February is the month of Februus, the ancient Roman god of purification. The name Februus comes from the Latin verb februa (which may have either Etruscan or Sabine roots), which means “to purge, purify, or cleanse”. The word “fever” is based on the same origin as the name “February”, because the Romans believed that you could purge sickness from your body by sweating it out of your system (Definitions and Translations. “Februa”).
The principal feast day for the god Februus occurred on February 15, the same date as the infamous “Lupercalia” festival. However, February 27 was also held in special reverence to the god of purification. In ancient Rome, February 27 was the date for the “Equirria of Februus”, a chariot race dedicated to the god of purification. The race was held at the Campus Martius (Marcus Terentius Varro, On the Latin Language, book 6, verse 13. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938. Page 187).
Carreras Cigarettes, card number 8 – “Roman Chariot Races”. 1927.
In ancient Rome, there were several equirriae – chariot races held in honor of a specific god – held throughout the year. These include the Equirria of Mars (March 14), the Equirria of Cybele (April 10), the Equirria of Ceres (April 19), and the Equirria of Consus (August 21). The Equirria of Februus was the first grand chariot race to be held in ancient Rome, and I imagine that it was an event that was highly looked forward to by the Roman population – the first major sporting event of the year.
Varro, Marcus Terentius. On the Latin Language. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938.
Definitions and Translations. “Februa”. https://www.definitions.net/definition/februa.
Please check out my “Today in Ancient Rome” series for more articles on the ancient Roman calendar. You can find the whole list by clicking here!
Categories: History, Uncategorized
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