Roman Festivals and Games

? 1 Jan This was the day when the new consuls, the highest magistrates of the Roman Republic were sworn into office in the Senate. Bulls were sacrificed in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus to thank him for his protection during the preceeding year.
Parentalia 13 – 21 Feb During this festival the Romans honoured their ancestors at the family shrines within their own homes, thus, all other temples remained closed and weddings were forbidden.
Lupercalia 15 Feb This feast celebrated the founding of Rome, and was held in honour of the god Pan. The festival began with the sacrifice of two goats and a dog, then the bloody knife was touched to the foreheads of two youths of illustrious descent who must smile as they are touched, and afterwards, the blood was wiped from their faces with wool dipped in milk. Following this, the victims were skinned and their hides cut into thongs out of which were fashioned a pair of whips. The youths then ran naked around the Palatine Hill and the city, whipping all they came across. The festival derives its name from the Greek name for Pan, Lyceus, from λυκοσ, ‘a wolf’. The Lupercal, where the festival was celebrated, lay at the foot of the Aventine Hill, and was where the she-wolf was reputed to have reared Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome.
Terminalia 23 Feb This festival marked the end of the ancient Roman year.
Matronalia 1 Mar A festival held at Rome in honour of Mars, in commemoration of the rape of the Sabine women. Only married women could attend the celebrations, during which they made offerings of flowers in the temples of Juno.
? 1 Mar This was the day on which the Vestal Virgins lit a new fire to the Goddess Vesta, in celebration of the beginning of the ancient new year. The Temple of Vesta was situated at the edge of the Forum in the heart of Rome.
Anna Perenna 15 Mar During this festival, Roman families traditionally picknicked along the banks of the Tiber.
Ludi Megalenses 4 – 10 Apr Games in honour of Cybele, whose sanctuary on the Palatine Hill was dedicated in 191BC.
Ludi Ceriales 12 – 19 Apr Games held in honour of Ceres since 202BC.
Quinquatria 18 – 22 Apr This popular festival was held in honour of the goddess Minerva at Rome. The celebrations lasted for five days, and is the basis for the name of the festival. On the first day, sacrifices and oblations were offered, though no blood was spilled, the next three days were taken up mostly with gladiatorial displays, and on the fifth and final day a solemn procession was held through the streets of the city. The scholars and pedagogues were also given a holiday at this time, and it was customary for them to offer up sacrifices to Minerva, who was their patron goddess. The school-masters would also receive gifts from their pupils when they resumed lessons at the end of the holiday; all of these gifts would be accepted in the name of Minerval (sic). Throughout the festival plays would be enacted and public discussion of the arts openly encouraged. The festival was also associated with the opening of the campaign season; during this time the arms, horses and trumpets of the Army would be ceremoniously purified at Rome. The ancient ‘Dance of the Salii’ took place during the Quinquatria on 19 Apr, and also during the Armilustrium on 19 Oct.
Robigalia 25 Apr An ancient religious festival, on which day foot races were held in Rome.
Florales 28 Apr – 3 May The festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers, during which the Roman wore fresh garlands of flowers about their necks, and danced through the streets. Instituted after 173BC.
Ludi Martiales¹ 12 May Games held in connection with the dedication of the shrine and temple of Mars Ultor; also held on 1 Aug.
Rosaliae Signorum ? May A military festival, during which the standards of all of Rome’s military units, including the Auxilia, were decorated with wreaths of roses and paraded though the camp. This ancient religious observance was also accompanied by a civil festival and carnival atmosphere, especially within the Roman capital.
Matronalia ? Jun A festival held at Rome in honour of Matuta or Ino. Only matrons and free-born women could attend the celebrations, during which they made offerings of flowers and carried their younger relatives in procession.
Vestalia 9th Jun Festival held at Rome in honour of Vesta. The Vestal Virgins were banqueted, and all the millstones in the city were decked with garlands, the asses used to turn the millstones were likewise festooned with blooms then paraded through the streets, also accompanied by the ladies of the City who walked barefoot in the procession, which terminated at the temple to the goddess.
Ludi Apollinares 6 – 13 Jul First held in 208BC.
Ludi Victoriae Caesaris 20 – 30 Jul Games held in celebration of Caesar’s conquests.
Ludi Martiales² 1 Aug Games held in connection with the dedication of the shrine and temple of Mars Ultor; also held on 12 May.
? 13 Aug This was the feast of Diana the moon goddess, during which slaves were given a holiday.
Consualia¹ 21 Aug This ancient religious festival featured races on foot and on muleback, and was also held on 15 Dec.
Ludi Romani 4 – 19 Sep The ‘Games of the Roman People’, instituted in 366BC.
Ludi Fortunae Reducis 3 – 12 Oct Games instituted by Augustus in 11BC.
Armilustrium 19 Oct The ‘Dance of the Salii’ took place on this festival and also during the Quinquatria on 19 Apr.
Ludi Victoriae Sullanae 26 Oct – 1 Nov Games instituted by the dictator Sulla in celebration of his victories, and dedicated in his honour for up to 200 years after his death in ?BC.
Ludi Plebei 4 – 17 Nov The ‘Games of the Common People’ were instituted sometime between 220 and 216BC.
Saturnalia 7 – 14 Dec The most important festival of the year was held in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture. During the main feast day of this festival, the masters of every household in Rome waited upon their domestic slaves.
Consualia² 15 Dec This ancient religious festival featured races on foot and on muleback, and was also held on 21 Aug.
Ludi Palatini ? 3 day festival instituted by Livia in AD 15?, and consecrated to the memory of Augustus.

References

  • Fasti by Publius Ovidius Naso, trans. by A.H. Armstrong (Loeb, Harvard, 1931);
  • Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino (Penguin, London, 1970);
  • The Classical Dictionary by John Lempriere (Senate, 1994);