the festival of Saturnus, to whom the
inhabitants of Latium attributed the introduction of agriculture and the
arts of civilised life. Falling towards the end of December, at the season
when the agricultural labours of the year were fully completed, it was
celebrated in ancient times by the rustic population as a sort of joyous
harvest-home, and in every age was viewed by all classes of the community
as a period of absolute relaxation and
unrestrained merriment. During its continuance no public business could be
transacted, the law courts were closed, the schools kept holiday, to
commence a war was impious, to punish a malefactor involved pollution.
; Plin. Ep. 8.7
indulgences were granted to the slaves of each domestic establishment; they
were relieved from all ordinary toils, were permitted to wear the pilleus
the badge of freedom, were granted full
freedom of speech, partook of a banquet attired in the clothes of their
masters, and were waited upon by them at table. (Macr.
; D. C. 60.19
; Just. 43.1
2.7, 5; Martial, 11.6
; Ath. 14.44
The public festival began with a sacrificium
in front of the temple of Saturn in the Forum (Dionys. A. R. 6.1
), and then followed the
at which senators and
knights wore the dinner dress [SYNTHESIS
]. In private the day began with the sacrifice of a
young pig (Mart. 14.70
; Hor. Od. 3.17
all ranks devoted themselves to feasting and mirth, presents were
interchanged among friends, and crowds thronged the streets, shouting
(this was termed clamare Saturnalia
). (Catull. 14; Senec.
18; Suet. Aug. 75
Plin. Ep. 4.9
; Serv. ad
Verg. A. 3.407
Many of the peculiar customs exhibited a remarkable resemblance to the sports
of our own Christmas and of the Italian Carnival. Thus on the Saturnalia
public gambling was allowed by the aediles (Martial, 5.84
), just as in the days of our ancestors the most rigid were
wont to countenance card-playing on Christmas-eve; the wearing of the
and of the pilleus
; Senec. Ep.
18) may find their
counterpart in the dominoes, the peaked caps, and other disguises worn by
masques and mummers; the cerei
employed as the moccoli
now are on the last night of
the Carnival; and lastly, one of the amusements in private society was the
election of a mock king (Tac. Ann. 13.15
Arrian, Diss. Epictet.
1.25; Lucian, Saturn.
4), which at once calls to recollection the
characteristic ceremony of Twelfth-night.
Saturnus being an ancient national god of Latium, the institution of the
Saturnalia is lost in the most remote antiquity. In one legend it was
ascribed to Janus, who, after the sudden disappearance of his guest and
benefactor from the abodes of men, reared an altar to him, as a deity, in
the forum, and ordained annual sacrifices; in another, as related by Varro,
it was attributed to the wandering Pelasgi, upon their first settlement in
Italy, and Hercules, on his return from Spain, was said to have reformed the
worship and abolished the practice of immolating human victims; while a
third tradition represented certain followers of the last-named hero, whom
he had left behind on his return to Greece, as the authors of the Saturnalia
). Records approaching more nearly
to history referred the erection of temples and altars, and the first
celebration of the festival, to epochs comparatively recent, to the reign of
Tatius (Dionys. A. R. 2.50
), of Tullus
Hostilius (Dionys. A. R. 3.32
; Macr. 1.8
), of Tarquinius Superbus (Dionys. A. R. 6.1
; Macrob. l.c.
), to the consulship of A. Sempronius and M.
497, or to that of T. Larcius in the preceding
year (Dionys. A. R. 6.1
; Liv. 2.21
). These conflicting statements may be
easily reconciled by supposing that the appointed ceremonies were in these
rude ages neglected from time to time, or corrupted, and again at different
periods revived, purified, extended, and performed with fresh splendour and
greater regularity. (Comp. Jordan, Topog.
festival was, no doubt, an old Italian rite of prehistoric date, but the
adoption of the ritus graecus
in its ceremonies, as
shown by the uncovered head [SACRIFICIUM
p. 586] and the lectisternium, was due to the order
from the Sibylline books in the year 217 B.C. (Liv.
). It is suggested by Marquardt
that the feasting of slaves, which the Romans took to be a tradition from
the golden age when all were equal, may have really originated with the
lectisternium in that year; since such general feasting of all ranks was
part of the lectisternia (Macrob. 1.6, 13; LECTISTERNIUM
During the Republic, although the whole month of December was considered as
dedicated to Saturn (Macrob. 1.7), only one day, the XIV. Kal. Jan., was set apart for the sacred rites of the
divinity: when the month was lengthened by the addition of two days upon the
adoption of the Julian Calendar, the Saturnalia fell on the XVI. Kal. Jan., which gave rise to confusion and
mistakes among the more ignorant portion of the people. To obviate this
inconvenience, and allay all religious scruples, Augustus enacted that three
whole days, the 17th, 18th, and 19th of December, should in all time coming
be hallowed, thus embracing both the old and new style (Macrob. 1.10). A
fourth day was added, we know not when or by whom, and a fifth, with the
by Caligula (D. C. 59.6
; Suet. Cal.
); an arrangement which, after it had fallen into disuse for some
years, was restored and confirmed by Claudius (D. C.
But although, strictly speaking, one day only, during the Republic, was
consecrated to religious observances, the festivities were spread over a
much longer space. Thus, while Livy speaks of the first day of the
Saturnalia (Saturnalibus primis,
), Cicero mentions the second and
third (secundis Saturnalibus, ad Att.
Saturnalibus tertiis, ad Att.
5.20); and it would seem
that the merry-making lasted during seven days, for Novius, the writer of
Atellanae, employed the expression septem
a phrase copied in later times by Memmius (Macrob.
1.10), and even Martial speaks of Saturni septem
(14.72), although in many other passages he alludes to the
five days observed in accordance with the edicts of Caligula and Claudius
(2.89; 14.79, 141).
Among the presents of all kinds which were made at this season (Suet. Aug. 75
14-16; Mart. 4.46
, and all book xiv.), we must notice
especially the cerei
and the sigillaria.
were wax tapers
cerei) and were the most ordinary gift (Macrob. 1.7, 33;
Varro, L. L.
5.64; Mart. 5.18
which [p. 2.601]
may possibly, as some think, have a
symbolical reference to the festival of waning light in the season of
it may be noticed also that candles
were the light of primitive times before oil lamps were known (Varro,
5.119), and so may have belonged to a primitive
festival. The sigillaria
which were especially characteristic of the
Saturnalia (Sen. Ep.
12.3; Suet. Cl.
; Macrob. 1.11, 49; Spartian. Carac.
17; Mart. 14.182
small figures of terra-cotta and possibly sometimes of dough baked hard
1079). Some regarded them as relics of a
human sacrifice to Saturn (Macrob. 1.11, 48; comp. OSCILLA
). Hence the name of the street
), and the
sale or “fair” of statuettes which lasted for four days after
the 17th of December was called sigillaria;
no ground for the supposition that certain of the festal days bore that
name. (Marquardt, Staatsverw.
3.586 ff.; Preller,