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Today in Ancient Rome: A Reference Guide for Articles on the Ancient Roman Calendar

A scene from the movie The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964).

Greetings all. For those who follow this website regularly, you know that ancient history is one of my major academic interests. Beginning in February 2019, I have been posting articles here pertaining to ancient Roman history and culture. In particular, I have taken to writing articles devoted to a particular day in the Roman year which was noteworthy in one respect or another.

However, since I have not posted these calendar-themed articles chronologically – that is starting on January 1 and concluding with December 31 – I sometimes find it difficult to keep track of which days I have already written about and which ones I haven’t. Therefore, for my benefit as well as for yours, dear reader and fellow scholar, I have decided to arrange here a comprehensive list of each calendar-related article which I have written so far, along with website links to access each article. I intend for this list to be continuously updated each time a new article is added, so please be sure to check back here from time to time.

January

 

February

 

March

 

April

 

May

 

June

 

July

 

August

 

September

 

October

 

November

 

December

 

October 1 – The Kalends of October

It is now the month of October in ancient Rome. The weather has begun to cool, the Autumn harvest is ready to be gathered, and the soldiers are preparing themselves to return home after another season of fighting abroad.

The whole month of October was dedicated to Mars, the god of war (1). This is likely due to the fact that October was the month when the year’s military campaigning season came to an end. The campaigning season officially terminated on October 19 with the ceremony known as the Armilustrium, but that’s a story for another day.

The first day of every month was known as the kalends, which is where the word “calendar” comes from. These were days in which all business was put on hold, possibly because merchants and businessmen were afraid of being jinxed (2).

In the ancient Roman calendar, the first day of every month was sacred to the goddess Juno, Queen of the Gods (3). However, the first day of October was also dedicated to the war-god Mars (4) as well as to Fides, the divine personification of faith (5). This is because October 1 was the date that a temple to Fides located on the Capitoline Hill was dedicated during the 3rd Century BC by Aulus Atilius Calatinus. This temple was often used as a place where oaths were taken, or where contracts and treaties were signed. Copies of treaties that Rome had signed with other nations were put on display within (6).

October 1 was also the date of a purification ritual known as the Tigillo Sororio, “the Beam of the Sister”, whose origins go back to the founding of the Roman Republic. Legend states that Horatius Cocles, one of the great heroes of the civil war between the monarchists and the republicans which lasted from 509 to 499 BC, returned home after being victorious in a battle, bringing with him the spoils of his defeated enemies. However, his sister was betrothed so a man who was on the monarchists side. When she saw her fiancé’s cloak, she knew that he was among the slain and she began to cry. Her brother Horatius, fired up with patriotic furor, accused her of showing sympathy to the Republic’s enemies and killed her on the spot. Horatius was acquitted of murder, but he was forced to undergo a purification ritual to expiate his blood-guilt. At least that’s the story, but it appears that this purification ritual existed before the era of the civil war, so then what was its original purpose? Perhaps, just as Horatius had to expunge his unclean self after shedding the blood of his own sister, so to might early Roman warriors have needed to purify their bodies and souls of blood-guilt prior to re-entering the city (7). This bears some resemblance to the Armilustrium, in which the weapons of war were ritualistically purified before being re-housed in the armories over the winter lull.

 

Source citations:

  1. Pierre Danet, A Complete Dictionary of the Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: 1700. Page 14; The Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 17 (September-December 1836). “On the Origin of the Egyptian God, Anubis, and on the Twelve Months of the Year”. London: Saunders and Otley, 1836. Page 103; Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes, Volume IV: Romans-Revelation. Cincinnati: Applegate & Co., 1854. Page 184.
  2. History and Archaeology Online: Rediscovering the Past. “Double Roman Celebrations for the Kalends of October: The Fidei in Capitolio and the Tigillo”, by Natasha Sheldon (September 29, 2018). https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/double-roman-celebrations-for-the-kalends-of-october-the-fidei-in-capitolio-and-the-tigillo/.
  3. Molly Pasco-Pranger, Founding the Year: Ovid’s Fasti and the Poetics of the Roman Calendar. Leiden: Brill, 2006. Page 180.
  4. The Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 17 (September-December 1836). “On the Origin of the Egyptian God, Anubis, and on the Twelve Months of the Year”. London: Saunders and Otley, 1836. Page 103.
  5. UNRV. “Roman Festivals”. https://www.unrv.com/culture/roman-festivals.php.
  6. Ár Ndraíocht Féin: Public Worship, Fellowship, and Practice. “Major Holidays of Rome October (Mensis October)”. https://www.adf.org/rituals/roman/roman-holidays3.html.
  7. History and Archaeology Online: Rediscovering the Past. “Double Roman Celebrations for the Kalends of October: The Fidei in Capitolio and the Tigillo”, by Natasha Sheldon (September 29, 2018). https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/double-roman-celebrations-for-the-kalends-of-october-the-fidei-in-capitolio-and-the-tigillo/.

 

Bibliography:

September 13 – Epulum Jovis: The Feast of Jove

There are many so-called “feast days” which are present within religious calendars. Among those that were listed in the ancient Roman religious calendar are the “Ides”. This was a religious holiday held in the middle of each month, and all of the monthly Ides were dedicated to the god Jupiter, also known as Jove. The most famous of the Ides is probably the Ides of March, which in inextricably linked to the assassination of Julius Caesar (1).

In the month of September, the Ides took place on September 13. What made this particular monthly feast day different from the others was that September 13 was a literal “feast” day. The Ides of September was the date of the Epulum Jovis, a lavish banquet that was held in honor of the gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. So let us eat, drink, and be merry!

It is possible that the Epulum Jovis was originally held on the Ides of November, for it does not appear in September until the reign of Caesar Augustus. Its original date to the middle of November is reference to it being a celebration giving thanks to Jupiter for preserving the Roman state through another military campaign season. The date of the festival was moved from mid-November to mid-September because September 13 was the date of the dedication of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. If you’re having a feast giving thanks to Jupiter, what better day than the date of his main temple being opened (2). The practice of commemorating the end of the military campaign season was taken over by the Armilustrium, which was held every October 19.

The ritual bears some remarkable similarities to rituals conducted by the Greeks and the Etruscans during this time. The Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus writes that in the “sacred houses” of the curiae, there were tables with offerings to the gods of “simple food in primitive earthenware dishes”. This implies that the feast started out as a simple affair with the leading men of the day giving offerings to the gods upon their household altars. However, the festival later grew in size to such an extent that it became a full-blown meal held in the gods’ honor, with the gods themselves being in attendance, at least in spirit (3).

Before the festivities could begin, the dining room had to be prepared. Statues of the gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were present at the feast and took a place of honor at the table. In fact, Jupiter was given his own couch to recline on, at least in spirit, and Juno and Minerva were each given their own chair on either side. Also, Jupiter’s face was painted red with minium as though he were participating in a triumphal parade. (4).

Now that everything was ready, it was time to begin the rituals that would initiate the day’s festivities. The priests who were responsible for carrying out the rituals of this day were distinguished as the Epulones. they were first created as a separate collegium of the Roman priesthood in 198 BC specifically for the purpose of conducting the religious rituals associated with the Epulum Jovis on the Ides of September. Originally consisting of three men, their number was later increased to seven, probably in recognition of September being “the Seventh Month” in the Roman calendar; the number was briefly increased to ten by the order of Julius Caesar, but afterwards returned to seven (5).

The Epulum Jovis festival began with the sacrifice of an animal. The animal chosen for this duty was the “Ides ram”, or ovis idulis in Latin. Once this was performed, a curious custom was for one of the Senatorial consuls to hammer a nail known as the clavis figendus into the side of the temple to visually represent another year that had gone by (6).

Once these duties were carries out, it was time for the banquet to get underway. The sources that are given which describe this day’s activities specifically describe the meal as a feast or a banquet, and were not merely the simple offerings that are mentioned by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. However, it isn’t clear if this sumptuous meal was carried out only by the Epulones, or if it was conducted in every household that was able to manage it. I’m inclined to think it was the former, as I doubt that most households in ancient Rome would have had the means to host a fully-laid out table, nor do I think that most households just happened to have statues, busts, or figurines of all three of the gods mentioned.

 

Source Citations:

  1. National Geographic. “Ides of March: What Is It? Why Do We Still Observe It?”, by Brian Handwerk (March 15, 2011). https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110315-ides-of-march-2011-facts-beware-caesar-what-when/.
  2. William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1899), page 217.
  3. William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1899), pages 218-219.
  4. William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1899), page 218; Reverend James Gardner, Faiths of the World, Volume 2 (Glasgow: A. Fullarton & Co., 1858), page 307.
  5. William Smith, ed., A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: Taylor and Walton, 1842), page 393.
  6. Michael Lipka, Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach (Leiden: Brill, 2009), page 104; William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1899), page 217; Alexander Adam, Roman Antiquities (New York: W. E. Dean, 1842), page 222; Joseph Salkeld, Classical Antiquities (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1855), page 138; Johann Joachim Eschenburg, Manual of Classical Literature, Fourth Edition. Translated from German into English by Prof. N. W. Fiske (Philadelphia: E.C. and J. Biddle, 1867), page 242.

Bibliography:

  • Adam, Alexander. Roman Antiquities, or, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Romans. New York: W. E. Dean, 1842.
  • Eschenburg, Johann Joachim. Manual of Classical Literature, Fourth Edition. Translated from German into English by Prof. N. W. Fiske. Philadelphia: E.C. and J. Biddle, 1867.
  • Fowler, William Warde. The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic: An Introduction to the Study of the Religion of the Romans. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1899.
  • Gardner, Reverend James. Faiths of the World: A Dictionary of Religions and Religious Sects, their Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs. Volume 2. Glasgow: A. Fullarton & Co., 1858.
  • Lipka, Michael. Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach. Leiden: Brill, 2009.
  • Salkeld, Joseph. Classical Antiquities, or, A Compendium of Roman and Grecian Antiquities, with a Sketch of Ancient Mythology. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1855.
  • Smith, William, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: Taylor and Walton, 1842.
  • National Geographic. “Ides of March: What Is It? Why Do We Still Observe It?”, by Brian Handwerk (March 15, 2011). https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110315-ides-of-march-2011-facts-beware-caesar-what-when/.

The Battle of Teutoburg: A Problem with Dating

September 9 to 11 of the year 9 AD is often attributed in modern sources as the date for the legendary Battle of Teutoburg, more commonly known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – except the battle lasted for four days, not three, and it was fought in a forest only on the first two days of the engagement. But how accurate is this date? Very rarely do the primary sources provide precise dates for historical events. In fact, if you take the pains to read through all of the ancient documents that mention and describe this important battle, you will be struck by something puzzling and shocking – no ancient source mentions when exactly the battle took place.

So, if that is the case, then why is it commonly perpetuated that the Battle of Teutoburg was fought specifically from September 9 to 11?

The oldest reference to the Battle of Teutoburg taking place on September 9th to the 11th is dated to the 19th Century. Found within an issue of Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art is an article entitled “Decisive Battles of History”, dated to January 7, 1871. Within this article, the un-named author provides a list of battles of historical importance, with some being provided longer descriptions than others. The Battle of Teutoburg is placed upon that list, and of it, the article mentions the following: “The battle of Teutoburg, on the 9th, 10th and 11th of September, 9 B. C., between the Germans, led by Hermann, and the Romans, under Varus” (“Decisive Battles of History”. Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 5, Issue 93 (January 7, 1871). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871. Page 20). Where the author of this article managed to obtain these dates is unknown, since, as mentioned before, no primary source gives exact dates for the battle.

These dates were repeated in A Popular History of Germany, Volume 1, written by Wilhelm Zimmerman and published in 1878. In a chapter devoted exclusively to this battle, Zimmermann writes “The battle took place on the 9th, 10th, and 11th days of September” (William Zimmermann, A Popular History of Germany, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Volume 1. Translated by Hugh Craig. New York, Henry J. Johnson, 1878. Page 57). Again, Zimmermann provides no sources for this information.

These dates seem to have been forgotten until the 1990s, when the battlefield was discovered and a thorough archaeological survey could be made of the site. Among the items found was the skeleton of a mule and around its neck was a bell that had been stuffed with straw…straw that had presumably been collected from nearby, in order to keep the bell from ringing. It was this find that enabled forensic analysts to give an approximate date of the battle.

In my own book about this battle Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, I state the following…

“It is common knowledge among ancient and military historians that the battle took place in the year 9 AD, but during what time of year? At the excavation of the site, the skeleton of a mule was found with a bell around its neck. The bell had been stuffed with straw, presumably to keep it from making noise. Forensic analysis of the straw showed that it had been cut in late summer or early fall, placing the battle in late September (Peter S. Wells, The Battle that Stopped Rome (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003), 55). So, not only did the battle’s date have a year, but also a month – September of 9 AD. The battle is popularly conceived as being begun on September 9, 9 AD, but this is a date that seems to be chosen at random. Forensic evidence places the battle at late summer/early fall, which would make it fall somewhere in late September, not early September” (Jason R. Abdale, Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, Second Edition. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2016. Page 128.

 

Bibliography

  • “Decisive Battles of History”. Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 5, Issue 93 (January 7, 1871). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871.
  • Abdale, Jason R. Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, Second Edition. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2016.
  • Wells, Peter S. The Battle that Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003.
  • Zimmermann, William. A Popular History of Germany, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Volume 1. Translated by Hugh Craig. New York, Henry J. Johnson, 1878.

 

Caturus

This is Caturus, a prehistoric fish which swam in the oceans during the Mesozoic Era. Fossils of this saltwater fish have been found in North America, Europe, northern Africa, and as far as China within rocks spanning from the beginning of the Triassic Period about 250 MYA up to the middle of the Cretaceous Period, about 100 MYA. However, most fossils have been found in Europe in rock layers dated to the middle and late Jurassic Period, about 170-150 MYA.

Despite a superficial resemblance to a salmon, Caturus was actually more closely related to a bowfin (Amia calva), which is a rather primitive ray-finned fish.

So far, paleontologists have identified fourteen species of Caturus. The largest species, Caturus furcatus, which lived in the shallow sea that covered much of Europe during the late Jurassic period about 150 MYA, reached three feet long; other species were much smaller. One species, Caturus dartoni, is known from North America in rocks dated to the middle Jurassic, about 165 MYA. Only two skeletons of this particular species have been found, the largest measuring 15 inches long.

Caturus. © Jason R. Abdale. September 5, 2020.

This drawing was made on printer paper with No.2 pencil, No.3 pencil, Crayola colored pencils, Prismacolor colored pencils, and Artist’s Loft colored pencils.