October Horse Story 6: An Old Army Veteran Comments

Autumn light in a Roman atrium.

September light in the atrium of the House of the Menander in Pompeii. © Matthias Kabel (2012).

The tender autumnal sun gives a dim amber glow to the confines of the atrium. My dented old shield glints proudly on the wall, a well-ingrained habit of mine to keep it buffed to impeccable standards after such a long period of service. It hasn’t seen service in a fair while now, but I’ll be talking tales of war later today when I meet with my old comrades, at least those that are still alive at such a venerable age! I’m especially excited to see Lucius Dacius who’s been so busy of late, relentlessly overseeing the training of his fine horses, which will participate in the chariot race later. I do hope he does well! What an honour it is to enter one’s chariot in such a fiercely contested race. And how everyone’s been looking forward to the Ides of October, I never thought I’d see such enthusiasm! I’d be fibbing if I said that I always look forward to these festivals- they come around so often![i]

A Roman (patrician) child.

Marble statue of a child (Nero) wearing a bulla (the amulet thought to keep children safe and healthy) and holding a scroll. c. 48-50AD. Louvre. © Barbara McManus (1999). Courtesy of VRoma, www.vroma.org

Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been to so many festivals over the years that I’m a little tired of them! Before I leave the house I must quickly make an offering to the Lares. They have protected us so well over the years. How my family has prospered! I think my grandson, little Festus, might be better off staying home today though – despite his complaints; it could be more than a little too gruesome for a boy of four - even I may have to bite my lip. If his soldier father hadn’t gone to tidy up Varus’ mess in Germany, maybe he’d think differently about coming to the festival to prove he’s a brave boy and to pray for his father’s safe return. I’ll say that prayer for him.[ii]

Having left the house quietly, I meander down to the Campus Martius – a fair distance for me to go but although it’s October the weather is amenable for walking and it is not so damp as to make my joints ache.[iii]

What a place this is, Augustus really has transformed this whole area, there’s something for everyone. I’m particularly impressed with the Baths of Agrippa and they remind of his generosity to the city. In fact I remember the building programme coming to an end nearly thirty years ago in 19BC. That makes me feel old! What a generous and kind man to leave an endowment in his will in order to keep the baths open to the public and how much fun it is to meet up with friends here. Even when they can’t make it, at least I get some breathing space from my wife! I speak on behalf of all my friends when I say how grateful we are to Augustus for his improvements within the city. With Agrippa at his side, they really have transformed this wonderful place into a worthy capital of the Empire, and how well it serves to demonstrate our greatness and power.

Certainly Augustus’ legacy of love for Rome will live on, this is no short-term fix. Not only does he endeavour to physically improve this city for us, he’s also making efforts to promote religion. Certainly I attribute a degree of religious decline to the troublesome years of civil war, when Romans felt like the good of the city was taking second place to the needs and wants of certain individuals. Harking back to the civil war, the memories are still fresh in my head. It was a harder a period of service than any of today’s soldiers endure, despite this new sixteen-year stretch. But Actium was something else! How happy I was to finally triumph over Anthony under Octavian.[iv] The whole thing was so demoralising – with Roman gods being prayed to (or rather not prayed to) on both sides – that it’s great to see Augustus doing something to revive religion.

Statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus

1st century AD statue of Augustus, with his head covered with his toga, as an officiating Pontifex Maximus. From the Via Labicana now in ther Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (National Museums), Rome. © Barbara McManus (2003). Courtesy of VRoma www.vroma.org

 Rome didn’t even have a flamen Dialis for seventy five years until Augustus found an appropriate replacement.[v] Surely that demonstrates what a dire condition religion was in! I’m no scholar but I actually remember old Dacius (who certainly thinks he’s pretty learned, having been a chum of Ovid before he was exiled) trying to explain to me that this vacant position actually could have been a sign of strength: that it showed adaptation within Roman religion, that it questioned the traditions and was an attempt to be more dynamic… Instead, under Augustus, Horace said that we must address the issues of neglecting the gods for so long in order to move on. It’s difficult not to hear Augustus’s own voice resonating in the literary works of Horace, but I guess it was Augustus who motivated Horace to present Augustus’ own voice on religion.[vi] So too, Horace’s personal debt to Augustus would explain such a favourable portrayal of him. We should be particularly grateful to Varro too, who under Julius Caesar clarified and reminded us of divine and human matters, certainly I remember an emotional Cicero expressing the debt of the people of Rome to him.[vii] It was Varro who encouraged us to re-engage with religion and personal participation certainly empowered me. How readily his ideas affected the illiterate I don’t know, but looking out across the throngs of people today, I’m pretty sure he had some impact! The amount of philosophical debate on the matter amongst my friends at dinner last night was remarkable![viii] 

I can see my old friend Dacius nervously pottering around on the other side of the track. His horses are going to be put to the test at any minute! I’m going to try and get a better viewing position. Perhaps I’ll move away from the corner – that’s where all the big crashes and the overtaking happens, so it’s where the crowd likes to stand. I can see the Pontifex Maximus raised up above the crowds at the far end of the track, dressed in his standard toga and capite velo.[ix] The horses line up with their chariots in tow, two horses per chariot, each one with a brave driver waiting anxiously for the starter. So much rests on the driver, if they can get a good line into the first corner and avoid the melee at the first corner they’re in with a chance. Fortunately, Dacius’s charioteer, Tailos, has got bags of experience.

The official raises the flag to start the race and violently dashes it down as a signal for the drivers to lash out at their horses. As they rear up and begin to charge down the straight, it’s a tight race. Carnage ensues at the first corner but Tailos manages to stay clear and pulls into the lead. It’s a close race between him and the two other remaining chariots, whose livery I don’t recognise. After two laps of switching positions, they disappear into a cloud of dust at the last corner. The crowd erupts as the three chariots race to the finishing post. Tailos pulls to the outside, to use the sound of the crowd to urge his horses on. I’m unsure of the finishing positions as they cross the line, it’s just too close to call.

After a short while the winner is announced: “Dacius, owner of Dissuendum and Concidendum, driven by Tailos, may thank the gods for the good fortune they bestowed upon him today!” I never thought he’d do it, but all that time spent in training has paid off. What an honour it is to have your horse sacrificed to Mars on such a special day! Dacius will be pleased. I can see him in the distance, but he looks busy; the flamen Martialis is walking towards him.[x] I will congratulate him later.

The crowds are starting to disperse and move to towards the altar for the sacrifice. I had better start moving soon to get a good place, these old legs can’t move as quickly as they could. There is a good number of people here today, including many young soldiers back from the campaigns.[xi] Ah, here comes Dacius now, I’ve never seen him look more pleased!

Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for two old men to chat, the flamen Martialis and our Pontifex Maximus have arrived along with some other young priest from the Pontifical College. With the togas over their heads it’s hard to make each one out, but I’d recognise Augustus anywhere.

Two Roman hastae (spears).

Two different types of Roman spear (hasta), both suitable for hunting or military use as a non-thrown weapon.

After a few incantations and a blessing to Mars, one of the boy attendants passes a spear to the flamen Martialis. Dacius’ right-hand horse is brought over and with a firm strike the Flamen Martialis drives the spear into side of the horse’s neck.[xii] It’s quite gruesome but the worst is yet to come, even though I’ve seen worse on the battlefield. The flamen Martialis is now collecting the horse’s fresh blood whilst the boy who passed the spear is starting to cut the head free from the body. I thought a saw a tear in old Dacius’ eye in a moment of pride but he staunchly refuses to show his emotion for the warhorse that has served him so well.[xiii] The flamen Martialis now goes to the rear of the horse and cuts the tail clean off and, after quickly raising it high for all to see, passes it to an athletic-looking chap I haven’t seen before. I smile as I remember a few years ago now when the tail was passed to a very old man who didn’t have the legs on him to get the tail to the Regia quickly enough in order for the blood to drip onto the inner hearth of that sacred building. The man sets off smartly followed by many of the young, I’m confident that this year he’ll make it in time.

I can’t help but think of our ancestors today because this event has taken place so many times before. I wonder how many have men have run down the Sacra Via with the tail towards the Regia. I wonder if this festival was celebrated when Numa lived there and how many proud owners have won the chariot race and had their horse sacrificed. I wonder how many times the battle we are about to see for the head of the sacrificed horse has taken place. Certainly it started long ago when this great city was ruled by kings.

I can see the two sides getting ready to fight now, all for the glory of winning the sacrificed horse’s head, which has been garlanded with loaves.[xiv] The two sides are made up of the Suburanenses, residents of the Subura distrct and the Sacravienses who live along the Sacra Via. Each year they fight after the horse has been beheaded to decide where the horse’s head will be displayed. If the Suburanenses win the head will be displayed on the turris Mamilia deep in the Subura.[xv] However, if the Sacravienses win they will display the head on the Regia, the old residence of our kings.

Of course they are not fighting for real, for a start they only have wooden swords like the ones they give to slaves in the amphitheatre or soldiers during training.[xvi] I don’t take part this year because I’m far to old for war games now, instead I watch with some comrades I served with in the Praetorian Guard. We talk fondly of Augustus especially as we receive such a generous pension![xvii] The battle has now finished and the Suburanenses do not hesitate in taking the head back to attach to the turris Mamilia. This seems fair, after all the Regia already has the tail by now. 

It has been a good year and there is much to be thankful for. We have recently had a great harvest which will easily feed the city, so I am told, throughout the winter months.[xviii] This is why we celebrate this day, for the wellbeing of the city and all her citizens, not just the soldiers among us. It is an important day and I shall remember it next year at the Fordicidia and six days later at the Parilia, when the Vestals mix the blood collected today with the ashes of the unborn calf from the Fordicidia, before throwing the mixture on the fire to purify our flocks of sheep.[xix]

That’s the end for me for now, the sun is setting over the Tiber and it’s about time I got home to the wife for some fish and a relaxing cup of wine, or two… 


Roman festival calendar c.60BC.

The Fasti Antiates Maiores — a painting of the Roman calendar for public display of about about 60BC; before the Julian reform of the calendar.

[i] As demonstrated by the density of the Roman festival calendar, e.g. the Fasti Antiates Maiores(right) which dates to about 60BC, before the Julian reform of the calendar.  It contains the month Sextilis (‘SEX’), later renamed ‘Julius’, and the intercalary month (‘INTER’) which was used to  bring the months and the seasons back into alignment as the far righthand column. Further, see D. Feeney, (2007), Caesar’s Calendar: ancient time and the beginnings of history, California and A. Michels, (1967), The Calendar of the Roman Republic, Princeton. 

[ii] Varus was a Roman general who lost three legions against the Germans (under the commander Arminius) during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. While this heavy defeat spurred Augustus’s desire to conquer Germany beyond the Rhine, as a result the army was withdrawn, see C. Whittaker, (2004), Rome and its frontiers: the dynamics of Empire, London.  

[iii] For an interactive map of Augustan Rome and the Campus Martiuis, see the Digital Augustan Rome project website (University of Arizona). Routes and buildings along the veteran’s way are based on A. Hare, (1883), Walks in Rome, London. On new building and rebuilding in Rome during the late Republic and Augustan periods, including Agrippa’s contribution, see O. Robinson, (1992), Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration, London. 

[iv] Suggested reasons for Octavian changing his name are that:

‘[Augustus] is a name allied to Jupiter on high. The fathers call sacred things “august”. “August” are called the temples duly dedicated by the hand of priests. From the root of this word also comes “augury”, and all such augmentation as Jupiter grants with his power’

(Ovid Fasti 1.607-12).

[v] The position of flamen Dialis was vacant from 96BC to 11BC and stimulated some debate, see J. Liebeschuetz, (1979), Continuity and Change in Roman Religion, Oxford. 

[vi] Suetonius implies that Horace was heavily influenced by Augustus:

‘As to his writings, Augustus rated them so high, and was so convinced that they would be immortal that he not only appointed him to write the Secular Hymn, but also bade him celebrate the victory of his stepsons Tiberius and Drusus over the Vindelici, and so compelled him to add a fourth to his three books of lyrics after a long silence… In this way he forced from Horace the selection which begins with these works’

(Life of Horace 39-43).

Perhaps the reason Horace was so favourable towards Augustus was because Horace fought for the Republican Brutuses (one of Caesar’s murderers) in the 40’s BC. Brutus’ forces were defeated by Antony. Horace survived and managed to switch sides to Octavian and was later commissioned to write for him. An example of Horace’s adulation and flattery of the Imperial family can be found in the early years of Augustus’ reign: ‘Caesar, this age has restored rich crops to the fields, closed the gates of Romulus’s temple, tightened the rein on lawlessness…’ (Odes 4.15).

Portrait bust of Cicero.

Marble bust of Cicero. Capitoline Museum, Rome. © Ann Raia (2005). Courtesy of VRoma, www.vroma.org

[vii] Cicero’s comment on Varrro is as follows:

‘Varro: your books have led us as it were home, when we were wandering and going astray like new arrivals, so that we were able to recognise who we were and where we were. You have revealed to us the life of our fatherland, the descriptions of the seasons, the laws of sacred rituals, the disciplines of the priests, the conduct of domestic and military affairs; you have clarified the position of the regions and districts, as well as the names, kinds, functions and causes of all divine and human matters.’ (Cicero Acad. 22).

Further on Varro’s role in the conduct of Roman religious observance, see C. Green, (2002), ‘Varro’s Three Theologies and their Influence on the Fasti’ in G. Herbert-Brown (ed.), (2002), Ovid’s Fasti: historical readings at its bimillennium, Oxford: 71-8. Further on Cicero’s contribution to the debate about religion in Rome, see E. Rawson, (1975), Cicero: a portrait, London. A more general, and fuller, picture is provided by A. Momigliano, (1984), ‘The Theological Efforts of the Roman Upper Classes in the First Century B.C.’, Classical Philology 79: 199-211 and E. Rawson, (1975), Intellectual Life in the Late Roman Republic, London. 

[viii] The main philosophical debate was between Epicureans and Stoics, see P. Brunt, (1989), ‘Philosophy and Religion in the LateRepublic’ in M. Griffin & J. Barnes, eds., (1989), Philosophia togata: essays on philosophy and Roman society, Oxford: 174-98. Epicureanism promoted the idea that the senses are the source of all knowledge and are infallible and should therefore be obeyed in the search for pleasure. Gods exist because we have a mental image of them and they should be worshipped because they benefit us, not because they have any relation to humans or the earth. See, Lucretius On the Nature of Things written in the 60’s BC. Stoicism promoted the idea that the universe was created and controlled by their conception of divine power (pneuma, meaning ‘fiery breath’, the force/soul which animates all matter). They held that everything was predestined and as a result had a strong sense of purpose. 

[ix] The term capite velo (‘with veiled head’) refers to the drawing of the toga over the head by adult Roman males, including pontifices, while performing religious observances.

[x] The flamen Martialis was the chief priest assigned to the god Mars and was one of three chief priests of the priestly college. 

[xi] For the presence of soldiers at a festival dedicated to Mars, god of War, linked to the end of the campaign season, see C. Bennett Pascal ((1981), ‘October Horse’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 85: 261-91). G. Wissowa, ((1904), ‘Equus October’ in G. Wissowa, (1904), ‘De ferris anni Romanorum vetastissimi observationes selectae’ in Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur Römischen Religions- und Stadtgeschichte, Munich: 154-174: festivals of Mars: 164-167) says that this festival takes place at the end of the military campaign season in order to ‘cleanse the army of the taint of human blood and of foreign contact’ and suggests that within the Roman religious calendar the festival’s position corresponded with the Equirria, during which another horserace was held on the Campus Martius on the Ides of March. While the festivals are, as Bennett Pascal notes, ‘equidistant from the two ends of the year’ this observation is only germane after 153BC, once the New Year began in January rather than March, but both festivals trace their origin to before that date, suggesting symmetry of that kind was not a motivating factor in their inception. 

[xii] We are told that it is a spear that kills the selected horse by Timaeus ap. Polybus 12.4b. From Cassius Dio we can assume that the flamen Martialis is the person who drives the spear into the horse because he would have been the officiating priest, although there is no real evidence for this.

[xiii] For the horses as warhorses, see F. Jacoby, (1923-58), Die Fragmenter der griechischen Historiker, Berlin and Leiden: vol.3: 612, fragment 566.

[xiv] The garlanding with loaves (the basis of the Roman diet) reinforces the festival’s link with agriculture and is a visual reminder of the sacrifice’s purpose - quia id sacrificium fiebat ob frugum eventum (‘the sacrifice was performed for a successful crop of grain’) – according to Festus (de Lingua Latina 246, s.v. Panibus). 

[xv] We do not know exactly where the Mamilian Tower was, however we do know it was deep in the Subura and named after the family of the Mamilii, see Bennett Pascal, n.[xi]

[xvi] Roman legionaries attack.

[xvii] Augustus is credited with the creation of a new professional army. He increased the pay of the army and created pensions for soldiers who made it to the end of their term of service of about 12,000 sesterces (about fourteen years’ pay). In addition, he extended the term of service required from the duration of a campaign to a single term of sixteen years. These changes made the army into a career for a Roman citizen and made the army more professional because soldiers served more time with each other. See, L. Kepple, (1998), The Making of the Roman Army, London. For an informative short film (10 minutes) showing the clothing, armour and equipment of a Roman legionary stationed in the Rhineland in the first century AD, go to YouTube

[xviii] The garlanding with loaves (the basis of the Roman diet) reinforces the festival’s link with agriculture and is a visual reminder of the sacrifice’s purpose: quia id sacrificium fiebat ob frugum eventum (‘the sacrifice was performed for a successful crop of grain’) according to Festus (de Lingua Latina 246, s.v. Panibus). 

[xix] Ovid (Fasti 4.732ff.) is the source for suggesting that the Vestals mixed the blood of the horse killed at the October Horse festival was mixed with with the ashes of the Fordicidia’s unborn calf at the Parilia.

Lupercalia Story 4: An Elderly Roman Farmer

I noticed the weather take a turn for the better and was reminded that spring – and the time to till the fields – was nearly upon us. The time is also ripe for purification: to expiate any unintentional offences that we Romans may have committed towards the gods. The arrival of the time of awakening fertility and purification means my favourite of all the festivals, the Lupercalia, has come around once again.    

Mark James Miller's colour pencil portrait of Julius Caesar

Mark James Miller's colour pencil portrait of Julius Caesar based on busts. (18 April 2008)

I remember, many, many years ago, the proceedings of a Lupercalia that has most certainly stuck in my mind – and, I am sure, in the minds of many of my fellow countrymen too. From the start it had struck me as a rather unusual ceremony. That cad Mark Antony had participated in the festival as leader of the then newly established – but now defunct – third college of Luperci.[i] Not only did he run, naked and drunk, around the Palatine hill,[ii] but he offered to the great Caesar – who was clothed in his triumphal attire and seated upon the Rostra – a crown: not once, not twice, but three times![iii] Three times the magnificent Caesar declined his offer to great applause and cheers from the crowd, among which my voice was one of the loudest – so much so that the great Caesar even looked at me and winked!    

Yet, it is not for this monumental moment that I remember that particular festival so vividly all these years later. My newly-wed wife and I had been trying for a child unsuccessfully and were beginning to suspect that she was barren and that the gods did not in fact look favourably upon our union. And so, in an effort to remedy this, I had taken my wife along with me that day, in the hope that through our participation we might expiate any inadvertent offence we had caused the gods and be blessed with some of the fertility magic that the Lupercalia offers. I remember having to give my wary wife a little nudge in the direction of the oncoming Luperci before she offered her hand to be whipped by one of the young noblemen in the procession.[iv] And sure enough towards the end of the very same year I was blessed with a son, Lucius! That’s why I still go to the festival, even in my old age: to thank the gods for my blessing. My capri bona is a merchant now, operating out of Ostia and doing very well for himself… 

Anyway, every third day after the Ides of February I make sure I arrive for the very beginning of the festival, despite my advancing years and the increasing time it takes to get into the city.[v] This year I arrived to find a mist rising from the bubbling stream that leads down to the Lupercal cave.[vi] At first it was so dense it hid from view the trees that I know surround the cave, but it quickly cleared to reveal a throng of my fellow Romans around the base of the south-west foot of the Palatine Hill at the Lupercal, the sacred grove where our founding fathers, Romulus and Remus, were suckled by their surrogate mother, a she-wolf.     

Flamen Dialis

Detail from the frieze on the west side of the Ara Pacis (consecrated 9BC): flamen dialis. Museo dell'Ara Pacis, Rome.

Before us stood the flamen dialis, overseeing the rite in full attire, with his head covered.[vii] The priests of the Luperci brought forth a goat and a dog for sacrifice,[viii] sprinkling the animals with an offering of mola salsa.[ix] The poor goat, because of all its struggling, was forced to stand as if supplicating but the sacrifice was quick and it died with no bleating or clamour nor any inauspicious actions,[x] which we all know to be of paramount importance. 

The next sacrifice was harder for me to witness; perhaps I am getting more sentimental in my old age, or maybe it is that my only companion, now that my wife is dead and my son has flown the nest, is my loyal dog Rufus. I only managed to hold my tongue because of my strong sense of civic duty, but it made me wonder for the first time why we Romans do this, and what it achieves? Perhaps it is the realisation that I do not have long left that makes me question actions that I have previously taken for granted. I suppose the sacrifice may hark back to the foundation of our great city, when our ancestors lost livestock and guard dogs to the wolves in the surrounding countryside … Whatever the reason, the successful sacrifices brought applause from the crowd, although my voice was quiet.    

Next the two young noblemen [xi] were brought before the priest who had conducted the sacrifices and had the blood from the goat smeared onto their foreheads with the blood-stained sacrificial knife. I have always seen this strange act as a symbol of the vitality of the sacrificed goats passing into those participating in the ritual. The blood is always quickly wiped off with some wool that has been soaked in milk and then the youths laugh.[xii] The laughing has always puzzled me, though perhaps this kind of exhilaration is a symbol of the vitality of the milk passing into the youths, thus giving them energy for their coming run. As a farmer, I realise the importance of using milk to wipe the blood away because I have seen from my animals how milk comes into being with a new life, making this a significant link to the fertility rites of the Lupercalia. This connection is especially apparent to me because my son was conceived through these rites all those years ago …    

The priest then cut the goats’ hides into strips to be used for the whipping [xiii] – the part of the rite with which I am more than familiar – and as loincloths.[xiv] When the Luperci have received their goat-hide strips they join the throng of waiting brethren and feast on the meat from the sacrifices.[xv] What has always confused me is that only one group of the Luperci feast on the meat – why? [xvi] I suppose it is probably some ancient ritual inherited from our ancestors, the reasons for which are long forgotten. 

Once the feasting is over, then comes the fun part: I have seen my fair share of youths running around half-naked and it brings out the animal in them! The Luperci, led by the young noblemen, split into two groups – the Luperci Quinctiales or the Luperci Fabiani as they are known.[xvii] These two groups then run the course of the Luperci, playfully and licentiously.[xviii] Although I am far too old to join in this time, I remember running alongside them when I was a boy – up and down the Via Sacra. Now I couldn’t keep up and I am told they run around the Palatine (the old boundary of Rome), beating men and women with the sacrificial goat-hide strips.[xix] A great swarm of masculine nakedness. Well, a swarm of adult, male, half-nakedness, at least – since Augustus’ leadership began l have noticed that the more erotic nature of the fertility rites has been toned down.[xx] 

Model of the Temple of Apollo

Model of the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine. Museum of Roman Civilization, Rome. © Barbara McManus (2007). VRoma.

Our great leader Augustus has renovated the Lupercal cave,[xxi] just 50 feet from his palace on the Palatine Hill, along with a great many other temples and religious sites.[xxii] Of these my favourite is the magnificent temple of Apollo which I can see from my vantage point near the cave. The cave itself is surrounded by a dense wood and has been beautifully restored – it is most impressive to see that the roof’s dome is now wonderfully painted in extremely vivid colours.   

Augustus has brought new life and grandeur into this place of old beginnings, and not only are the crowds here in greater numbers for the Lupercalia but they have been inspired to greater religious fervour than I have ever witnessed. I am glad of this, because the festival has always had great personal importance for me.   

Most worshippers come for the purification rites – everyone dishonours the gods at some point, whether deliberately or not.[xxiii] I remember only last Kalends of January that I took Jupiter’s name in vain as I stubbed my toe on my hearth! However, many come for other reasons, including the fertility promise the festival brings, as I do.[xxiv] Many farmers, like myself, require a good harvest to survive, but the fertility promise applies to all things: crops, flocks, husbands, wives … The fertility of my wife, may she rest in peace, was assured by the rites, so I’m sure that those who pray for the fertility of the Roman Empire will have their prayers granted.   

As I leave the city walls, I contemplate whom the festival honours. I know that some worshippers come to pay respect to Faunus, but he has his own festival: celebrated just two ago, so I do not worship him here.[xxv] Others come to pay respects to the founders of our great city, Romulus and Remus.[xxvi] The Lupercalia, however, will always make me think of my wife and I honour her every day in my own way, making sure the Penates are well tended, as was her wish. 

And now I take my weary legs homewards, looking forward to resting after this long day with my trusted friend, Rufus.  

[i] The third college of Luperci (the Luperci Iuliana) had been established in 45BC in honour of Julius Caesar with Mark Antony as its head. It did not survive long after Julius Caesar’s death in 44BC. See Dion. Hal. 44.6.2, 45.30.2; Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 76.1; on which H. H. Scullard (1981), Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, New York: 76. Varro claims the Luperci are so called because they sacrifice at the Lupercal (a cave on the Palatine Hill) at the festival of the Lupercalia (Varro On the Latin Language, 5.85, 6.13).   

[ii] Cicero was indignant about Mark Antony serving as one of the Luperci (Cicero, Philippics 2.34, 2.43, 3.5, 13.15).  

[iii] The composite account of this incident is based on Plutarch (Life of Julius Caesar 21.4-6), Cicero (Philippics 2.84-7, 3.12, 13.17) and Dion. Hal. 45.30.1-5. In 44BC it is possible that the procession of the Luperci ended in the Comitium rather than at the Rostra (c.f. Cicero Philippics 2.85 and Dion. Hal. 44.11.2, 45.30.1), but this is not certain, as is noted by T.P. Wiseman (1995), Remus: A Roman Myth, Cambridge: 81.

[iv] Plutarch states that women presented their hand (Life of Julius Caesar 21.3), although he goes on to be less specific (cf. Life of Julius Caesar 61.2 and his reference to women offering themselves for flagellation in Life of Romulus 21.5). Other sources are less clear: Gelasius complains about the ‘respectable women flogged in public’ (Letter 16), while Ovid describes women presenting both their hand (Fasti 2.427) and their back (Fasti 2.445). Perhaps it was both? For flagellation as a metaphor for sexual union, see T. P. Wiseman (1995), ‘The God of the Lupercal’, Journal of Roman Studies 85: 14-15. It was believed that if women were struck then they would have increased chances of becoming pregnant and an easier childbirth.  

[v] Ovid is our fullest source for the festival and the only one specifying a date of 15th February; he is unlikely to be incorrect on such a major detail (Ovid Fasti 2.267). Dion. Hal. 1.32.4 and Varro On the Latin Language 6.34 both confirm that the festival was in February.  

[vi] For the stream, see Ovid Fasti 2.316 and Dion. Hal. 1.32.4.

[vii] Ovid (Fasti 2.282) is the only source that mentions the involvement of the Flamen Dialis (priest of Jupiter). This involvement may have been a revival of his traditional role or a new addition to the festival following Augustus’ appointment of a Flamen Dialis in 11BC to fill an office that had been vacant since 87/86BC (Tacitus Annals 3.58); for his involvement in a religious revival, see M. Beard, J. North and S. Price (1988), Religions of Rome Volume I: A History, Cambridge: 130ff. The involvement of the flamen dialis in the Lupercalia was probably supervisory because he was not allowed to touch goats or dogs. His presence at the Lupercalia, however, counts against suggestions that the Flamen Dialis was not even allowed to look at dogs.  

[viii] Varro and Servius both use the word sacerdos (‘priest’: Varro On the Latin Language 5.83, 5.85; Servius Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid 8.663), but whether we are to think of them as priests in a strict sense is contentious; see Wiseman (n.[iii]: 80). The number of sacrificial animals varies from source to source: Ovid mentions one goat (Fasti 2.445); Plutarch mentions ‘goats’ in the plural (Life of Romulus 21.4). Sources are unclear as to whether the goat(s) are male or female (cf. Ovid, Fasti 2.361 and Plutarch, Life of Romulus 21.4). The sacrifice of dogs is discussed by Plutarch in Roman Questions 68 and Life of Romulus 21.5 and 21.8. In Life of Romulus 21.8, Plutarch suggests that the peculiar dog sacrifice may have come about because a dog worried the runners, before opining that the festival may have originally been a festival of safety: unprotected early settlements would have feared the attacks of wolves, prompting the sacrifice of a dog, which, as the natural enemy of the wolf, would then have kept the wolves at bay. It is also possible to understand the sacrifice in terms of the suckling myth: the she-wolf that nurtured Romulus and Remus would be pleased by the sacrifice of its enemy (the dog). Additional meanings may have been added as the cult gained status or in order to incorporate other requirements into the sacrifices and festival itself. The word Lupercus itself, meaning ‘he who wards off wolves’ from the word lupus (‘wolf’) and verb arcere (‘to keep away’), suggests a pastoral origin (Servius Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid 8.343). For a more detailed account of such derivations, see Scullard (n.[i]: 77-8).  

[ix] Mola salsa were sacred cakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins. They were made from flour ground from the first ears of corn from the previous harvest and were also used in the Vestalia in June and on the Ides of September (Servius Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid 8.235).  

[x] The attitude/position of the sacrificial animal was key to the aesthetic of the sacrifice and its success and efficacy. The animal must be deemed to be a willing sacrifice in order to ensure a good omen; if it was not deemed willing it was permissible to repeat the procedure with a different animal, but only if later events proved that judgement sound: e.g. Julius Caesar is seen to be reckless for not postponing an expedition against Scipio and Juba after the sacrificial animal escapes (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar 59). To ensure the appearance of the animal’s compliance, attendants manipulated the animal with ropes to the extent of making it perform a supplication before the altar. For more detail about live sacrifices, see Pliny Natural History 8.183; Beard, North and Price (n.[vii]: 36).  

[xi] Plutarch emphasises that the youths came from noble families (Life of Romulus 21.4, Life of Julius Caesar 21.2). The young noblemen were probably meant to represent the houses of Romulus and Remus (Ovid Fasti 2.360-80). See also n.[xii], n.[xvi] on the Fabiani and n.[xvii] on the Quinctiales.  

[xii] The account is taken from Plutarch, Life of Romulus 21.5. It is likely that the milk represented the substance of new life (and thus was part of the fertility rite) as well as perhaps recalling the nourishment Romulus and Remus received from the wolf (Plutarch, Life of Romulus 21.6). While the laughing may be an expression of exuberance symbolic of the transfer of energy, Ovid connects laughter with the origins of the two colleges of Luperci (the Luperci Quinctiales belonging to Romulus and the Luperci Fabiani belonging to Remus, Fasti 2.360-80) describing how Romulus lost to his brother by failing to recover the cattle and, on returning to see ‘bare tables and bones’, gave out a laugh (Fasti 2.376-7).  

[xiii] Whipping was believed to ensure fertility because striking the women with the goat-skin thong represented an act of penetration: Ovid Fasti 2.441 on which Wiseman (n.[iv]: 15) emphasises that the act of symbolic penetration is made by an object of fertility (the goatskin thong). See also the discussion of Inuus as a possible god of the Lupercalia, n.[xxv] and Livy, 1.5.1-2.  

[xvi] Loincloths were worn according to Dion. Hal. 1.80.1 and Plutarch (Roman Questions 68, Life of Romulus 21.4f.), but Ovid (Fasti 2.283-4), Varro (On the Latin Language 6.34), Plutarch elsewhere (Life of Julius Caesar 61.2) and Gelasius Letter 16, all claim that the Luperci were naked. Ovid (Fasti 2.357-8) and Plutarch (Life of Romulus 21.7) even provide reasons for their nakedness.  

[xv] Ovid (Fasti 2.372-5) is the only source to mention the feast, but it is highly likely that a feast would have been part of the proceedings, not only because feasts followed most sacrifices but also because a feast would fit in with the fun and rowdiness of the Lupercalia, as suggested by Scullard (n.[i]: 77).

[xvi] Only the college of the Luperci Fabiani feasted on the sacrificial meat, supposedly because of a tradition dating back to the days of Romulus and Remus. Ovid (Fasti 2.369-76) recounts the tale in which Remus hears thieves trying to steal their cattle and the two brothers, along with their tribes, compete to find and recover the cattle. Remus and the Fabiani or Fabii succeed and Remus states: ‘only the victors shall eat these’ (Ovid Fasti 2.374).  

[xvii] The college of the Luperci Quinctiales was associated with Romulus and the college of the Luperci Fabiani was associated with Remus. On the origins of the two colleges, see Ovid Fasti 2.361-80. Further, n.[xi], n.[xiii] and n.[xvi].  

[xviii] The verb most often used to describe the route the Luperci ran is discurrere, which translates as ‘to run this way and that’, but some sources imply that they run around the early settlement (e.g. Dion. Hal. 1.80.1, Plutarch Life of Romulus 21.4 and 21.8; cf. also Ovid Fasti 2). Varro records the route as both encirclement (On the Latin Language 5.34 and 6.34) and running up and down the Via Sacra (Varro On the Origin of the Roman People fr.21). By the time of Augustine (The City of God 18.12) the route is up and down the Via Sacra. Such contradictory accounts of the route may imply changes over time, but there are also differences in and difficulties of interpretation: for example, Wiseman (n.[iv]: 8) suggests that this kind of confusion could arise if there were one fig tree rather than two, one at the start and one at the end of the route; A.K. Michels ((1953), ‘The Topography and Interpretation of the Lupercalia’, Transactions of the American Philological Association 84: 35-59) demonstrates the problems arising from scholars having tried to make the Lupercalia run a ‘beating of the bounds’ (35-46) and interprets greges humani (‘human flocks’) to mean ‘a horde of the dead’ rather than ‘the crowd’ (48-9) to link the Lupercalia with its place in the calendar in a month otherwise dedicated to the dead.

[xix] The majority of the ancient sources state that both sexes were whipped, despite focusing in more detail upon the whipping of women. Those sources which state that only women were whipped (Festus 75-6 L. and Servius Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid 8.343) are convincingly dismissed by Wiseman (n.[iii]: 84).   

[xx] Augustus prohibited boys before the age of puberty from taking part in the run (Res Gestae 19.1 and Suetonius Life of Augustus 31.4). For a more detailed discussion of Augustan changes to the Lupercalia, see Wiseman (n.[iv]: 14-16), where he argues that Augustus introduced attendants for the young nobles and no longer required them to wear only goat-skin thongs. It is possible that the introduction of attendants had some relation to what appears to be a commonly held view of the moral laxity of the Luperci (Cicero Pro Caelio 26) and that the attendants were meant to keep the youths from indulging in – or being coerced into – immoral behaviour under the cover of the festival.  

[xxi] Augustus Res Gestae 19.1.  

[xxii] For Augustus’ revival of religious buildings, see Augustus Res Gestae 20.4 with discussion by Beard, North and Price (n.[vii]:118).

[xxiii] Purification was a commonly accepted reason for the Lupercalia festival: Varro Divine Antiquities fr.80 Cardauns, On the Latin Language 6.13 and 6.34 (where the entire month of February is associated with the verb februare meaning ‘to purify’); Plutarch Roman Questions 68. Elsewhere, Plutarch writes that the reason for the Lupercalia festival is actually unknown (Life of Romulus 21.4). However, because the Lupercalia fell in the period of the Parentalia (13th-22nd February) it may be interpreted as a purification of the dead, with the ‘human flocks’ (Varro On the Latin Language 6.34) seen as the ‘flocks of the dead’.  Beard, North and Price ((1998), Religions of Rome II: A Sourcebook, Cambridge: 122) consider these  to besiege the city during the Parentalia.  

[xxiv] Plutarch (Life of Julius Caesar 21.3, Life of Romulus 21.5) and Ovid (Fasti 2.427) both refer to the fertility promise of the Lupercalia. The goat itself is a Roman symbol of fertility, which means that the whipping of women with the goatskin thongs can be interpreted as the means through which the transferral of the goats’ fertility to human beings takes place.

[xxv] The god Faunus, linked with fertility and traditionally represented in goat form, is specifically associated with the Lupercalia by Ovid (Fasti 2.267 ff., 303 ff., 423 ff.). Ovid describes Faunus raping nymphs in caves, which takes Faunus’ pre-existing connection with fertility and makes a further connection between him and the Lupercal cave, thereby linking the Lupercalia festival with fertility and with him. There is little agreement about the actual god of the Lupercalia: Ovid favours Faunus, Livy suggests Inuus (whose name may mean ‘the Goer-in’, thus implying a connection with fertility and the penetrative aspect of the Lupercalia, 1.5.1-2), while Varro does not associate any one god with the Lupercalia. For a discussion of the variety of gods that might have been involved, see Wiseman (n.[iv]:3ff.) on Faunus, Pan, Inuus, Silvanus, Luperca, Mars and Juno. It appears that the god was less important than the festival’s proceedings: indeed, Sir J.G. Frazer ((1929), Publii Ovidii Nasonis Fastorum libri sex, London: 335) suggests that ‘the Lupercalia was more a magical, rather than religious, festival and therefore not involving any particular deity’.  

[xx] Romulus and Remus were synonymous with the Lupercal cave (Ovid Fasti 2.381-422; Plutarch Life of Romulus 21.4) and, hence, the Lupercalia itself. Their association with the cult is a key part of its formation (Ovid Fasti 2.359-80).

Lupercalia Story 1: A Proud Roman Father

It was the 15th day before the Kalends of March in the year of the consulship of Publius Cornelius Dolabella and Gaius Junius Silanus. I rose to yet another bright, crisp winter dawn in my 50th year and knew that it was a special day, as today was the Lupercalia!

This year’s festivities would be particularly special for me personally as my son, Titus Artorius Gavros, would be participating in the ceremony for the very first time. I’ve heard that in years gone by some pompous and prudish old men have disapproved of their family’s youngsters running with the Luperci – the name Cicero[i] readily springs to mind – but not me; I couldn’t be more proud of my family’s contribution to the welfare of the city. It is, in my opinion, a bad Roman that puts his personal reservations about a festival’s supposed sexual undercurrent[ii] and uncivilised origins[iii] above his sense of duty to the community and obligation to the gods. That sort of attitude comes from spending too much time with one’s nose buried in dusty old books, if you ask me!  

The Lupercalia is so ancient[iv] that we’re never going to agree on the precise reasoning behind the ceremony,[v] so what’s the point of researching it? This particular year, I’m happy to say, events proceeded entirely in accordance with ritual practice, which should have greatly decreased the risk of future hardships for our city.  

Man in equestrian dress being served wine by a male slave

C3rd AD Roman mosaic from Uthina (Oudhna): A equestrian called Fructus (right) is served wine by a male slave. Bardo Museum, Tunis. © Barbara MacManus (1982). VRoma.


And so it was with great pride that I put on my gold ring and my tunica angusticlavia that morning, both symbols of my status as an eques. In spite of my advancing years I was eager to hurry down to the Palatine – or perhaps I should call it Region Ten these days[vi] – so that I could gain a good view of the newly restored Lupercal cave,[vii] which is located right in between the Circus Maximus and Caesar’s house on the south western slopes: this is where the first rituals took place. Unfortunately there was already a big crowd gathered by the time I arrived, no doubt also gripped with that sense of excitement and fun which is associated with the Lupercalia.[viii] So I stood and watched proceedings just across from the Forum Boarium. The flamen dialis[ix] was there (not like back in my day) to oversee the sacrifice of the animals:[x] two goats and a dog, which are very unusual offerings,[xi] especially since priests aren’t usually allowed to touch those animals.[xii]  

I don’t know about the goats but I assume the reason for the dog is because of its resemblance to a wolf. The lupine element of the festival is evidently important, hence the name Lupercalia, [xiii] and the fact that we link it to the wolf-based Romulus and Remus story. Even an unscholarly chap like myself can work that one out!  

As I peered through the crowd I could see my son amongst the other young men of the Luperci; none of them too young though, since Caesar has put a stop to unbearded boys taking part in the festival.[xiv] Titus was helping to restrain one of the goats whilst mola salsa,[xv] prepared by our sacred Vestal Virgins, was being sprinkled on its head until it nodded to signify compliance with its own sacrifice. After the throats of the animals had been slit, two of the Luperci were brought forwards, one from the college of the Fabii and one from that of the Quintilii: both of these represent the groups that were founded by Romulus and Remus,[xvi] although I’m not sure  which one is which. They then had blood from the sacrificial knives smeared on to their foreheads[xvii] and then wiped off with some wool dipped in milk,[xviii] after which they both had to burst out laughing.[xix] This always strikes me as odd, and I can’t help wondering why they always have to laugh, but I shall leave those sorts of questions to men more learned than myself.  

After the initial rituals had concluded I made my way along the seven stades or so to the Forum so that I could get a good view of the running of the Luperci[xx] from under the shade of the Basilica Aemilia. In the meantime, Titus and his colleagues were busy preparing the animals into a feast and cutting their hides into thongs[xxi] which they could wear and strips called februare. It was a long process and marked a sort of hiatus in the festival, during which the Luperci usually do some exercises in preparation for their run. Some people stay and watch but most take the chance to eat something themselves, shelter from the midday sun and re-join the proceedings later.    

Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar showing rostra in the Roman Forum

The rostra before the temple of the Deified Julius Caesar. From Ch. Huelsen (1909), The Roman Forum: Its History and Its Monuments, trans. J.B. Carter (2nd ed.), Rome, fig. 86. VRoma


As I entered the Forum the first thing that caught my eye was our Pater Patriae, Caesar Augustus, sitting upon the rostra in readiness for the crowds and the running. I imagine he resembled his late father Julius Caesar who, 55 years ago today, had taken part in one of the defining episodes of this festival’s history. My own father, Brutus Artorius Gavros, was watching the Lupercalia that same year, and has told me on many occasions that anecdote about Caesar thrice rejecting Marcus Antonius’ offer of a diadem.[xxii] Of course that was in the days when there were three Lupercal colleges, since Antonius was one of the Luperci Iulii.[xxiii]It was a while before I heard the commotion of the crowd further back towards the Palatine and I knew that the Luperci had split into their two groups and had started their run. Their route between the Lupercal and the Comitium[xxiv] takes them past the eastern edge of the giant Horrea Agrippiana,[xxv] across the Nova Via then up and down the Sacra Via before they enter the Forum. They always end up in the Forum because that’s where the Ficus Ruminalis[xxvi] and the old sepulcretum[xxvii] are: not to mention the fact that it’s the heart of our great city and a focal point for community activity. I’ve heard it said that many years ago they would have run all the way round the eastern side of the Palatine.[xxviii] It’s lucky that’s no longer the case since Julius Caesar’s massive redevelopment of the Circus Maximus[xxix] would make that a fairly hazardous and congested affair. Eventually the two groups came into view as they ran about on the slope of the Sacra Via, each of them led by one of the youths who had been wiped with blood a little earlier. I was glad to have a restful and well-shaded position in the ceremony – if somewhat obscured by some modern building work[xxx] – and didn’t envy Titus for what was clearly tiring and sweaty work in the heat of the sun. He didn’t seem to mind though, partly because of all the wine he had drunk at the feast, but mainly (I suspect) because he was fraternizing with many of the respectable, young married women of the city. There was certainly a commotion as the crowd got indiscriminately whipped with the Luperci’s februare, especially those young women who were of child-bearing age, whom I could see deliberately getting in the way of the runners and presenting their hands to be struck.[xxxi] The somewhat magical potency of the Luperci’s actions should hopefully protect the girls against infertility and ensure a healthy and abundant new generation of noble Romans.[xxxii] Indeed, the run signifies that we as a community have all done our duty to the spirits of the dead and have protected and purified ourselves from their potentially evil influence, be it infertility or some other evil.  

Caesar and I had to wait until the runners had properly entered the Forum before we could get a good view of the action, but when they arrived the crowds were in amazingly high spirits. Even Caesar seemed to be smiling in approval and enjoying the festivities, although he always appears so respectable and well-to-do that it’s hard to tell. Titus and his companions arrived at the Comitium, which marks the end of the sacred race, thoroughly exhausted but all very proud of their achievement. I think there was a general sense of relief that the traditions had all been upheld and the rituals had been completed without any unforeseen problems or bad omens. The whole community came out and there was a spirit of togetherness, which re-enforced my belief that Rome is indomitable and favoured by the gods. It was a nice way to spend the middle of the otherwise boring dies parentalis[xxxiii] which for me is a nine day holiday marked as nefastus;[xxxiv] a week from now I’ll need to attend court.    


[i] Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote to his friend Atticus that his brother Quintus was “a fool to rejoice in his son’s new office [membership of the Luperci]” (Letters to Atticus 12.5.1).
[ii] For the apparent sexual undercurrent to the festival, see T.P. Wiseman (1995b), “The God of the Lupercal”, Journal of Roman Studies 85, 15
[iii] Roman academics contemporaneous with Augustus would no doubt have suspected that the Lupercalia predated urbanization; see e.g. W.W. Fowler (1899), The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic, New York, 316-17; C. Bailey (1932), Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome, Oxford, 148.
[iv] Bailey (n.iii) 18 suggests that it was recognised by Romans as being “of immemorial antiquity”.
[v] M. Beard, J. North and S. Price ((1998), Religions of Rome, Volume II: A Sourcebook, Cambridge, 120) adeptly summarise the scholarly consensus that “at any celebration (of this or any other festival) there was no doubt a profusion of individual views, understandings and explanations.” See also K. Hopkins (1991), “From Blessing to Violence”, in A. Molho et al. (eds.), City States in Classical Antiquity and Medieval Italy, Stuttgart, 484-5.
[vi] This map of Rome’s new (c. 8-7 BC) administrative regions is taken from J.B. Lott (2004), The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome, Cambridge, 3.
[vii] For Augustus’ pride in the newly-restored Lupercal cave, see Res Gestae 19.
[viii] According to Valerius Maximus (2.2.9), “the Luperci were propelled through the streets by collective solidarity, the jollity induced by the banquet and a lot of wine drunk.” Indeed, Wiseman (n.ii) 14 argues that “all the literary evidence makes it clear that the Lupercalia ritual was an occasion for laughter and enjoyment.”
[ix] The flamen dialis was the high priest of Jupiter. The priesthood was vacant for extended periods of the late republic before being revived by Augustus; see M. Beard, J. North and S. Price (1998), Religions of Rome Volume I: A History , Cambridge, 131.
[x] H.H. Scullard ((1981), Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, New York, 77) points out that Livy and Varro disagree about which god was intended to receive the sacrifice. Bailey (n.iii) 131 suggests that it is a mysterious rustic deity linked to Pan. The most likely explanation, however, is that the festival predates anthropomorphic gods, which is why the generic priest of Jupiter was chosen to preside.
[xi] Hopkins (n.v) 480 points out that the Romans usually sacrificed more edible animals such as sheep, pigs and bulls. Fowler (n.iii) 314 affirms that a dog was only elsewhere offered to Robigus on April 25th and goats were only elsewhere offered to Bacchus and Aesculapius, both of whom were foreign deities.
[xii] For the strange religious rules governing priests, see Plutarch, Roman Questions 68 (280C).
[xiii] Scullard (n.x) 77 is confident that the etymology of Lupercalia is a reference to wolves. A.K. Michels ((1953), “The Topography and Interpretation of the Lupercalia”, Transactions of the American Philological Association 84, 50-57) covers in detail the theory that the Lupercalia was linked to werewolves as well as wolves in general. As the city grew, wolves got separated from the people and the festival would have changed its meaning.
[xiv] Wiseman (n.ii) 15 expands on the implicit sexual undercurrent apparent in the Lupercalia, citing Suetonius, who suggests that Augustus did not allow beardless boys to take part in the run (Augustus 31.4); the boys were supposed to be objects of sexual desire.
[xv] See Bailey (n.iii) 158 on the preparation of mola salsa. Wiseman (n.ii) 84 states that the importance of the Lupercalia to Rome is indicated through the exclusive nature of the mola salsa ritual. Only three batches of these salt-meal cakes were made each year; the other two batches were destined for the Vestalia festival on June 9th and the ‘feast of Jove’ during the ludi Romani.
[xvi] Scullard (n.x) 76 says that it was believed amongst the ordinary Romans that the Quinctiales and Fabiani colleges were founded by Romulus and Remus.
[xvii] Michels (n.xiii) 52 proposes that the wiping of the blood with the knife was a relatively new addition to the ceremony, but like Fowler (n.iii) 315 she poses her theory tentatively, commenting that there is no straightforward literary evidence that might resolve the dispute.
[xviii] Fowler (n.iii) 316 suggests that the milky wool may have symbolised a revival to new life. Plutarch, in his Life of Romulus (21.3-8), links the cleansing of the wool to the Romulus and Remus story, implying that the cleansing with milk is a reminder of how the twins were nourished; see further Beard, North and Price (n.v) 121.
[xix] Fowler (n.iii) 314 suggests that laughter was an acknowledgement of exoneration and purification after killing sacrosanct animals, whereas Michels (n.xiii) 54 sees the laughter as a sign of the humanity of the participants.
[xx] Bailey (n.iii) 33 sees the running as the central act of the Lupercalia: she suggests that it is the act of running, rather than the runners, that creates the magical quality to the festival. Fowler (n.iii) 314 suggests that the two Luperci who lead the running might actually represent Romulus and Remus.
[xxi] Hopkins (n.v) 481 points out that Ovid, Varro, Plutarch, Gelasius and Justin cannot agree about the extent to which the Luperci were clothed. T.P. Wiseman ((1995a), Remus: A Roman Myth, Cambridge, 82) reminds us, however, that “[Augustus] was certainly concerned about the moral dangers of the Lupercalia.” It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that by AD 10 the Luperci had acquired substantial bodily covering.
[xxii] The famous episode described by Cicero in his Philippics (2.84) would have been well known by the Roman public in AD 10.
[xxiii] A third Lupercal college was created in 45 BC in honour of Julius Caesar, but was then probably disbanded soon after his death; see Scullard (n.x) 76. In Philippics (8.31), Cicero states that the senate withdrew funding for the Lupercalia in 43 BC, which leads Wiseman (n.ii) 15 to suggest the Julii were probably scrapped, and then possibly reinstated by the triumvirs.
[xxiv] The route of the Luperci has perhaps been the cause of the most controversy concerning the festival among modern scholars. Fowler (n.iii) 318 and Bailey (n.iii) 33 take the (traditional) view that the runners did a lap of the Palatine. Michels, dismissing this idea as a misinterpretation of Varro (n.xiii: 36), is more circumspect as to the route: “it took place in the Forum area between the Lupercal and the summa Sacra Via” (n.xiii: 46). Scullard (n.x) 77 provides possibly the most balanced and reasonable argument: “their route is uncertain: originally they ran around the Palatine, later in Caesar’s time perhaps only round part of it and up and down the Sacra Via”. This map, taken from E.A. Dumser, L. Haselberger and D.G. Romano (2002) (eds.), Mapping Augustan Rome, Rhode Island, has been edited to show what is, on balance, the most likely route of the Luperci in AD10. This map is taken from Wiseman (n.ii) 7.
[xxv] A massive warehouse built by Agrippa on the north-west slope of the Palatine; see Dumser, Haselberger and Romano (n.xxiv) 140.
[xxvi] The Ficus Ruminalis was the fig tree which featured in the myth of Romulus and Remus. It was originally situated on the Lupercal but had moved (magically) to the Comitium in the Forum by the time of the Republican period; see Scullard (n.x) 77. Running to it would replicate the actions of Romulus and Remus.
[xxvii] The ancient burial ground lay in the forum valley, along which the Luperci ran. Michels (n.xiii) 48 hypothesises that this marked a division between the living and the dead for the ancient hilltop communities. This would strongly link the area of the Lupercalia with its calendrical position in the middle of the dies parentales, lending support to the theory that its rituals were concerned with placating the spirits of the dead; see Wiseman (n.xxi) 88.
[xxviii] It has been argued that forming a magical circle around the Palatine provided a protective barrier for what was once an isolated settlement; see e.g. Bailey (n.iii) 33. On the other hand, Michels (n.xiii) 43-4 points out that a barrier could also be formed in front of it by the Luperci running to and fro.
[xxix] Dumser, Haselberger and Romano (n.xxiv) 87-8 estimate that it was 3.5 stades long and 4 plethra wide, so it is highly unlikely that in AD 10 there was a great deal of room between the Circus Maximus and the cliffs of the southern face of the Palatine.
[xxx] This image (taken from Archivo fotografico Lozzi Roma s.a.s.) has been edited to show that Augustus’ view of the running from the rostra in AD 10 would have far more obstructed than Julius Caesar’s in 44 BC due to the erection of new buildings on the East of the Forum in the intervening period. This shows that the Luperci must have run quite far from the Lupercal for Augustus to have seen anything.
[xxxi] Plutarch (Julius Caesar 61) confirms that the women taking part in the festivities simply had to stretch out their hands to get whipped “like school children” (Hopkins (n.v) 481). Wiseman (n.ii) 16 suggests that this act marks a deliberate neutralisation of the sexual element that had started the festival.
[xxxii] Plutarch (Julius Caesar 61) tells us that the rituals were performed so that “the pregnant will thus be helped to an easy delivery, and the barren to pregnancy”. R.M. Ogilvie ((1969), The Romans and their Gods in the Age of Augustus, London, 51), Wiseman (n.xxi) 84 and Fowler (n.iii) 320 agree that, regardless of the uncertainty of its origins, the Lupercalia certainly came to be seen as a human fertility rite.
[xxxiii] The 15th day of February was the third day of the dies parentales, the festival which offered worship and offerings to the spirits of the dead. During this time marriages were forbidden, temples were closed and no fire was allowed to be burned on altars; see Michels (n.xiii) 48.
[xxxiv] The dies nefasti were days on which the courts could not sit for religious reasons; see e.g. Ovid, Fasti 3.8.