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/.


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