Mercury bronze

The month of May was named for Maia, the mother of Mercury. Not surprisingly, both were honored at the Mercuralia (May 15), considered to be Mercury's birthday.

The Lemuria (May 9, 11, 13) was one of several Roman festivals of the dead, but compared with the mild rituals of the Parentalia, Feralia, and Caristia, held in February, the Lemuria was a fearsome affair when ghosts walked around and had to be propitiated. Ovid records the private rites, but little is known of the public cult or the sacrifice offered.

The Rosalia (May 23) was a festival during which the Romans decorated tombs with wreaths and garlands of roses. (The Romans saw roses as a symbol of death and rebirth, and they often planted them on graves.) A list of military religious festivals, or feriale duranum, includes the Rosaliae Signorum in which the regimental standards were decorated with wreaths of roses.

The Ambarvalia (May 29) was a festival that was held to purify the fields before the sickle was put to the grain.

Here are details about some of the other Roman festivals that are celebrated this month.

  • The procession of the Argei (May14), a parade of human effigies made of bulrushes, ended with the figures being thrown into the Tiber river from the Sublician bridge.
  • A 3-day festival to honor Dea Dia (May 17, 19, 20), probably Ceres, was celebrated by the Arval Brethren with sacrifices to assure fertility of the earth.
  • The Tubilustrium (May 23), a repetition of the event in March, was designed to purify the trumpets used in summoning the assembly: Quando Rex Comitavit Fas  (Q.R.C.F.).
  • The Ambarvalia (May 29) was both a public and private purification ceremony that concerned the boundaries of ancient Rome and of individual farms.
  • A brief passage (page 63) in Death and Burial in the Roman World by Jocelyn M. C. Toynbee describes the role of roses in the cult of the dead.
  • A calendar for The Roman Month of Maius shows various festivals and other notable dates, like the Agonalia (May 21) and the formal dismissal of the Comitia: Q.R.C.F. (May 24).

    photo courtesy of VRoma

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