Floralia. Old Goats and an extraordinary Elephant April 28th

Flora on a gold aureus of 43–39 BC Wikipedia photot by АНО Международный нумизматический клуб

On the 28th of April until the Kalends (15th) of May the Romans, according to Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ Book IV, celebrated the Florialia dedicated to Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowering, blossoming, budding, planting and fertility. She was one of the 15 Roman Deities offered a state-financed Priest. Her home in Rome, was on the lower slopes of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus is the large long arena in the middle of Rome. Model Musee Arte et Histoire, Brussels, photo Kevin Flude

Celebrations began with theatrical performances, at the end of which the audience were pelted with beans and lupins. Then there were competitive games, and spectacles. The latter, in the reign of Galba, including a tight-rope walking – wait for it – elephant!

Incidently, Galba only survived for 7 months as Emperor – a little longer than Liz Truss’s 44 days but then she was not murdered by a rampaging mob at the end of her reign. It was the year known to history as the year of the 4 Emperors. (great description by Tacitus here:)

Juvenal records that prostitutes were included in the celebration of Flora by dancing naked, and fighting in mock gladiatorial battles. (there is a raging debate about the existence of female gladiators: a burial in Southwark has been said to be one such and Natalie Haynes has her say on the subject here🙂

Hares and goats were released as part of the ceremonies, presumably because they are very fertile and have a ‘salacious’ reputation! (Satyrs were, famously, obsessed with sex and were half man half goat. A man can still be referred to, normally behind his back, as an ‘old goat’).

Written in 2023 revised April 2024

The Festival of Fools Fornacalia and Fornication February 17th

Mosaic of a man taking a loaf of bread out of a bread oven
Mosaic of Roman Bread Oven France

Fornacalia was a corn festival that took place around February 7th to the 17th. It celebrated the Goddess Fornax who was the Goddess of the Oven – specifically the grain oven for drying grain. The word for oven is also Fornax, from which we derive furnace (probably). So the celebration was to ensure that Rome’s all important grain supply was kept intact. Rome had a population of one million people, free bread was given to the people, and the Roman government took on the responsibility of providing the grain in a system called the Annona. The Annona brought grain from Egypt. Dominic Perring in his recent book on Roman London (Londinium in the Roman Empire) speculates that the fluctuating fortunes of London was depended upon the routing of a northern annona through Londinium.

The Festivals in Rome were organised by the Curio Maximus who was a priest who supervised the curiae. In Rome the citizens were arranged, originally, into the 3 ancient tribes of Rome (founded in the 8th Century BC). The Tribes changed through time until there were 4 urban tribes (Collina, Esquilina, Palatina, Suburana ) and 31 Rural tribes (see this Wikipedia page). The tribes were then divided into 10 curiae each. So there were 30 curiae.

Each Roman was supposed to be assigned to one of the curiae, which had a religious, social and voting function. The members of the curiae were known as curiales. Each curiae had their own priest, or curio, and assistant ‘flamen curialis‘. And they organised the religious ceremonies of the curiae. They met in a meeting place called the curia.

So the Curio Maximus would declare when a festival was to be held, and get the curiae to organise the celebrations at the curia. I hope you are still with me! They would choose a date, for example for the Fornacalia, between about the 7th Feb and the 17th of February. And the citizens would go to their curia where there would be a ceremonial roasting of the grain, and baking into bread which would be in honour of the Goddess Fornax.

Pliny the Elder says it was King Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), who established Fornacalia, The Feast of Ovens.

Ovid, who wrote his almanac poem on the Roman festivals (Fasti), reveals many of these details and points out that many people didn’t know which curiae they were in, and so they would celebrate on the last day of the Festival, which therefore became known as the Feast of Fools.

Learn too why this day is called the Feast of Fools.
The reason for it is trivial but fitting.
The earth of old was farmed by ignorant men:
Fierce wars weakened their powerful bodies.
There was more glory in the sword than the plough:
And the neglected farm brought its owner little return.
Yet the ancients sowed corn, corn they reaped,
Offering the first fruits of the corn harvest to Ceres.
Taught by practice they parched it in the flames,
And incurred many losses through their own mistakes.
Sometimes they’d sweep up burnt ash and not corn,
Sometimes the flames took their huts themselves:
The oven was made a goddess, Fornax: the farmers
Pleased with her, prayed she’d regulate the grain’s heat.
Now the Curio Maximus, in a set form of words, declares
The shifting date of the Fornacalia, the Feast of Ovens:
And round the Forum hang many tablets,
On which every ward displays its particular sign.
Foolish people don’t know which is their ward,
So they hold the feast on the last possible day.


Book II: February 17 From: Fasti, Book 2. Translated by A.S Kline and available here

For more information: www.vindolanda.com/blog/celebrating-the-fornacalia wikipedia.org/wiki/Fornacalia

Fornication

I was told that the Roman word for someone who looked after a furnace was the fornicator. And as heat was a ’cause’ of lust, fornicators well, they fornicated.

However, others derive the word from the word Fornix, which is an arch, and which, it is said, was where the Brothels were, hence fornicator. Not sure I’m going with that idea that Brothels were always under arches. But here is the online etymology dictionary’s definition which might help you make up your mind:

from Late Latin fornicationem (nominative fornicatio), noun of action from past-participle stem of fornicari “to fornicate,” from Latin fornix (genitive fornicis) “brothel” (Juvenal, Horace), originally “arch, vaulted chamber, a vaulted opening, a covered way,” probably an extension, based on appearance, from a source akin to fornus “brick oven of arched or domed shape” (from PIE root *gwher- “to heat, warm”). Strictly, “voluntary sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman;” extended in the Bible to adultery. The sense extension in Latin is perhaps because Roman prostitutes commonly solicited from under the arches of certain buildings.

As you can see it’s a big mix-up of arches, brothels, brick ovens, all quite unconvincing, so I’m sticking with my over-heated stoker theory.

First published February 2023 and revised and republished 17th February 2024

Lambing January 18th

Hermes the ram-bearer near Roman 1st BCE copy of 5th Greek statue
Hermes the ram-bearer, Roman 1st BCE copy of 5th Greek statue

My apology of the day is to Diane Stein, the author of the ‘The Goddess Book of Days’ because of the implied error in the book in the sentence (below). Republished yesterday:

Before we read Ovid’s ‘Fasti’ first note that he locates the Day on the 16th January rather than the ‘Book of Goddesses’ which puts her on the 17th

Not only did I get the name of the book wrong (which is ‘The Goddess Book of Days’, but I had another look at what Ovid actually said and I saw this:

Book I: January 16
Radiant one, the next day places you in your snow-white
shrine,’

So, ‘the next day’, so Ovid agrees that January 17th is the appropriate day to honour Concordia.

Lambing

If a lamb be born sick and weak, the Shepherd shall fold it in his cloak, blow into the mouth of it and then, drawing the Dam’s dog, shall squirt milk into the mouth of it. If an Ewe grow unnatural, and will not take her Lamb after she has yeaned it, you shall take a little of the Clean of the Ewe (which is the bed in which the Lamb lay) and force the Ewe to eat it, or at least chew it in her mouth and she will fall to love a Lamb naturally. But if an Ewe have cast her Lamb, and you would have her take to another Ewe’s Lamb, you shall take the Lamb which is dead, and with it rub and daub the live Lamb all over, and so put it to the Ewe, and she will take to it as naturally as if it were her own.

Gervase Markham, ‘Cheap and Good Husbandry’ 1613 (quoted in the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly.

tionalsheep.org.uk

Lambing can begin about now in the south-west, but it gets progressively later as you travel north. Itinerant shearers, now often from New Zealand, travel the country shearing sheep. They will begin in the south and then progress north.

March and April are peak lambing time in the UK, although the season runs from February to April, but some farmers even lamb before Christmas (and even November). If ewes are tupped in October, they will lamb in March. www.nationalsheep.org.uk

The country expression is ‘in with a bang and out with the fool’ which suggests an ideal time to tup, is November 5th, on Fireworks Night. So that the lambs will be born, 5 months later, around the 1st of April.

A litter is normally one or two but occasionally more. Ewe’s get fed depending on how many lambs they will be having.

In the ‘Return of the Native’, Thomas Hardy has a character called Diggory Venn, he is a reddle man. He travels the country in a little pony and trap selling reddle, a red ochre dye with which shepherds mark their flock. Part of the plot is about the reluctance of women to marry a man whose red, reddle-stained face, makes him look like a devil.

The reddle is used to mark sheep. The ram is given a collar or girdle with a marker full of reddle in it. When he mounts the ewe, she will have a red mark on her back. Once she has been tupped twice, she will have two red marks on her back, and she will be taken out of the field, to encourage the ram to impregnate the others. Reddle could also be used to mark lambs chosen for slaughter, or dipping, or weighing etc.

(Tup is a country verb: I tup. You tup, we are tupping etc, and means what happens when the ram ‘covers’ the ewe).

First, published Jan 2023, republished Jan 2024