CHAPTER VI. WORSHIP OF THE FIELDS
Festivals, Festival, Deity, Roman, Agricultural, Rustic
The life of the early Roman in the fields, his activities, his hopes and fears, are reflected in the long list of agricultural festivals which constitute the greater part of the celebrations in the Calendar, and follow closely the seasons and occupations of the agricultural year. We are, of course, in the Calendar dealing, to speak strictly, with the worship of the state, and not with the semi-private festivals of groups of farmers, but in many instances, such as the Robigalia, the state seems only to have taken over the cult of the farmers, preserving carefully the site on which the celebration took place; in others, such as the Terminalia and the Parilia, it seems to have established, as it were, a state-counterpart of a rite performed independently at many rustic centres: in both cases we are justified in inferring the practice of the early Roman agriculturalist. We shall see that in most cases these festivals are associated—though often loosely enough—with the worship of a particular divinity. Sometimes, however,—as in the case of the Lupercalia—it is very difficult to discover who this divinity was; in other festivals, such as the Robigalia, it looks as if the eponymous deity was a comparatively late development. We may, therefore, suppose, on the analogy of what we have already seen to be the general lines of development in Roman religion, that the festivals in origin centred round a purpose rather than a personality, and were addressed 'to all spirits whom it might concern'; and that later, when the deus notion was on the increase, they either attached themselves to some god whose personality was already distinct, as the Vinalia were attached to Iuppiter, or 'developed' a deity of their own. Among these deities, strictly functional as a rule and existing only in connection with their special festival, we shall notice the frequent recurrence of a divinity pair, not, of course, mythologically related as husband and wife, but representing, perhaps, the male and female aspects of the same process of development.
The festivals divide themselves naturally into three groups: those of Spring, expressive of the hopes and fears for the growing crops and herds; those of Summer, the festivals of fulfilment, including the celebration of harvest; and those of Winter, the festivals of sowing, of social rejoicing, and in the later months of purificatory anticipation of the coming year.
1. Festivals of Spring.—The old Roman year—as may be seen clearly enough from the names of the months still known by numbers, September, October, etc.—began in March: according to tradition Romulus reckoned a year of ten months altogether, and Numa added January and February. The Spring months properly speaking may be reckoned as March, April, and May. In March there were in the developed Calendar no festivals of an immediately recognisable agricultural character, but the whole month was practically consecrated to its eponymous deity, Mars. Now, to the Roman of the Republic, Mars was undoubtedly the deity associated with war, and his special festivals in this month are of a warlike character: on the 9th the priests (Salii) began the ancient custom of carrying his sacred shields (ancilia) round the town from one ordained resting-place to another: on the 19th, Quinquatrus, the shields were solemnly purified, and on the 23rd the same ceremony was performed with the war-trumpets: the Equirria (horse-races) of March 14 may have had an agricultural origin—we shall meet with races later on as a feature of rustic festivals—but they were certainly celebrated in a military manner. Yet there is good reason for believing that Mars was in origin associated not with war, but with the growth of vegetation: he was, as we shall see, the chief deity addressed in the solemn lustration of the fields (Ambarvalia), and if our general notion of the development of religion with the growing needs of the agricultural community crystallising into a state be correct, it may well be that a deity originally concerned with the interests of the farmer took on himself the protection of the soldier, when the fully developed state came into collision with its neighbours. If so, we may well have in these recurring festivals of Mars the sense, as Mr. Warde Fowler has put it, of 'some great numen at work, quickening vegetation, and calling into life the powers of reproduction in man and the animals.' Possibly another agricultural note is struck in the Liberalia of the 17th: though the cult of Liber was almost entirely overlaid by his subsequent identification with Dionysus, it seems right to recognise in him and his female counterpart, Libera, a general spirit of creativeness.
The character of April is much more clearly marked: the month is filled with a series of festivals—all of a clearly agricultural nature—prayers for the crops now in the earth, and the purification of the men and animals on the farm. The series opens with the Fordicidia on the 15th, when pregnant cows were sacrificed: their unborn calves were torn from them and burnt, the ashes being kept by the Vestal Virgin in Vesta's storehouse (penus Vestæ) for use at the Parilia. The general symbolism of fertility is very clear; the goddess associated with the festival is Tellus, the earth herself, and the local origin of these festivals is shown in the fact that not only was the sacrifice made for the whole people on the Capitol, but separately in each one of the curiae. The Fordicidia is closely followed by the Cerealia on the 19th—the festival of another earth-goddess (Ceres, creare)—more especially connected with the growth of corn. A very curious feature of the ritual was the fastening of fire-brands to the tails of foxes, which were then let loose in what was afterwards the Circus Maximus: a symbol possibly, as Wissowa thinks, of sunlight, possibly of the vegetation-spirit. But the most important of the April ceremonies is undoubtedly the Parilia of the 21st, the festival of the very ancient rustic numen, Pales. Ovid's description of the celebration is so interesting and so full of the characteristic colour of the Roman rustic festivals that I may perhaps be pardoned for reproducing it at greater length. 'Shepherd,' he says, addressing the rustic worshipper, 'at the first streak of dawn purify thy well-fed flocks: let water first besprinkle them, and a branch sweep clean the ground. Let the folds be adorned with leaves and branches fastened to them, while a trailing wreath covers the gay-decked gates. Let blue flames rise from the living sulphur and the sheep bleat loud as she feels the touch of the smoking sulphur. Burn the male olive-branch and the pine twig and juniper, and let the blazing laurel crackle amid the hearth. A basket full of millet must go with the millet cakes: this is the food wherein the country goddess finds pleasure most of all. Give her too her own share of the feast and her pail of milk, and when her share has been set aside, then with milk warm from the cow make prayer to Pales, guardian of the woods.' The poet then recites a long prayer, in which the farmer first begs forgiveness for any unwitting sins he may have committed against the rustic deities, such as trespassing on their groves or sheltering his flocks beneath their altar, and then prays for the aversion of disease and the prosperity of crops, flocks, and herds. 'Thus must the goddess be won, this prayer say four times turning to the sunrise, and wash thy hands in the running stream. Then set the rustic bowl upon the table in place of the wine-bowl, and drink the snowy milk and dark must, and soon through the heaps of crackling straw leap in swift course with eager limbs.' All the worshippers then set to leaping through the blazing fires, even the flocks and herds were driven through, and general hilarity reigned. Many points of detail might be noticed, such as that in the urban counterpart of the festival, which Ovid carefully distinguishes from the country celebrations, the fire was sprinkled with the ashes from the calves of the Fordicidia and the blood of Mars' October horse—another link between Mars and agriculture. But it is most interesting to note the double character of the ceremony—as a purification of man and beast on the one hand, and on the other a prayer for the prosperity of the season to come. Three special festivals remain in April. At the Vinalia (priora) of the 23rd, the wine-skins of the previous year were opened and the wine tasted, and, we may suppose, supplication was made for the vintage to come, the festival being dedicated to the sky-god, Iuppiter. At the Robigalia of the 25th the offering of a dog was made for the aversion of mildew (robigo), to Robigus (who looks like a developed eponymous deity) at the fifth milestone on the Via Claudia—the ancient boundary of Roman territory. The Floralia of the 28th does not occur in the old Calendars, probably because it was a moveable feast (feriae conceptivae), but it is an unmistakeable petition to the numen Flora for the blossoming of the season's flowers.
May was a month of more critical importance for the welfare of the crops, and therefore its festivals were mostly of a more sombre character. The 9th, 11th, and 13th were the days set apart for the Lemuria, the aversion of the hostile spirits of the dead, of which we have already spoken, and a similarly gloomy character probably attached to the Agonia of Vediovis on the 21st. But of far the greatest interest is the moveable feast of the Ambarvalia, the great lustration of the fields, which took place towards the end of the month: the date of its occurrence was no doubt fixed according to the state of the crops in any given year. As the individual farmer purified his own fields for the aversion of evil, so a solemn lustration of the boundaries of the state was performed by special priests, known as the Arval brethren (fratres Arvales). With ceremonial dancing (tripudium) they moved along the boundary-marks and made the farmer's most complete offering of the pig, sheep, and ox (suovetaurilia): the fruits of the last year and the new harvest (aridae et virides) played a large part in the ceremonial, and a solemn litany was recited for the aversion of every kind of pest from the crops. In Virgil's account the prayer is made to Ceres, and we know that in imperial times, when the Ambarvalia became very closely connected with the worship of the imperial house, the centre of the cult was the earth-goddess, Dea Dia; but in the earliest account of the rustic ceremony which we possess in Cato, Mars is addressed in the unmistakeable character of an agricultural deity. 'Father Mars, I pray and beseech thee that thou mayest be gracious and favourable to me, to my home, and my household, for which cause I have ordained that the offering of pig, sheep, and ox be carried round my fields, my land, and my farm: that thou mayest avert, ward off, and keep afar all disease, visible and invisible, all barrenness, waste, misfortune, and ill weather: that thou mayest suffer our crops, our corn, our vines and bushes to grow and come to prosperity: that thou mayest preserve the shepherds and the flocks in safety, and grant health and strength to me, to my home, and my household.' We have perhaps here another rustic ceremony addressed in origin to all numina, whom it might concern, and, as it were, specialising itself from time to time in an appeal to one definite deity or another, but it is also clear evidence of an early agricultural association of Mars. The Ambarvalia is one of the most picturesque of the field ceremonies, and a peculiarly beautiful and imaginative description of it may be found in the first chapter of Pater's Marius the Epicurean.
In June and July the farmer was waiting for the completion of the harvest, and the great state-festivals of the period are not agricultural.
2. Festivals of the Harvest.—In August the farmer's hopes are at last realised, and the harvest is brought in. The season is marked by two closely connected festivals on the 21st and 25th in honour of the old divinity-pair, Consus (condere), the god of the storehouse and Ops, the deity of the wealth of harvest. At the Consualia, an offering is made by the flamen Quirinalis, assisted by the Vestal virgins, at an underground altar in the Circus Maximus, specially uncovered for the occasion: here we have probably not so much the notion of a chthonic deity, as a relic of the simple practices of an early agricultural age, when the crops were stored underground. The beasts who had taken part in the harvest were released from their labours during the day, and were decorated with flowers: the festival included a race of mules, the regular Italian beasts of burden. Four days after this general festivity occurred the second harvest-ceremony of the Opiconsivia, held in the shrine (sacrarium) of the Regia, and attended only by the pontifex maximus and the Vestal virgins. This is clearly the state-harvest of the regal period, the symbolic storing of the state-crops in the sacred storehouse of the palace by the king and his daughters. Both festivals are significant, and we shall meet with Consus and Ops again in close connection in December. The Portunalia of the 17th may have been another harvest-home, if we can believe the old authorities, who tell us that Portunus was a 'god of doors' (portae).
The Vinalia Rustica of August 19 we cannot sufficiently interpret through lack of information: it cannot, of course, have been the festival of the vintage, for it is too early: it may have been a propitiatory ceremony for the ripening grapes, in which case it was probably connected with the auspicatio vindemiae, in which the flamen Dialis (note again the association of Iuppiter and the vine) solemnly plucked the first grapes; or it may be a festival of wine, not vines, in which case its main feature would most likely be the opening of the last year's vintage.
September contains no great festival, and the harvest-season closes on October 11 with the Meditrinalia—the nearest approach to a thanksgiving for the vintage. On that day the first must of the new vintage and the wine of the old were solemnly tasted, apparently as a spell against disease, the worshipper using the strange formula, 'I drink the new and the old wine, with new wine and old I heal (medeor) disease.' This ceremony gave its name to the festival and was the cause of the subsequent evolution of an eponymous deity, Meditrina, but there is little doubt that in origin here, as in the other wine-festivals, the deity concerned was at first Iuppiter. Among the other rustic ceremonies of the month we may notice the festival of springs (Fontinalia) on October 13: wells were decorated with garlands and flowers flung into the waters.
3. Festivals of the Winter.—The winter-festivals cannot be summed up under one general notion so easily as those of spring or summer, but they fall fairly naturally into two groups—the festivals immediately connected with agricultural life and those associated with the dead and the underworld or with solemn purification. The main action of the farmer's life during the winter is, of course, the sowing of the next year's crop, which was commemorated in the ancient festival of the Saturnalia on December 17. Though the Saturnalia is perhaps the most familiar to us of all the Roman festivals, partly from the allusions in the classics, especially in Horace, partly because it is no doubt the source of many of our own Christmas festivities, it is yet almost impossible now to recover anything of its original Roman character. Greek influence set to work on it very early, identifying Saturnus with Cronos and establishing him in a Greek temple with all the accompaniments of Greek ritual. All the familiar features of the festival—the freedom and license of the slaves, the giving of presents, even the wax-candles, which are the prototype of those on our own Christmas-tree—are almost certainly due to Greek origin. We are left with nothing but the name Saturnus (connected with the root of semen, serere) and the date to assure us that we have here in reality a genuine Roman festival of the sowing of the crops. Of a similar nature—marking, as Ovid tells us, the completion of the sowing—was the feriae sementivae or Paganalia, associated with the earth-goddesses, Ceres and Tellus. Meal-cakes and a pregnant sow were the offerings, the beasts who had helped in the ploughing were garlanded, and prayer was made for the seed resting in the ground. A curious feature of the winter worship is the repetition of festivals to the harvest deities, Consus and Ops, separated by the same interval of three days, on December 15 and 19: it may be that we have here an indication of the final completion of the harvest, or, as Mr. Warde Fowler has suggested, a ceremonial opening of the storehouses, to see that the harvest is not rotting. Among the other country festivals of the period we may notice that of Carmenta, on the 11th and 15th of January: she seems to have been in origin a water-numen, but was early associated with childbirth: hence the rigid exclusion of men from her ceremonies and possibly the taboo on leathern thongs, on the ground that nothing involving death must be used in the worship of a deity of birth. The repetition of her festival may possibly point to separate celebrations of the communities of Palatine and Quirinal. At this time, too, occurred the rustic ceremonies at the boundaries (Terminalia) and the offering to the Lares at the 'marches' (Compitalia), of which we have spoken in treating of the worship of the house.
The other group of winter-festivals is of a much more gloomy and less definitely rustic type, though they clearly date from the period of the agricultural community. Of the Feralia of February 21, the culmination of the festival of the kindred dead (Parentalia), we have already spoken. The Larentalia is a very mysterious occasion, and was supposed by the Romans themselves to be an offering 'at the tomb' of a legendary Acca Larentia, mistress of Hercules. But we have seen reason to think that Larentia was in reality a deity of the dead, and the 'tomb' a mundus: if so, we have another link between the winter season and the worship of the underworld. There remains the weird festival of the Lupercalia on February 15, to which we have had occasion to refer several times, and which has become more familiar to most of us than other Roman festivals owing to its political use by Mark Antony in 44 B.C. As we have argued already, it seems to belong to the very oldest stratum of the Palatine settlement, and we may therefore appropriately close this account of the early festivals with a somewhat fuller description of it. The worshippers assembled at the Lupercal, a cave on the Palatine hill: there goats and a dog were sacrificed, and two youths belonging to the two colleges of Fabian and Quintian (or Quintilian) Luperci had their foreheads smeared with the knife used for the sacrifice and wiped with wool dipped in milk—at which point it was ordained that they should laugh. Then they girt on the skins of the slain goats and, after feasting, ran their course round the boundaries of the Palatine hill, followed each by his own company of youths, and striking women on their way with strips, known as februae or Iunonis amicula, cut from the goats' hides. Here we have a summary of many of the important points which we have noticed in the rustic festivals: from the pre-Roman stratum comes the idea of communion with the sacrificed animal in the smearing of the blood and the wearing of the skin, and also the magic charm involved in the striking of the women to procure fertility: it is typical of the true feeling of Roman religion that we cannot with any certainty tell what deity was associated with the rite, though probably it was Faunus: the rustic character of the ceremony is indicated by the bowl of milk in which the wool was dipped and the sacrifice of goats: the idea of lustration is clearly marked in the course round the boundaries: the original Palatine settlement stands out in the limits of that course and the site of the Lupercal, and the later synœcismus is seen in the, presumably subsequent, addition of the second college of Luperci. A careful study of the Lupercalia as an epitome of the character and development of the Roman agricultural festivals, though it would not show the brighter aspect of some of the spring and summer celebrations, would yet give a true notion of the history and spirit of the whole.
|Written By Cyril Bailey|
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