The Ancient Romans loved their festivals and sometimes, over the decades and even centuries, they had so many to celebrate that it seems they forgot what they might need to celebrate. The beginning of July was such a time.
From the 5th onwards, for eight or nine days, citizens (and sometimes servants) were celebrating Poplifugia, the Ludi Apollinares (solemn games honouring Apollo), Nonae (Juno) Caprotina and the Ancillarum Feriae (Festival of the serving women).
Poplifugia is a largely obscure festival on the 7th July, which was named on a calendar found in Nero’s villa at Antium (
Thought to mean something like ‘Flight of the People’ historians haven’t yet identified what they might have been fleeing from.
The writer Varro thought it commemorated the Roman retreat after the Gallic invasion of 387 B.C.
The Plutarch theory (Plutarch’s Lives) is that it is in honour of the fact that Romulus, one of the twin founders of Rome, disappeared (or was spirited away) on the 7th July 714 B.C.
A third theory is that Poplifugia is in the plural form and refers to more than one ‘flight’ – like the Regifugium (King’s Flight) and that the festival covered more than one day and perhaps incorporated the Juno Caprotina festival!
The Roman goddess Juno as Caprotina was worshiped for different reasons. As a fertility goddess she is associated with goats and figs. Symbolic of fertility the goat is said to be a ‘randy’ animal and the fig is a fruit which has many seeds.
The Nonae Caprotina was held on the nones, or 7th day of July. This festival was thought to have been exclusively celebrated by women, and especially slave women.
One origin (though there are other possibilities) of this festival may be that in the 4th century B.C.
Rome survived a siege by the Gauls though
considerably weakened by the event. Some of the neighbouring tribes took
the opportunity of making demands on Rome,
demanding women in marriage or they too would sack the city of Rome.
In usual Roman fashion, the Senate debated what to do. During this debate time a slave woman, Tutela, took the initiative. Along with other female slaves, they dressed as free women and approached the enemy ranks. As though celebrating a wedding, they encouraged the enemy to get drunk. When the enemy soldiers fell asleep, the women snatched their weapons. Tutela climbed a wild fig tree (caproficus) and waved a torch as a signal for the Romans to attack. As a result of the victory against their enemies, the Senate gave each participating slave woman her freedom and a generous dowry.
In remembrance of the triumph, the Nonae Caprotina were celebrated. As an offering to Juno, fig branches and the milky sap of the fig tree were presented. The festival rites were celebrated in the fig grove of the Campus Martius (the Plain of Mars).
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Whatever the reason for them, would you like to have festivals every other day?