I can't resist the temptation to write about an April festival held in Ancient Rome!
Between the 4th and the 10th of April, the people of the Ancient Roman Republic celebrated the Ludi Megalesia in honour of the goddess Cybele – the Magna Mater or Great Mother.
The Megale part meant great and the Ludi were the games, worship and entertainments held during some of the religious festivals.
Acquired after the wars against Carthage, the sacred stone representing the goddess Cybele – who had been importuned to give favour to the Roman side – was heralded on arrival to Rome with a magnificent procession. However, although the arrival of the goddess was solemnised, the annual celebrations of the Megalesia in her honour did not begin till around a decade later.
By 191 B.C., the temple Matris Magnae Idaeae was built and the sacred stone of Cybele was transferred from its temporary resting place in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. The temple in honour of Cybele also being built on the Palatine indicated that she was not seen as a foreign goddess but was from Ida, the home of Roman origins.
The rites were officiated by a Phrygian priest and priestess and later on the numbers of priests and priestesses increased, attested in various inscriptions. The priestly garb included a mitra (special headband), a veil, a necklace, a purple dress and an image of the goddess was pinned to the breast (an aedicula). He bore a basket of fruit, cymbals and flutes. The celebrations included general rejoicing and feasting.
|Cybele- Luca Giordano|
It’s likely the entertainments included plays based on religious themes, perhaps written by well-known playwrights, which would have been performed on the steep approach to her temple. During the days of the festival, there were exchanges of lavish invitations where wealthy Romans hosted each other, a bit of one-upmanship going on to be the one to lay on the most impressive banquet, or entertainment. It seems to have got out of order, though, since the Senate made a decree in 161 B.C. limiting the amount of expenditure on the food and utensils needed to provide the feasts.
During the Empire the rites were more ceremonial and much more elaborate, which I’ll write about soon…