Roman Festivals & Holidays
During this moveable festival a household's female members would climb onto the roof of the house and plant the "Garden of Adonis". These gardens contained fast-growing plants. For eight days the women would tend to the plants, and then neglect. After the plants had died the women would mourn for them. There was also a sacred play portraying the wedding of Adonis and Venus held during the Adonia, and was probably based on a Greek tradition. The last part of the festival involved making effigies of Adonis and placing them into coffins.
January 1st & 9th
During this festival the Romans gave dates, figs, and honey sealed in white jars to the god Janus. Such gifts, and also money, would be given to family members as well.
This purification festival was held to honor Ceres and Dea Dia. During the festival participants would walk around their fields to convince the gods to bless the growing plants.
This ritual was held in Rome to clean and purify the city and everything in it. The actual date changed from year to year, though it was usually held after the ides.
The festival for Anna Parenna, "goddess of the returning year" was held each year on the first day of the ancient year. Traditionally, Romans would cross the Tiber and "go abroad" into Etruria and have picnics in flimsy tents or huts made of branches. Both men and women would drink as much alcohol as they could, for it was thought that one would live for as many years as cups of alcohol one could drink on this day. Once finished with the picnic and drinking the Romans would wander back to their homes in Rome.
This day marks the end of the military campaign season. It is sacred to Mars.
Also known as the Cara Cognatio, it was held to honor Concordia. During this festival family members would gather in the home and feast together and then make offerings to the household deities and settle arguments.
This festival was held to honour Carmenta and the Camenae, nymphs of inspiration and prophecy.
This festival is sacred to Carna.
April 13 - 19
This was a private religious festival dedicated to Ceres. There were a few public festivities as well, including a chariot race and public games that doubled as the closing of the Megalesia. During these festivities all participants were required to wear white. Private rituals usually included an offering of milk, honey, and wine to Ceres.
The Charisteria was the feast held to give thanks.
This festival was held to honor the spirits of the crossroads (compitalia = countryside crossroads), and to mark the end of the winter planting season.
In the countryside the ritual started at nightfall. Each family member made and hung a woolen doll at the household shrine, and gave strands of garlic to the Lares.
In the cities neighbors would gather together and share honeycakes.
Feast of the grainary god Consus. On this day the Pontifex Maximus and the Vestal Virgins would oversee the removal of dirt from the top of Consus' underground altar in the Circus Maximus and the sacrifice of the first fruits to him upon it. Working animals such as horses and oxen were given a break on this day, and garlands were hung around their necks.
During this festival chariot races and other games were held to honour Consus.
The Divalia honoured the goddess Angerona in rites so secret that even the statue of the goddess had to be gagged in order to keep the details secret.
This festival honored Epona.
September 13, November 13
"Feast of Jupiter". This feast was attended by senators and high ranking magistrates during the Ludi Romani and Ludi Plebeii. It started with the sacrifice of a white cow and ritual cakes to honor Jupiter, and possibly Juno and Minerva.
This festival involved racing horses to honor Mars. It was held in the Campus Martius or the Campus Martialis on the Caelian Hill if the Campus Martius was flooded. The Equirria was said to have been founded by Romulus.
A rural festival held in honor of Faunus that involved eating, drinking, dancing, and sacrifices.
This festival commemorated an event in which Vesta was saved by a donkey.
Feast of the Ass:
End of February
During this festival Rome was purified by its citizens by making sacrifices to the dead.
The Feralia was the closing festival of the Parentalia. During the Feralia, families would picnic at the tombs of their deceased family members and give libations to the dearly departed. It was believed that the shades of the dead could walk upon the earth above their graves during Feralia.
"Feast of the Serving Women". During this festival, Rome's female slaves would dress up in the finest clothes they had and would attack men of free birth with fig boughs.
End of April
"Feast of the Latin League". This festival honored Jupiter Latiaris, and was one of the festivals appropriated from the Latins. It was held at Jupiter's temple on the Alban Mount, and not in Rome itself. During the Feriae Latinae milk and other agricultural foods were offered to Jupiter. A white cow that had never worked was sacrificed and eaten by representatives from all of the cities in the Latin League. This was later expanded to include Consuls and senior Magistrates from Rome. The trees in the area were decorated with human-shaped puppets dangling from the branches. The Feriae Latinae was a one day festival, but if anything went wrong the whole thing had to be repeated until it went perfectly. The feast was followed by two days of public games.
March 16 - 17
This festival was held to honor Bacchus in order to convince the god to give a good grape harvest later that year. It was originally a Greek festival held to honor Dionysus.
This festival was held to thank Bacchus for the year's harvest of grapes for wine making. It was originally a Greek festival held to honor Dionysus.
Festival of Bacchus:
A ceremony that took place at the temple of Flora on the Quirinal Hill. It may have been linked to the Floralia.
A feast to celebrate the flowering of grains and to honor Flora. It was a movable festival until the late Republic.
During the Empire, games were held in the Circus Maximus to honor Flora, and the gathered crowds were showered with beans and lupines. Animals with great fertility (rabbits, goats, etc.) were released into the country. Women were encouraged to wear brightly coloured clothing, and wear flowers as garlands and in their hair during Floralia to honor Flora. The Floralia was also regarded as a festival for prostitutes.
"Feast of the Source". During this festival garlands were thrown into springs and on top of wells to honor Fons.
During this festival a pregnant cow was sacrificed to Tellus Mater, "Mother Earth", who was considered to be pregnant with seeds. The unborn calf was taken to the Grand Vesta in Rome, where the priestess of Vesta burned it in Vesta's sacred flame (considered to be the flame of the earth). The ashes of the burned fetus were kept safe for later use during the Parilia.
Fordicalia / Fordicidia:
Febuary ~5 - 17
The Fornacalia was held in honor of bread, and the ovens used to dry grains. This festival was movable, and could have been held any time between Febuary 5th to February 17th.
This festival was celebrated by women who wished to improve their relationships with the men in their lives. It was sacred to both Fortuna and Venus.
This festival venerated all those who searched for underground water sources. In Rome's early days it was a festival that took place in a grove on the Janiculum, and honored the goddess Furrina.
The Greater Quinquatrus was a festival for Minerva as a Goddess of the Arts. The first day of the festival was dedicated to the arts, and those who practiced them would give Minerva sacrifices at her temple on the Aventine.
Guilds who's members practiced the arts of Minerva had a festival on this day. This was mainly a plebean festival, and was celebrated at Minerva's temple in Rome. Weapons used for war were purified during this festival.
"Day of Joy" This festival honored Attis, and was primarily a festival for the followers of his cult. Several smaller festivals connected to the Hilaria were held on the preceeding days, such as the Dies Sanguinis ("day of blood") on March 24, and the Day of Mourning on March 23.
13th or 15th day of each month
The Ides of each month is sacred to Jupiter, and a sheep was sacrificed to him to mark the date. Before the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar the Ides was the day of the full moon.
"Fast of Ceres". This fast was held to honor Ceres. It was originally held every five years, but was held every year by the time of the Empire.
This festival celebrated the first day of summer, and is sacred to Aestas.
This day honored Juno with a procession of 27 girls accompaning a statue of Juno carved out of a cypress tree.
Juturna was given sacrifices on this day.
1st day of each month
The Kalends of each month is sacred to Juno. Before the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar the Kalends was the day of the new moon.
The Larentalia is a festival in which the priests of Quirinus held funeral rites at the tomb of Acca Larentia.
Larentalia / Laurentina/ Larentinalia:
During the Republic the Lares Praestites were honored on this day, especially at their temple along the Via Sacra.
Feast for Lares Praestites:
This festival was held to honor the Capitoline Triad: Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
May 9, 11, 13
Lemuria is a private series of rites held to ward off the Lemures. For the rite, the pater familia got up at Midnight wearing clothes without knots and washed his hands with pure water. He would then walk through the household without looking backwards, making the mano fico sign with his hand, spitting black beans out of his mouth and repeating a prayer nine times. After he was done he would again wash his hands and would then make noise using instruments made of brass. It was thought that the Lemures would collect the beans instead of the souls of the living, and would be scared away by the noise. At the end of the rite he sould again say a chant nine times and then look backwards to ensure that the Lemures were gone.
June 13 - 15
This festival was celebrated by the flute players who played at religious ceremonies. During the Lesser Quinquatrus they played their flutes on the streets of Rome, wearing masks and long robes.
Liberala was a fertility festival celebrated in rural areas, and was held in honor of Liber Pater and Libera. Most towns created a large phallus and carted it through the countryside and into the town center where it stayed until the beginning of the next month. The phallus was decorated by a virtuous woman with flowers, which ensured a good crop at the next harvest. Masks were also hung on fences, and crude songs were sung during the procession.
July 19, 21
"Feasts of Clearings". These two feasts celebrated the luci (lucus/lacus = a clearing ringed with trees) where Roman farmers grew their crops. The farmers would say a prayer, and then clear the land to be used during the next growing season. In Rome, the rites took place at the sacred grove near the Tiber at the Vial Salaria. The festival was paid for by revenue generated by public groves.
July 6 - 13
"Games of Apollo". These games were first held in 212 BCE to celebrate Apollo as a god of healing (especially during war), and lasted for a single day (July 13). They were gradually expanded to eight days, with two days reserved for theatre performances, two days for games in the circus, and the remaining days for markets and fairs. Apollo was given sacrifices during the Ludi Apollinares, and all participants were expected to wear garlands while attending the events.
"Capitoline Games". The Ludi Capitolini were games held in honor of Jupiter Capitolini, and was only celebrated by his priests. They may have originally been held to honor Jupiter Feretrius.
April 28 - May 3
"Games of Flora". The Ludi Florales were the games that happened in the Circus Maximus during the Floralia. As with many games, the Ludi Florales began with plays and other theatre performances, progressed to circus performances, and ended with a a sacrifice. The circus performances included rabbits and goats being let loose. In order to promote fertility, legumes were thrown into the specators and crowds.
This festival was celebrated by fishermen.
"Plebeian Games". This set of games was established in 220 BCE to honor Jupiter. They were opened with a procession of Rome's magistrates and priests that wound from the Capitoline through the Forum along the via sacra to the Circus Maximus. The first week of the games was set aside for plays and other types of theatre. The last three days were reserved for athletic events, and events in the Circus Maximus.
"Roman Games" or "Great Games". The Ludi Romani were held in honor of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. They were originally held only on September 13, but were gradually expanded until they were held over 16 days by the time of the Empire. The Ludi Romani began with a solemn procession from Jupiter's temple on the Capitoline to the Circus Maximus. Sacrifices were made to Jupiter, and circus performances were given.
Ludi Romani / Ludi Magni:
"Secular Games". These games were held about every 100 years beginning in 509 BCE, and included three days and nights of continuous theatre performances. It may have ended with a sacrifice to Apollo.
June 25 & 26
"Games of the Bull". Theses games were held every five years to honor and appease the Di Inferi. They were held in the Circus Flaminius, and probably included bull fighting and sacrifices.
Ludi Taurii / Ludi Taurei quinquennales:
The Lupercalia was celebrated to worship the she-wolf who suckled Romulus & Remus. It started with a group of specially appointed priests gathering at the Lupercal, a cave at the bottom of the Palatine Hill. The priests would offer a sacrifice a goat, and annoint the Lupercii (young male participants) on their foreheads with the blood. The blood was wiped away with milk by other priests, and the young men laughed at them. The Lupercii them skinned the sacrificed goat and ripped the hide into strips which they tied around their naked waists. They then got drunk, and ran around Rome striking everyone they met with goatskin thongs. Young women who were touched in this manner were thought to be specially blessed, especially in regards to fertility and procreation.
Lupercalia was a very ancient festival, and may have originally been a festival for purification and fertility in honor of either Faunus or Inuus.
This festival honored Libertas as the bringer of light into the world.
This was a celebration for the birthday of Isis. Lamps were lit for the goddess on this day in her temples. Lychnapsia was not celebrated in Rome until after the Roman conquest of Egypt.
Maia received the sacrifice of a pregnant cow on this day.
August 24, October 5, November 8
These festivals were held to placate the Manes. It was believed that on these days the Mundus, the passageway to the underworld, was open and the spirits of the dead were free to roam the earth.
Matralia was a festival held in honor of Mater Matua. During the festival with statue of the goddess was decorated with garlands and gifts by women who had been married once, and cakes cooked in clay pots were offered to the goddess. Only one female slave was allowed into the temple on this day, the one chosen to be ritually slapped on the head.
During this festival Roman women would visit Juno's temple on the Esquiline. Their husbands would stay at home to pray, and give their wives money and other presents when the women returned home from the temple. Female household slaves were given a feast hosted by their mistress. During Matronalia the Vestal Virgins gave offerings of their hair to Juno Lucina in her sacred groves near Rome. Pregnant women would unbind their hair and clothing so as to prevent any restrictions that might carry over to their labour.
During this festival fruits were offered to Meditrina as a goddess of medicine.
This agricultural festival was sacred to Meditrina and to Jupiter, and had something to do with the year's new wine.
The Megalesia was dedicated to Cybele (Magna Mater). The festival began with a ceremonial offering of herbs at the temple of Magna Mater followed by her priests carrying her cult statue through Rome, accompanied by tambourine and cymbal players. The priests were blood stained by wounds inflicted upon themselves. During the festival there were games in the Circus Maximus, theatre perpromances, sacrifices, and feasts. The last day of Megalesia featured horse racing.
Megalesia / Megalensia / Megalesiaca:
This festival was celebrated in 121 instead of the Parilia. It celebrated the anniversary of the founding of Rome.
This festival honored Isis as the patroness of sailing and the inventor of the sail. Traditionally this was the first day of the sailing season.
This festival celebrated Neptune as the god of irrigation. During the festival, participants would sit under arbors made from leaves. They would ask Neptune to continue supplying them with fresh water during the heat of the summer and early autumn. Salacia was also worshipped during the Neptunalia.
March 1st was the first day of the year according to the calendar used before the reforms of Julius Caesar. To commemmorate the day, the Vestal Virgins re-kindled the sacred fire in Vesta's temple in Rome.
New Year's Day:
"Nones of the Wild Fig", also called "Feast of the Serving Women". This festival was held to honor Juno Caprotina, and a sacrifice was given to her under a wild fig tree. It also celebrates the serving women who helped free the city of Rome from the Gauls.
5th or 7th day of each month
The Nones of each month is sacred to Juno, and her priests would sacrifice a pig or lamb to her to mark the date. Before the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar the Kalends was the 9th day before the full moon (IDES). The month's feriae were announced on the Nones, as, for the most part, no public festivals happened before the Nones.
This festival honored Ops and Consus. During the festival, the Vestal Virgins and the Pontifex Maximus (who wore a white veil and carried a praefericulum) would enter her shrine in the Regia. In early Roman times the festival was held in Rome's main grain storage area.
This festival honored the Di Manes. It began at dawn on February 13th with private ceremonies and ended with the public Feralia on February 21st. During the Parentalia every temple was closed, marriages were forbidden to take place, magistrates were not allowed to wear anything signifying their office, and all Romans were expected to give offerings to the deceased at the necropolis located outside the city walls.
April 21, July 7
Festivals for Pales, goddess of herds. During these festivals, ritualistic cleansing of sheep/cattle pens and animals would take place.
The shepherd would sweep out the pens and smudge the animals and pens with burning sulfur. In the evening, the animals were sprinkled with water, and their pens were decorated with garlands. Fires were started, and in were thrown olives, horse blood, beanstalks without pods, and the ashes from the Fordicalia fires. Men and beasts jumped over the fire three times to purify themselves further, and to bring them protection from anything that might harm them (wolves, sickness, starvation, etc.). After the animals were put back into their pens the shepherds would offer non-blood sacrifices of grain, cake millet, and warm milk to Pales.
The festival in April was for smaller livestock, while the one in July was for larger animals.
The Parilia took place on the same day as the traditional day for the founding of Rome.
Parilia / Palilia:
This festival was held to honor Pomona.
This festival means "Flight of the People". Not much is known about it other than it took place on the Field of Mars, and (possibly) commemorated an event which sent the citizens of Rome fleeing from a foe (perhaps the Gauls or the Latins).
The Portunalia was a festival held to honor Portunus, and involved a ritual with keys of some sort.
March 19 - 23
The Quinquatria was a festival held to honor Mars and Minerva. The first day was called the Quinquatrus. It involved circus games and sacrifices to both deities.
"Fifth Day". Quinquatrus was the first day of the Qunquatria, and the traditional birthdate of Minerva. It took place on the 5th day after the Ides of March.
The Quirinalia was a festival of Quirinus, and it signaled the end of the Fornacalia. It was also known as the "Feast of Fools".
The Regifugium was the traditional date for the expulsion of the last king of Rome and the founding of the Roman Republic in 509 BCE.
A festival intended to protect corn from blight. During Robigalia, in a special grove outside of the city walls, offerings were given to Robiga. Rust coloured dogs and sheep were also sacrificed to him at the 5th milestone along the Via Claudia in order to ask for his help in keeping blight and mildew from entering the city limits.
Romaia were festivals held in Roman occupied areas in honor of Roma. These festivals often included chariot races and other circus games.
This festival was held to honor Flora and included roses.
This later festival was held later in the Empire to honor one's ancestors at their tomb.
Sacrifice at the Tombs:
On this day sacrifices were given to Fortuna to convince her to make the new year lucky and bontiful.
Sacrifice Day for Fortuna:
On this day the Vestal Virgins made a sacrifice to the Tiber River to convince it to bring a steady supply of water to the city of Rome for the rest of the growing season.
Sacrifice Day for the Tiber River:
Offerings and sacrifices for Salus were done on her hilltop shrines on this day.
December 17 - 24
This festival honored the sons of Saturn: Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto.
Sebasta are festivals held in Roman occupied territory in honor of the Emperor and the Imperial Family. These festivals often included chariot races and other circus games.
January 24 ~ 26
"Feast of Spring". This one or two day festival was moveable, but generally began between January 24 and January 26. It was sacred to Tellus, and Ceres, and was a festival for the protection of seeds, either those sown the previous fall, or those to be sown in the spring. During Sementivae plowing oxen were decorated with garlands, and puppets or masks were hung from tree branches.
Feriae Sementivae / Sementinae:
This festival was held to honor the Seven Hills of Rome, either all of them together, or just the earliest enclosed part (inside the Servian Wall, which enclosed parts of the Caelian, Esquiline, Palatine, and Velian hills). During the festival sacrifices were made somewhere on each hill.
Septimontia / Septimontium:
Festival in which public rites for Spes were held at her temple.
On this day, landowners would honor the boundries of their land at the boundry markers and the god Terminus. Rome's public boundry stone in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus was also honored. Garlands were placed over the boundry stones, and altars were built near them. Offerings of grain and honey were given by the children, and the adults would offer wine and pig blood. Everyone was dressed in white, and were required to keep silent throughout the offerings. A picnic feast was held at the end of the ritual.
March 23, May 23
This was a ceremony held to purify the trumpet used in sacred rituals. During the ceremony, a ewe was sacrificed.
Festival during which select women or Rome gave Venus' statue its yearly ritual bath. Fortuna Virilis was also worshipped during the Veneralia.
This festival was held to honor Vertumnus.
Multiple days in June
This festival was held to honor Vesta. During the festival, bakers and millers took a vacation, and decorated their millstones and working donkeys with violets and other small flowers.
As part of the festival, the temple of Vesta was opened to women from June 7 through June 15. Also on June 15 the trash and other detria were swept out of the temple and into an alleyway to be dumped into the Tiber River.
This festival was held to honor armor makers.
During this festival the season's new wines were tested to make sure they were aging properly. Libations were given to Bacchus to insure that the wine would continue to ferment properly for consumption the following year.
"First Festival of the Vine". On this day the first wines of the year were tasted, and libations were made in honour of Jupiter. It was also a special day for prostitutes, who payed homage to Venus.
"Rural Festival of the Vine". This feast was held to ask Jupiter to not send storms, hail, heavy rains, or floods before the grapes could ripen and be harvested, and to ask him when the best time to harvest said grapes would be.
Venus was also honored during the Vinalia Rustica as a goddess of vegetation and gardens.
During this festival, Vitula was given the first fruits of the earth.
This was a feast held to protect the still-ripening fruits from shrivelling in the hot South-Eastern winds common this time of year. It was held to honor Volturnus.
This festival celebrated Vulcan, the god of fire, and the useful and destructive natures of fire in general. Maia, Hora, Hora, and Ops were also celebrated during the Vulcanalia.
Vulcanalia / Volcanalia:
Most of the information on this page comes from these books:
Adkins, Lesley & Roy A. Dictionary of Roman Religion. Oxford University Press: New York, 1996.
Bernstein, Frances. Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper San Francisco: New York, 2000.
Pennick, Nigel. The Pagan Book of Days. Destiny Books: Rochester, VT, 1992.
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