healing Asclepius
Minerva Goddess of arts, crafts, war and wisdom, helper of heroes Athena
Saturn God of the sky and ruler of Venus and agriculture Cronus
Ceres Goddess of grain Demeter
Bacchus God of wine, ritual madness and vegetation Dionysus
Cupid God of Love Eros
Terra (Tellus) Goddess of Earth (Mother Earth), farmland Gaea (Gaia)
Vulcan God of fire, Blacksmith of the gods Hephaestus
Juno Goddess of marriage and childbirth, protector of married women, queen of the gods Hera
Mercury Messenger of the gods, protector of travelers, thieves, and merchants Hermes
Vesta Guardian of the home Hestia
Somnus God of sleep Hypnos
Pluto God of the underworld, Lord of the dead Hades
Neptune God of the sea and of earthquakes Poseidon
Ops Wife of Saturn / Cronus, Mother Goddess Rhea
Uranus God of the sky, Father of the Titans Uranus