fallow fields

The Compitalia is a festival which marks the end of the agricultural year. It honors the lares compitales, the protective spirits of neighboring farms, or in an urban setting, of neighborhoods. It is a movable feast held between December 17 and January 5, probably dependent upon the weather. In Rome, it is celebrated on a day announced by the city praetor, usually between the 3rd and the 5th of January.

shrineIn rural areas, a shrine is erected at the crossroads where three or four farms meet. It is open on all four sides so the lar  of each farm can pass through. A broken plow is hung up at the shrine along with a wooden doll for each free person in the household and a woolen ball for every slave. Sacrifices consist of honey-cakes, which are presented by the inhabitants of each house. Also, garlic and poppies are offered to Mania, mother of the Lares, for the well-being of the household. The overseer of the farm (vilicus) officiates on this occasion, the only one he is so permitted.

Entries from William Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities  and other sources provide some additional information about agricultural holidays.

  • The Sementivae (or Paganalia) was a movable feast that was probably held around January 24-26. It may have been two different festivals since it was held on two days with an interval of seven days. It appears to have been a purification festival to protect the seed and sower. Offerings of wheat cakes and pork were made to Tellus on the first day and to Ceres on the second day.
  • The Terminalia was held on February 23 to honor Terminus, the god of boundary stones. Owners of convergent fields offered sacrifices and held a feast at selected boundaries.
  • At the Robigalia, held on April 25, a rust-colored dog was sacrificed to appease Robigus, the deity of mildew or grain rust.
  • The Ambarvalia was a movable feast held at the end of May, probably around May 29, to purify the crops. It involved worship of Ceres, Bacchus, and other agricultural deities. Sacrificial pigs, sheep, and oxen (suovetaurilia ) were led in procession around the old boundaries of Rome.

    Some of the preceding information comes from Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, written by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins and published in1994 by The Oxford University Press (New York).

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