In ancient Roman religion, the Robigalia was a festival held April 25. Its main ritual was a dog sacrifice to protect grain fields from disease. Games (ludi) in the form of "major and minor" races were held. The Robigalia was one of several agricultural festivals in April to celebrate and vitalize the growing season, but the darker sacrificial elements of these occasions are also fraught with anxiety about crop failure and the dependence on divine favor to avert it.
The late Republican scholar Varro says that the Robigalia was named for the god Robigus, who as the numen or personification of agricultural disease could also prevent it. He was thus a potentially malignant deity to be propitiated, as Aulus Gellius notes. But the gender of this deity is elusive. The agricultural writer Columella gives the name in the feminine as Robigo, like the word used for the disease itself, and says that the sacrificial offering was the blood and entrails of an unweaned puppy (catulus). Most animal sacrifice in the public religion of ancient Rome resulted in a communal meal and thus involved domestic animals whose flesh was a normal part of the Roman diet; the dog occurs as a victim most often in magic and private rites for Hecate and other chthonic deities, but was offered publicly at the Lupercalia and two other sacrifices pertaining to grain crops.
Purpose and origin
|Practices and beliefs|
Robigo is a form of wheat rust, and has a reddish or reddish-brown color. Both Robigus and robigo are also found as Rubig-, which following the etymology-by-association of antiquity was thought to be connected to the color red (ruber) as a form of homeopathic or sympathetic magic. The color is thematic: the disease was red, the requisite puppies (or sometimes bitches) had a red coat, the red of blood recalls the distinctively Roman incarnation of Mars as both a god of agriculture and bloodshed. William Warde Fowler, whose work on Roman festivals remains a standard reference, entertained the idea that Robigus is an "indigitation" of Mars, that is, a name to be used in a prayer formulary to fix the local action of the invoked god. The priest who presided was the flamen Quirinalis, the high priest of Quirinus, the Sabine god of war who become identified with Mars; the ludi were held for both Mars and Robigo. The flamen recited a prayer that Ovid quotes at length in the Fasti, his six-book calendar poem on Roman holidays which provides the most extended, though problematic, description of the day.
Like many other aspects of Roman law and religion, the institution of the Robigalia was attributed to the Sabine Numa Pompilius, in the eleventh year of his reign as the second king of Rome. The combined presence of Numa and the flamen Quirinalis may suggest a Sabine origin.
Chariot races (ludi cursoribus) were held in honor of Mars and Robigo on this day. The races had two classes, "major and minor," which may represent junior and senior divisions. In chariot racing, younger drivers seem to have gained experience with a two-horse chariot (biga) before graduating to a four-horse team (quadriga).
The Fasti Praenestini also record that on the same day the festival celebrated a particular class of sex workers: "pimped-out boys," following the previous day's recognition of meretrices, female prostitutes regarded as professionals of some standing.
Other April festivals related to farming were the Cerealia, or festival of Ceres, lasting for several days in mid-month; the Fordicidia on April 15, when a pregnant cow was sacrificed; the Parilia on April 21 to ensure healthy flocks; and the Vinalia, a wine festival on April 23. Varro considered these and the Robigalia, along with the Great Mother's Megalensia late in the month, the "original" Roman holidays in April.
The Robigalia has been connected to the Christian feast of Rogation, which was concerned with purifying and blessing the parish and fields and which took the place of the Robigalia on April 25 of the Christian calendar. The Church Father Tertullian mocks the goddess Robigo as "made up," a fiction.
- The ludi cursoribus are mentioned in the Fasti Praenestini; see Elaine Fantham, Ovid: Fasti Book IV (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 263.
- Mary Beard, J.A. North and S.R.F. Price. Religions of Rome: A History (Cambridge University Press, 1998), vol. 1, p. 45.
- Rhiannon Evans, Utopia antiqua: Readings of the Golden Age and Decline at Rome (Routledge, 2008), pp. 185–188.
- Varro, De lingua latina 6.16.
- A.M. Franklin, The Lupercalia (New York, 1921), p. 74.
- Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 5.12.14: In istis autem diis, quos placari oportet, uti mala a nobis vel a frugibus natis amoliantur, Auruncus quoque habetur et Robigus ("Auruncus and Robigus are also regarded as among those gods whom it is a duty to placate so that they deflect the malign influences away from us or the harvests"); Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult (University of Illinois Press, 2006), p. 234.
- In addition to Varro, Verrius Flaccus (CIL 1: 236, 316) and others hold that he is male; Ovid, Columella (see following), Augustine, and Tertullian regard the deity as female. A.J. Boyle and R.D. Woodard, Ovid: Fasti (Penguin Books, 2000), p. 254 online.
- Vergil, Georgics 1.151. The 4th-century agricultural writer Palladius devotes a chapter contra nebulas et rubiginem, on preventing miasma and mildew (1.35).
- Columella, De re rustica 10.337–343.
- C. Bennett Pascal, "October Horse," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 85 (1981), pp. 275–276; general discussion of victims' edibility by Hendrik Wagenvoort, "Profanus, profanare," in Pietas: Selected Studies in Roman Religion (Brill, 1980), pp. 25–38.
- David Soren, "Hecate and the Infant Cemetery at Poggio Gramignano," in A Roman Villa and a Late Roman Infant Cemetery («L'Erma» di Bretschneider, 1999), pp. 619–621.
- Plutarch, Roman Questions 68; Eli Edward Burriss, "The Place of the Dog in Superstition as Revealed in Latin Literature," Classical Philology 30 (1935), pp. 34–35.
- Boyle and Woodard, Ovid: Fasti, p. 255.
- Davide Del Bello, Forgotten Paths: Etymology and the Allegorical Mindset (Catholic University of America Press, 2007), passim.
- Burriss, "The Place of the Dog in Superstition, pp. 34–35.
- Fowler, Roman Festivals, pp. 90–91.
- This dual function of Mars, contradictory perhaps to the 21st-century mind, may not have seemed so to the Romans: "In early Rome agriculture and military activity were closely bound up, in the sense that the Roman farmer was also a soldier (and a voter as well)": Beard, Religions of Rome, pp. 47–48 online and 53. See also Evans, Utopia antiqua, p. 188 online.
- William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London, 1908), p. 89.
- Precise naming, in connection with concealing a deity's true name to monopolize his or her power, was a crucial part of prayer in antiquity, as evidenced not only in the traditional religions of Greece and Rome and syncretistic Hellenistic religion and mystery cult, but also in Judaism, ancient Egyptian religion, and later Christianity. See Matthias Klinghardt, “Prayer Formularies for Public Recitation: Their Use and Function in Ancient Religion,” Numen 46 (1999) 1–5; A.A. Barb, "Antaura. The Mermaid and the Devil's Grandmother: A Lecture," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966), p. 4; Karen Hartnup, On the Beliefs of the Greeks: Leo Allatios and Popular Orthodoxy (Brill, 2004), pp. 97–101 online (in connection with compelling demons). Augustine of Hippo derided the proliferation of divinities as a turba minutorum deorum, "a mob of mini-gods" (De civitate Dei 4.9, dea Robigo among them at 4.21); see W.R. Johnson, "The Return of Tutunus," Arethusa (1992) 173–179. See also indigitamenta.
- Boyle and Woodard, Ovid: Fasti, p. 254; Beard, Religions of Rome, p. 106, note 129; Woodward, Indo-European Sacred Space, p. 136.
- Tertullian, De spectaculis 5: Numa Pompilius Marti et Robigini fecit ("Numa Pompilius established [games] for Mars and Robigo").
- Ovid, Fasti 4.905–942; Boyle and Woodard, Ovid: Fasti, pp. 254–255 et passim on the nature of this work.
- William Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People (London, 1922), p. 108; Tertullian, De spectaculis 5.
- Pliny, Natural History 18.285.
- Franklin, Lupercalia, p. 75. The name Quirinus was supposed to derive from the Sabine town of Cures. In his notes to Aeneid 1.292 and 6.859, Servius says that "when Mars rages uncontrolled (saevit), he is called Gradivus; when he is calm (tranquillus), he is called Quirinus." Therefore, since Quirinus is the "Mars" who presides over peace, his temple is within the city; the temple for the "Mars of war" is located outside the city limit. The name was also connected to Quirites, Roman civilians, and the civil comitia curiata, in contrast to military personnel and the comitia centuriata. Quirinus was assimilated with the deified Romulus, possibly as late as the Augustan period. See Robert Schilling, "Quirinus," Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), p. 145.
- Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space, p. 234.
- CIL 12 pp. 236, 316), as cited by Woodard.
- Fasti Praenestini; Tertullian, De spectaculis 5; Fantham, Ovid: Fasti Book IV, p. 263.
- Jean-Paul Thuillier, "Le cirrus et la barbe. Questions d'iconographie athlétique romaine," Mélanges de l'École française de Rome. Antiquité 110.1 (1998), p. 377.
- Pueri lenonii, boys managed by a leno, pimp.
- Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality (Oxford University Press, 1999, 2010), p. 32 online.
- Beard, Religions of Rome, p. 45.
- Varro, De lingua latina 6.15–16; Fantham, Fasti, p. 29.
- Daniel T. Reff, Plagues, Priests, and Demons: Sacred Narratives and the Rise of Christianity in the Old World and the New (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 100.
- Tertullian, De spectaculis 5 (nam et robiginis deam finxerunt, "you see, they even make up a goddess of wheat disease"); Woodward, Indo-European Sacred Space, p. 136.
- Alessandro Locchi, “Lucus Robiginis in Acqua Traversa”. Un antichissimo culto al V miglio della via Clodia, in Emergenze storico-archeologiche di un settore del suburbio di Roma: la Tenuta dell’Acqua Traversa. Atti della Giornata di Studio, Roma 7 giugno 2003, a cura di F. Vistoli, Roma 2005, pp. 151–170.
- Fabrizio Vistoli, Nota di aggiornamento critico e bibliografico sui Robigalia, in La Parola del Passato, LXIV, 1 (CCCLXIV), 2009, pp. 35–46.
- Video of a modern festival of Robigalia in Piauí, Brazil