Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays (L–O)
This article lists and explains important ancient Roman festivals, holidays and celebrations in alphabetical order from L to O. Each occasion is described in more detail below. Links to articles listing the celebrations from A through Fe, Fg through K and P through Z can be found at the bottom of this page.
Ancient Roman Festivals and Holidays L–O
- Latin Festival (Feriae Latinae): Honored Jupiter and was the longest-lived Roman festival
- Liberalia: Honored Liber and Libera, the god and goddess of fertility
- Ludi: Game-based holidays devoted to rest and pleasure
- Lupercalia: Honored Lupercus and Faunus, the gods of fertility
- Mamuralia: Honored Mamurius, a blacksmith who was chased away from Rome
- Matralia: Honored Mater Matuta, the goddess of childbirth
- Matronalia: Honored Juno, the goddess of women
- Nemoralia: Honored Diana, the goddess of the hunt
- Opalia: Honored Ops, another goddess of fertility
Latin Festival (Feriae Latinae)
Feriae Latinae was one of the longest-lived Roman festivals. It was observed in Rome for over a thousand years. Originally, it was celebrated by members of a number of ancient Latin tribes who led simple, pastoral lives and worshiped Jupiter on the Alban Mount about 13 miles outside of Rome.
During the observances, all wars were stopped. A sacrifice of a young white cow to Jupiter set off the celebrations and was followed by a ritual pouring of milk. People of the time did not know wine because the grape had not yet been introduced into Italy. Following the ritual, the meat of the sacrificial animal was used for a communal meal.
The ritual itself was likely an odd sight. It involved little dolls or puppets called oscilla that were made from tree branches to resemble people. These dolls may have been symbolic of human sacrifice in earlier times or may simply have been good luck emblems.
In the period of the later republic, Romans adopted this ceremony to commemorate the early Latin people who had already vanished by then. Usually observed in April, The Latin Festival was supposed to take place before military activities began for the year.
The people of Rome would get together at the temple of Jupiter, which was built in the 6th century B.C.E., to take part in the ceremonial libation and animal sacrifice. They also held a feast and games that continued for two days afterward.
Celebrated: March 17th
Liber and Libera, the god and goddess of fertility, were worshiped in a similar way to Ceres, the god of the harvest. The triad of Ceres, Liber and Libera can be equated with the Greek triad of Demeter, Dionysus and Persephone.
During Liberalia, youth who had just come of age were allowed to put on a toga virilis for the first time. In the settlement of Lavinium, an entire month was dedicated to Liberalia. The many rituals performed at this time were devised to promote the growth of newly planted seeds.
Ludi refers to public holidays devoted to games, rest and pleasure in ancient Rome. The Ludi Megalenses was celebrated annually beginning April 4th from 191 B.C.E. onward to honor Cybele, the Goddess of motherhood. Next came the Ludi Ceriales, which honored Ceres, the goddess of grains, beginning April 12th. The Ludi Ceriales were followed by the Ludi Florales, which honored Flora, the goddess of flowers, and began on April 27th.
After Ludi Florales came a period of hard work in the fields, so the next holidays did not take place for seven weeks. The Ludi Apollinares, or Apollonian Games, observed in reverence of Apollo, began on July 6th. Following the Ludi Apollinares, the Ludi Romani, or Roman Games, began on September 4th. These started in 366 B.C.E. The Ludi Plebei, or Plebeian Games, were first celebrated between 220 and 216 B.C.E. and began on November 4th.
There were, in all, 59 days devoted to celebratory occasions in the calendar prior to 82 B.C.E. when Emperor Sulla became dictator. These holidays were viewed as dies nefasti, or days on which all civil and judicial business was suspended for fear of offending the gods.
Celebrated: February 15th
During Lupercalia, celebrants got together at a grotto called the Lupercal on Palatine Hill where twin brothers Romulus and Remus (Rome's mythical founders) were believed to have been suckled by a wolf according to local tradition.
As part of the ceremony, worshipers sacrificed goats and dogs to the gods Lupercus and Faunus. Luperci, the priests of Lupercus, wore goatskins on their bodies and smeared their faces with the sacrificial blood of the goats. Next, they ran around and struck women with thongs of goatskin. This practice of the Luperci during Lupercalia was believed to ensure women's fertility and the easy delivery of babies. Februa, The name for the goatskin thongs, meant tool of purification. This is the source of February's name.
There is a limited amount of evidence to suggest that Lupercalia set the precedent for modern Valentine’s Day customs. As part of the ceremony, revelers would drop girls’ names in a box and let boys draw them out, thus pairing them up until the next Lupercalia occurred.
Celebrated: March 14th
Legend has it that Mamurius was a blacksmith who was chased away from the city because the shields he made for Rome's soldiers failed to protect them when substituted for the sacred shield that had fallen to earth from heaven.
Another legend tells that Mamurius, whose name was an obvious variation of Mars, symbolized the old year and was thus driven away on the day before the first full moon of the new year. Mamuralia, held on March 14th, included a rite of driving a man wearing only animal skins through the streets and out of the city while beating him with long sticks.
The most unusual aspect of Mamuralia was that it was the only holiday that took place on an even-numbered day. According to some scholars, Mamuralia was originally observed on the 15th, or ides, of March but was knocked back a day to enable people to go to both the horse races of Equirria and the Anna Parenna festival, both of which were also observed on the 15th.
Celebrated: June 11th
Matralia was held in honor of Mater Matuta, goddess of the light of the dawn and childbirth. Despite it's deity not being referenced frequently in mythology, Mater Matuta's cult was well-established in ancient Rome. Dawn was believed to be the luckiest time for childbirth. Only matrons and freeborn women were permitted to take part in the holiday, which was celebrated at Matuta's sacred shrine in a round temple called the Forum Boarium.
During Matralia, only the wife of a first marriage was authorized to dress up in the image of the goddess. Female slaves were not permitted to enter the temple with the exception of one who was deliberately allowed in to be run out after receiving a slap on the face.
Female worshipers offered prayers mainly on behalf of their nieces and nephews, as their own children were viewed as being of lesser importance. They made offerings of various flowers and carried their relatives' children to the temple in their arms.
Celebrated: March 1st
Matronalia, also known as Matronales Feriae, was held in praise of Juno, the goddess of women. Matronalia was celebrated on March 1st—the anniversary of the day when the temple of the goddess was raised. The cult of Juno was founded by King Titus Tatius of the Sabines, and Matronalia celebrated the sacred nature of marriage as an institution as well as the peace that set in after the first marriages between Roman men and Sabine women.
Married women usually formed a procession to Juno’s temple where they made offerings to the goddess. When they got home, they received gifts from their husbands, prayed for peace and harmony within their marriage and held feasts for their female slaves.
Celebrated: August 13th
Nemoralia was held in praise of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, in the territory of Aricia at Nemi about 16 miles southeast of Rome. Diana was believed to preside over the forests of Aricia where there was a grove, or nemus, housing a famous shrine dedicated to the goddess. Diana's priest was called the rex nemorensis, or the king of the grove. It was customary that the rex nemorensis should be a runaway slave who got into his royal office by hunting down and killing his predecessor.
Nemoralia occurred throughout Latium on August 13th—the day the temple of the goddess on the Aventine Hill had originally been dedicated by Servius Tullius. Diana's cult was based in Aricia, so that is where Nemoralia was celebrated to protect the vines and fruit trees and restore her power over them.
According to some scholars, the Christian feast of the Dormition, or Assumption, held on August 15th, incorporated the harvest-blessing of Nemoralia. It is not uncommon in some factions of the Orthodox Christian Church of today for celebrants to offer up new wheat and cakes to the Theotokos on that day.
Celebrated: December 19th
Ops was yet another fertility goddess who was known by many names, including Rhea, Cybele, Bona Dea, Magna Mater, Thya and Tellus. She married Saturn and bore a child to him that she called Jupiter. Ops commonly appeared as a matron holding a loaf of bread in her left hand and making a gesture with her right hand if offering assistance.
Opalia, observed on December 19th, involved a sacrifice to Ops being made in the temple of Saturn. It was actually only one of two holidays held in Ops' praise. On August 25th, a second celebration called Opiconsivia occured. During Opiconsivia, a similar sacrifice occurred in the Regia (the king’s house).
Some experts believe that Ops was actually not the wife of Saturn but instead the wife of Consus, another god. The facts that the Opalia was observed 4 days after Consualia (December 15th) and the Opiconsivia was observed 4 days after the celebrations in praise of Consus (August 21st) have been used to back this theory. Either way, the fact remains that women played an important role in Opalia, as they were thought to be able to invoke Ops by touching the earth.