Mars, Vesta & the Sabine Women March 6th

a sketch of several books of Swan vesta matches
Sketch of Swan Vesta Matches

For March 6th, Ovid in his Almanac Poem called ‘Fasti’ (Book III: March 6) tells the story of Vesta, who in Greek, is Hestria, and is depicted on the Parthenon Marbles, standing near Zeus and Athene. She was the Goddess of the Hearth, of the fire that keeps families warm, and fed. She had 6 Virgins as her Priestesses, and they had to remain 30 years, from before puberty, as a virgin or they suffered burial alive. Any partners in sin were beaten to death. At the end of their term they could marry, retire, or renew their vows.

At the beginning of Book 3 Ovid tells us the story of Rome’s foundation, and how Mars took Silvia the Vestal while she slept. She later gave birth to Romulus and Remus

The Vestal Virgins tended Vesta’s hearth, and it was not supposed to go out, as it had, in theory come from Troy with Aeneas. Also, housed in Vesta’s Temple was the Palladium, which was a wooden status of Pallas Athene, that kept Troy, then Rome free from invasion. Odysseus and Diomedes had stolen it just before the Trojan Horse episode ending the 10-year-long Trojan War.

(I just asked that question of Google, and he/she/it said it lasted 1hr 55 minutes. On closer examination, Google highlighted a reference to a film about Troy! I have a strong feeling that Google search is getting worse as the AI engines take over the control of the search from database search engines. Once upon a time, Google used to fetch what you asked for. Now it acts like a modern quiz show – giving the answer that will please most people! Finding anything specific is much harder than it was. Or so I think.)

The Temple of Vesta was in Rome’s Forum, and it was a circular temple or a Tholos. Next to the Sacred Shrine at Bath was a circular Tholos, which may have been dedicated also to Vesta.

photo of the Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta in Rome
Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta in Rome

Here is what Ovid says in his March 6th entry:

When the sixth sun climbs Olympus’ slopes from ocean,
And takes his way through the sky behind winged horses,
All you who worship at the shrine of chaste Vesta,
Give thanks to her, and offer incense on the Trojan hearth.
To the countless titles Caesar chose to earn,
The honour of the High Priesthood was added.
Caesar’s eternal godhead protects the eternal fire,
You may see the pledges of empire conjoined.
Gods of ancient Troy, worthiest prize for that Aeneas
Who carried you, your burden saving him from the enemy,
A priest of Aeneas’ line touches your divine kindred:
Vesta in turn guard the life of your kin!
You fires, burn on, nursed by his sacred hand:
Live undying, our leader, and your flames, I pray.

Translated by A. S. Kline online here.

Caesar is Julius Caesar. Aeneas was the last Trojan and survived the end of Troy. He came to Italy, found a Kingdom (Latium) in which his descendent, Romulus, would found Rome. This is told in Virgil’s Aeneid. So the Romans considered themselves to be Trojans.

The new City chose Mars, the Roman God of War, father of their founder – as its patron God because it suited the Romans and their destiny to rule the world. So March was named after Mars, and, unlike other Calendars the Kalends of Mars (1st March) was the beginning of the Roman year. (At least in Rome’s early days as we discussed on March 1st). Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ tells makes the point, through Romulus’s voice and explains something about the various Calendars run by different tribes/Cities:

‘And the founder of the eternal City said:
‘Arbiter of War, from whose blood I am thought to spring,
(And to confirm that belief I shall give many proofs),
I name the first month of the Roman year after you:
The first month shall be called by my father’s name.’
The promise was kept: he called the month after his father.
This piety is said to have pleased the god.
And earlier, Mars was worshipped above all the gods:
A warlike people gave him their enthusiasm.
Athens worshipped Pallas: Minoan Crete, Diana:
Hypsipyleís island of Lemnos worshipped Vulcan:
Juno was worshipped by Sparta and Pelopsí Mycenae,
Pine-crowned Faunus by Maenalian Arcadia:
Mars, who directs the sword, was revered by Latium:
Arms gave a fierce people possessions and glory.
If you have time examine various calendars.
And you’ll find a month there named after Mars.
It was third in the Alban, fifth in the Faliscan calendar,
Sixth among your people, Hernican lands.
The position’s the same in the Arician and Alban,
And Tusculum’s whose walls Telegonus made.
It’s fifth among the Laurentes, tenth for the tough
First after the third the folk of Cures place it,
And the Pelignian soldiers agree with their Sabine
Ancestors: both make him the god of the fourth month.
In order to take precedence over all these, at least,
Romulus gave the first month to the father of his race.
Nor did the ancients have as many Kalends as us:
Their year was shorter than ours by two months.

This section mentions the Sabines, these were a neighbouring tribe. The Romans were short of women, so they kidnapped the Sabine Women, in what became known as the Rape of the Sabine Women. People argue as to whether they were raped or kidnapped, and there is some concentration on how Romulus worked hard to convince them that it was done out of necessity for Rome’s future. The Women, or some of them, certainly tried to escape. Many became pregnant, and the Sabine Army approached and entered Rome to free their women and enact revenge on their neighbours. Ovid tells the story of Hersilia, Romulus wife talking to the Women, then the poem returns to Mars’ viewpoint, and ends with a beautiful description of spring in March.

The battle prepares, but choose which side you will pray
Your husbands on this side, your fathers are on that.
The question is whether you choose to be widows or
I will give you dutiful and bold advice.
She gave counsel: they obeyed and loosened their hair,
And clothed their bodies in gloomy funeral dress.
The ranks already stood to arms, preparing to die,
The trumpets were about to sound the battle signal,
When the ravished women stood between husband and
Holding their infants, dear pledges of love, to their breasts.
When, with streaming hair, they reached the centre of the
They knelt on the ground, their grandchildren, as if they
With sweet cries, stretching out their little arms to their
Those who could, called to their grandfather, seen for the
first time,
And those who could barely speak yet, were encouraged
to try.
The arms and passions of the warriors fall: dropping their
Fathers and sons-in-law grasp each other’s hands,
They embrace the women, praising them, and the
Bears his grandchild on his shield: a sweeter use for it.

Hence the Sabine mothers acquired the duty, no light one,
To celebrate the first day, my Kalends.
Either because they ended that war, by their tears,
In boldly facing the naked blades,
Or because Ilia happily became a mother through me,
Mothers justly observe the rites on my day.
Then winter, coated in frost, at last withdraws,
And the snows vanish, melted by warm suns:
Leaves, once lost to the cold, appear on the trees,
And the moist bud swells in the tender shoot:
And fertile grasses, long concealed, find out
Hidden paths to lift themselves to the air.
Now the field’s fruitful, now ís the time for cattle breeding,
Now the bird on the bough prepares a nest and home:
It’s right that Roman mothers observe that fruitful season,
Since in childbirth they both struggle and pray.
Add that, where the Roman king kept watch,
On the hill that now has the name of Esquiline,
A temple was founded, as I recall, on this day,
By the Roman women in honour of Juno.
But why do I linger, and burden your thoughts with
The answer you seek is plainly before your eyes.
My mother, Juno, loves brides: crowds of mothers
worship me:
Such a virtuous reason above all befits her and me.í
Bring the goddess flowers: the goddess loves flowering
Garland your heads with fresh flowers,

Ovid Fasti translated by A. S. Kline online here.

My children’s favourite film in childhood was Seven Brides for ‘Seven Brothers’, which was loosely based on the Rape of the Sabine Women.

sepia Sketch of scene from 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'
Sketch of scene from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’

St Piran’s Day 5th of Lide (March 5th)

St Piran’s Oratory at Trézilidé, Finistère (wikipedia)

Eleanor Parker, who is a Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford, wrote an interesting article in History Today on the loudest month of the year, March. She also wrote a lovely book about the year in Anglo-Saxon Literature, which I have used quite a lot. (Winters in the World)

There are many references to the changeable weather in March, sometimes you have lovely sunny days, and at others raging storms, and frosts. Parker quotes a proverb which says that March comes in ‘like a lion and goes out like a lamb’. March is named after the Roman War God Mars, whose Month it was. But in England it had, until recent times, a dialect name in the South west of England. This was ‘Lide’. The name was still used in the 17th Century, and then survived into the 19th Century only in Cornwall, which had a proverb. ‘Ducks won’t lay till they’ve drunk Lide water’. Daffodils were called Lide-lillies.

The Cornish named the first Friday in March ‘Friday in Lide’ and it was a holiday for Miners, perhaps because March 5th was St Piran’s Day. Very little is clear about St Piran, but he is thought to have been an Irish Missionary who founded an Abbey in Cornwall in the 5th Century. His legend says he was tied to a millstone by the Irish, who rolled the stone over a cliff. The sea was stormy but immediately calmed as he fell into it, and he floated on his stone to Perranzabuloe in Cornwall, where his first converts were a badger, a fox, and a bear. He is said to have reintroduced smelting to Cornwall, hence his attribution as patron Saint of Miners. He was martyred by Theodoric or Tador, King of Cornwall in 480.

Roman Weeks & the Calendar of Shepherd’s March 2nd

. Nicholas Breton’s ” Fantasticks ” (1626) in Kalendar of Shepherds

This year, it has been announced, has budded 4 weeks earlier than normal and we are having a lovely early display of Magnolias and  Camelias. 

March is described in all it’s Jacobean glory in the text, above, from the Kalendar of Shepherds. We are still in Pisces

Attributes of Pisceans selfless, mystical compassionate imaginative sensitive
pisces from the zodiac from kalendar of shepherds
From the zodiac from kalendar of shepherds

The obvious division of the month is into  the phases of the Moon, except many calendars lost any actual alignment between the month and the Moon. The early Romans chose to keep the lunar associations with their division of the month into the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides, as I describe in my Ides of March post here.

But, following Julius Caesar’s successful calendar reforms, Constantine the Great wanted to get in on the act annex make his own rationalisation of the Year.

He established the week.  To please the Christians while displeasing the Jews and the traditional Romans he swopped the day of leisure from old man Saturn’s day to the Son of God’s day Sunday.  This is the day Jesus ascended to heaven, but it was also the day for Mithras and the Unconquered Sun. He then established the 7 day week.  7 was a sacred number and the number of the ‘planets’ in the Solar System (including the sun and moon).

This idea was invented by Babylon, who used the numerical base of 60.  60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 360 degrees in a circumference.  

In Britain we clung to some of our pagan names for the weeks. So Saturday, Sunday and Monday are Roman in origin  while Tues – Friday are Anglo Saxon, named after the deities: Tiv,Woden,Thor, and Freya. 

The Latin origins of the days of the week are obvious in the Romance languages, French, Spanish and Italian.  Lundi from the moon, Mardi from Mars, Mecredi from Mercury, Jeudi from Jupiter, and Vendredi from Venus.   Samedi came from  Saturn and Dimanche from dies Dominica which means the lord’s day.

The order of the days comes from their position not in their position  around the Sun but Babylon’s division of the sky into 24 hour long sections, a god presided over each division. It is too complicated to explain but there were 7 deities and 24 divisions, so they rotated.

Other societies ignored hours until we had clocks to measure them.  Anglo Saxons divided days by tides; morningtide, eventide and nighttide

Ages of man

As I have mentioned before, prophecy often sees a connection between the yearly calendar and future events.  For example, if it rains on the fourth day of the twelve days of Christmas it will rain during the fourth month.  The next section of the Kalendar of Shepherds illustrates this method giving a comparison between the ages of man and the months of the year. Twelve months in a year, Twelve ages of man in six year blocks. So March represents ages twelve to eighteen, as it says time to learn doctrine and science.

Kalendar of Shepherds (translation from French 15th Century original)

First written in March 2023 revised on 2nd March 2024

The Month of New Life March 1st

The Kalendar of Shepherds – French 15th Century

This is the beginning of Spring, metrologically speaking. There is nothing magical about this day that makes it in any sense actually the start of Spring. It is a convenience determined by meteorologists, who divide the year up into 4 blocks of three months based on average temperature. It could be the 2nd March.  Or the 1st of February as the Celts favoured.

There is nothing that says we have to have 4 seasons. Egypt had three seasons for example. Plants have been blooming, sprouting and budding since January, and some will wait until later in the year. Lambs have been born since January. But scientists and society find it easiest to keep statistics on a monthly basis so March 1st it is.

Astronomically, the seasons are more rationally divided by the movement of the Sun, So Spring begins on the spring equinox, usually 21st of March.

March the 1st was the beginning of the Roman year in Rome’s early days. (see extract from Ovid’s Fasti below).  Ovid says thr year started on the Kalends of March

I discuss the strange way the Romans divided the month in another post, but he is what Britannica says about the system:

‘In a 31-day month such as March, the Kalends was day 1, with days 2–6 being counted as simply “before the Nones.” The Nones fell on day 7, with days 8–14 “before the Ides” and the 15th as the Ides. Afterward the days were counted as “before the Kalends” of the next month’.

The Month was named after Mars, the God of War, as Mars was the patron God of the City. March was also the beginning of the campaign season, and the army was prepared, and ceremonies held to Mars. The Salii, twelve youths dressed in archaic fighting costumes led a procession singing the Carmen Saliare. Ovid reports in his poem Fasti (3.259–392).

In Welsh the month is called Mawrth, (derived it is thought from the Latin Martius). Gaelic Mart or Earrach Geamraidth – which means the ‘winter spring’. In Anglo-Saxon ‘Hrethamonath’ the month of the Goddess Hretha. The evidence for the name comes from the Venerable Bede in his ‘The Reckoning of Time, written in 725 AD. Nothing else is known about her. Her name is Latinised to Rheda. J R. R. Tolkein used the Anglo-Saxon calendar as the calendar for the Shire where the third month is called Rethe.

For the Anglo-Saxon spring was looked forward to with great joy after the bleakness of winter. Christian Anglo-Saxons also saw this as the pivotal month in the year. It was in March that the world was created, and the Messiah conceived, revealed, executed, and ascended to heaven.

The illustration, from the Kalendar of Shepherds, shows that in Pisces and early Ares preparation was still the main order of the farming day, clearing out the moats, and preparing the fruit trees. Lambing is also increasing in number.

It is also the Feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales, who lived in the sixth century AD. Little that is known about him is contemporary but he was an abbot-bishop and important for the independence of the Welsh Christian tradition.

Kalendar of Shepherds.

Ovid Fasti Book 3

At the beginning of this book Ovid provides the story of Rome’s foundation, and how Mars took Silvia the Vestal while she slept. She later gave birth to Romulus and Remus. He also gives details of how Rome was organised and in the piece of the long text I have chosen below he discusses the arrangement of the year as Romulus decided upon. It is a year that began on the 1st March, and had only 10 months which is the number of digits we have and the length of pregnancy (so Ovid says). I wrote about Caesar’s reforms of the Roman year, yesterday.  See here

Ovid wrote:

So, untaught and lacking in science, each five-year lustre
That they calculated was short by two whole months.
A year was when the moon returned to full for the tenth
And that was a number that was held in high honour:
Because it’s the number of fingers we usually count with,
Or because a woman produces in ten months,
Or because the numerals ascend from one to ten,
And from that point we begin a fresh interval.
So Romulus divided the hundred Senators into ten groups,
And instituted ten companies of men with spears,
And as many front-rank and javelin men,
And also those who officially merited horses.
He even divided the tribes the same way, the Titienses,
The Ramnes, as they are called, and the Luceres.
And so he reserved the same number for his year,
It ís the time for which the sad widow mourns her man.
If you doubt that the Kalends of March began the year,
You can refer to the following evidence.
The priest’s laurel branch that remained all year,
Was removed then, and fresh leaves honoured.
Then the king’s door is green with Phoebus’ bough,
Set there, and at your doors too, ancient wards.
And the withered laurel is taken from the Trojan hearth,
So Vesta may be brightly dressed with new leaves.
Also, it’s said, a new fire is lit at her secret shrine,
And the rekindled flame acquires new strength.
And to me it’s no less a sign that past years began so,
That in this month worship of Anna Perenna begins.
Then too it’s recorded public offices commenced,
Until the time of your wars, faithless Carthaginian.
Lastly Quintilis is the fifth (TXLQWXV) month from March,
And begins those that take their names from numerals.
Numa Pompilius, led to Rome from the lands of olives,
Was the first to realise the year lacked two months,
Learning it from Pythagoras of Samos, who believed
We could be reborn, or was taught it by his own Egeria.
But the calendar was still erratic down to the time
When Caesar took it, and many other things, in hand.
That god, the founder of a mighty house, did not
Regard the matter as beneath his attention,
And wished to have prescience of those heavens
Promised him, not be an unknown god entering a strange
He is said to have drawn up an exact table
Of the periods in which the sun returns to its previous
He added sixty-five days to three hundred,
And then added a fifth part of a whole day.
That’s the measure of the year: one day
The sum of the five part-days is added to each lustre.

Translated by A. S. Kline online here:

Leap Day & and the Roman Calendar February 29th

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower
Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

I have just come back from my very first Leap Year Walk, which I gave tonight for London Walks. It was one of a series of my walks, which are about the year through London’s History. So far, I have done, a New Year Walk, an Imbolc Walk (1 February, St Brigid’s Day), a Spring Equinox Walk, a May Day Walk, a Summer Solstice Walk, an Autumn Equinox Walk, a Halloween Walk, and a Winter Solstice Walk. All, at their core, have the subject of the year, how it is arranged, and celebrated in different cultures and different times in London.

I hoped to get this post done, today, but on arrival at home my burglar alarm was ringing, so had to get an emergency electrician out to pacify my neighbours, and tracking down the fault meant turning my house upside down. I rushed it out, with many bad proof reading errors and ommissions, And have now, on the dawn of a new month, and a new Season, updated it. Probably, knowing me, it still has a far few errors! Now, I am rushing to look after my Grandson!

So, the reason there is a leap year, is that the Sun and the Moon have different cycles, which cannot be easily aligned. And secondly, the solar year is not a fixed number, it is not 365 days, but 365 days and a bit.

Originally though, probably, most cultures lived their lives with time keeping controlled by time markers from their everyday environment, days and nights, the waning and waxing of the moon, the seasons, and the changes in the rising and setting of the Sun. Budding nature would have provided other markers as to when to sow, to harvest, to prune, to slaughter, to worship and marry.

The months were given by the cycle of the Moon, which also gave us tides and menstrual cycles. The months were given names, which were often associated with the weather. The trouble was that the Solar year did not align with the Moon, soon the months would get out of kilter with the seasons. So over time, the society would find it was winter in June, or summer in December. (which is OK if you live in Australia).

Society dealt with this in a number of ways. It could be ignored, why shouldn’t it be cold in June, why should June always be in Summer? Another way was to add in extra days, or months, every so often to make sure June remained in the Summer. This is what Egypt, the early Romans and the Celts did. They kept their months aligned to the actual movements of the Moon, and aligned their Solar Year with it by the addition of extra days or a month or two. or a combination of both.

I reported on this in my post on the Terminalia for February 23rd. As I wrote:

Terminus was an old ancient God who was the God of the boundary, the border, the edge, the liminal God. February was the last month of the original Roman year, but the rulers of Rome added an intercalary month every so often, called Mercedonius in an attempt to keep the Solar year in tune with the seasons. And when the intercalary month was added, the last five days of February were given to Mercedonius and the resulting leap year was either 377 or 378 days long.. So, in those years, the 23rd of February was the Terminus of the year. (For more on Terminalia look at my post for February 23rd on Terminalia-god-of-the-boundary)

Now, as the Roman Republic became more sophisticated, the intercalary months were added at the direction of the Pontiffs, supposedly every two and sometimes every three years. But the Pontiffs were often swayed by political advantage, and by the time of Julius Caesar the seasons had got wildly out of sync with the calendar year. The Dictator, therefore, instituted ‘the Year of Confusion’ which was over 400 days long and brought in the Julian Calendar which realigned the calendar back in line with the seasons.

Caesar spent time with Egyptian Astronomers, trying to understand their solution to the problem. They identified that the year was not 365 days long but 356.25 days, so JC ‘fixed’the issue with a leap day every four years. Based on the almost correct calculation of a solar year being 365.25 days. The new calendar was inaugurated on the Kalends of Januarius 709 AUC, or as we would call it I January 45 BC. It became, in time, something the Romans were very proud of – rationalising, measuring, time itself. Romans counted their dates from the time their City was founded by Romulus in what we call 753 BC or 753 BCE. So, 45 BCE in our reckoning is 709 ab urbe condita (AUC ‘from the founding of the City) as the Romans saw it.

I prefer not to use BCE because it seems ‘dishonest’ to me. The idea of AD BC was made up based on a guess as to when Jesus was born. Changing BC to BCE may rid the date of an explicit Christian identification but masks the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘Common Era. What the Common Era is, is the idea made up in the Late Roman period guessing when Jesus was born/ So I think call a spade a spade, even if it’s a broken meaningless spade that is not fit for purpose, either replace it with something rational, or real or call it what it is.

The interesting thing is that Caesar put the leap year in on the 24th February. Why? Because February, being the month of death, was the end of the year. March 25th was originally the beginning of the Roman year (Caesar moved it to January 1st). Why March 25th? Because it was the Spring Equinox. If you look at my post for March 25th you will find out it is the date of the creation of Humanity, the Birthday of Adam, the conception of Jesus, and until 1752, the day the year number changed in Britain.

The other strange thing about the new leap day was that it was not called February 25th. It was not given a number. Rather, February 24th was two days long. This continued in Britain until the date February 29th started appearing in calendars in the 15th Century, although the legendary Lawyer, Edward Coke (1552 – 1634), refers to the two days of February 24th, but the two day 24th was completely replaced by February 29th in the 16th Century.

One slight complication to the story of February 29th was that February 29th did exist before the Julian reforms. When February was not interrupted by the intercalary month, as described above, it was 29 days long. Julius Caesar made the months alternate 30 and 31 except for February which was 29 days long. When the Senate gave Julius the honour of having the 7th Month named after him, things were OK, but then Augustus wanted the same thing. The Senate duly gave him the next month, which became known as August, but it only had 30 days. This could not be allowed! So they made it up to 31 and stole the 29th from February and made February only 28 days long. This change also meant that there were now three 31 days months in a row, so they reduced September from 31 to 30, boosted October to 31, reduced November to 30 and boosted December to 31,

Hence, we can no longer remember Caesar rational allotment of days in the month, and we need to hum to ourselves:

Thirty days have September
April, June, and November
February has twenty-eight alone.
All the rest have thirty-one.
Excepting leap year – that’s the time
When February’s days are twenty-nine.

But Caesar had not solved the problem of the shifting year, he had just minimised it. By the Council of Nicea in the early 4th Century (and not yet called AD!) the small error had changed the date of the Spring Equinox, from March 25th to March 21st. So, when Constantine convened the Council to bang the heads together of the Church leaders to unify their religion, particularly in regard to the date of Easter, and whether Jesus was equal to God. They fudged the complex issue of the date of Christ’s death, and used March 21st as the foundation of their calculation on the moon-based festival of Easter (more of which at Easter!)

It wasn’t until the 16th Century that Pope Gregory, solved the problem of the inaccuracy of Caesar’s solution. They resynced the days to the seasons by removing days from the Calendar. And they stopped the drift by fine-tuning the leap year system, by not having a leap year in those centurial years which were not divisible by 400. So 2000 was a leap year, but 2100 is not. This allowed the systems to align correctly to this day. (although there is of course a little more to it than this). But for that level of detail, you will love ‘The Calendar’ by David Ewing Duncan, or just look it up on Wikipedia or wait for me to compile various references to the Gregorian Calendar into a unified post on the subject.

Of course, Britain refused to join a Catholic innovation for nearly 200 years but, religious prejudice at last gave way to reason, when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. In the process we lost 11 days, much to the horror of the London mob, who rioted against their loss.

See the following posts for the Roman Year:

Romulus’s 10 month year here

Roman Months here and more on the Ides of March here