The Cerealia was the culmination of a week-long festival (April 12-19) in honor of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. She represented the earth-mother in connection to the growth of crops, and cereal grains in particular. She was looked upon by the Romans much in the same light as Tellus, the goddess of the earth. Like many other festivals originally celebrated for only one day, the Cerealia was extended over an entire week and made to embrace the ancient festival of the Fordicidia (April 15), when a sacrifice of unborn calves was made to Tellus.
Ceres was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, sister of Jupiter and Pluto, and mother of Proserpina. She is the equivalent of the goddess Demeter in Greek mythology. Her cult is said to have been received from Sicily by the Romans in 496 BC during a devastating famine, when the Sibylline oracles advised the adoption of the Greek goddess and her daughter Kore.
As the foreign Megalesia honoring Cybele was especially appropriated by the nobles, so the festival of the Roman goddess of agriculture belonged peculiarly to the plebeians, who dominated the corn trade. Little is known about the rituals of her worship, but one of the few customs which has been recorded was the peculiar practice of tying lighted brands to the tails of foxes which were then let loose in the Circus Maximus. The wanderings of Ceres in search of her lost daughter Proserpina were represented by women, clothed in white, running about with lighted torches.
The temple of Ceres in Rome was situated on the Aventine hill, and a flamen Cerealis assisted in her worship. Her cult acquired considerable political importance at Rome. The decrees of the senate were deposited in her temple for the inspection of the tribunes of the people, and the property of traitors against the republic was often consigned to her temple.
A week of games in honor of Ceres (ludi Cereales) took place in the Circus Maximus. They were established in 202 BC, and plays were added by 190 BC.