The worship of Flora, an ancient Italian goddess of spring and flowers, was said to have been introduced by Numa. Following a drought in 241 or 238 BC, a consultation of the Sibylline Books prescribed the building of her temple. It was located on the lower slopes of the Aventine hill, in the vicinity of the Circus Maximus, and was dedicated on April 28. (She had a second temple on the Quirinal hill.) Games in her honor (Ludi Florae) were also instituted, but they were not held every year until 173 BC, when frequent damage to crops led to their annual performance. They were financed from fines exacted from encroachments on public lands and were overseen by the plebeian aediles.

Under the empire, the Floralia, or Florifertum, lasted for six days (April 28 - May 3), starting with theatrical performances and ending with Circus games and a sacrifice to Flora. The worship of a goddess of fertility naturally led to increasing licence and indecency. Prostitutes claimed the Floralia as their feast, and according to Juvenal, they performed naked and even fought in gladiatorial contests. During theatrical performances, audiences expected to be entertained with bawdy language and strip-tease acts.

Two special items marked the usual sports in the Circus: goats and hares were set loose and beans, vetches, and lupines were scattered among the crowd. All were symbols of fertility. Ovid mentions two other aspects of the Floralia. The festival was well lighted, and people wore multi-colored garments.

The names of certain flowers are associated with various Greek and Roman myths. Would you like to try your skill at a bit of floral trivia?

  • Additional information about Flora and her relation to other goddesses such as the Sabine Feronia and the Greek Chloris is given.
  • The Temple of Flora provides additional information about the goddess and her festival in other cultures such as Beltane, or May Day, in Celtic lands.
  • The site called Floralia, Rose, and Other Roman Gardens describes the floral displays and competitions in ancient Rome and provides links to modern Roman gardens.
  • A translation of Ovid's remarks about Flora is located at the Fellowship of Isis site by scrolling down to March 3rd.

    Some of the preceding information comes from Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, written by H. H. Scullard and published in 1981 by Cornell University Press (Ithaca, New York).

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