In ancient Roman religion
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

, the Parilia is an agricultural festival performed annually on April 21, aimed at cleansing both sheep and shepherd. It is carried out in acknowledgment to the Roman deity Pales
In Roman mythology, Pales was a deity of shepherds, flocks and livestock. Regarded as a male by some sources and a female by others, and even possibly as a pair of deities ....

, a deity of uncertain gender who was a patron of shepherds and sheep. While the festival seems to have originated before the founding of Rome
Founding of Rome
The founding of Rome is reported by many legends, which in recent times are beginning to be supplemented by scientific reconstructions.- Development of the city :...

 in 753 BC, most references note a distinction between the rural and urban forms, illustrating the combination of the ceremony with other aspects of Roman religion in the urban setting. The Parilia is described in Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

's Fasti, an elegiac poem on the religious calendar of ancient Rome
Roman festivals
In ancient Roman religion, holidays were celebrated to worship and celebrate a certain god or divine event, and consisted of religious observances and festival traditions, usually with a large feast, and often featuring games . The most important festivals were the Saturnalia, the Consualia, the...



The rural structure of the festival is carried out by the shepherd himself. After the sheep pen had been decorated with green branches and a wreath draped on the gate, the remainder of the ceremony took place in a sequential fashion. At the first sign of daylight, the shepherd would purify the sheep: by sweeping the pen and then constructing a bonfire of straw, olive branches, laurel
Bay Laurel
The bay laurel , also known as sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is the source of the bay leaf used in cooking...

, and sulfur. The noises produced by this burning combination were interpreted as a beneficial omen. The shepherd would jump through this flame, dragging his sheep along with him. Offerings of millet
The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult...

, cakes, and milk were then presented before Pales
In Roman mythology, Pales was a deity of shepherds, flocks and livestock. Regarded as a male by some sources and a female by others, and even possibly as a pair of deities ....

, marking the second segment of the ceremony. After these offerings, the shepherd would wet his hands with dew, face the east, and repeat a prayer four times. Such prayers requested Pales’ assistance in freeing the shepherd and the flock from evils brought about by accidental wrongdoings (e.g. trespassing on sacred grounds and removing water from a sacred water source). The final portion of the rural festival made use of the beverage burranica, a combination of milk and sapa
Sapa may refer to:* Sapë, a town in Albania* Roman Catholic Diocese of Sapë, one of six such diocese of Albania* SAPA - the national news agency of South Africa* Sapa Group, a Swedish-based aluminium company...

 (boiled wine). After consumption of this beverage, the shepherd would leap through the fire three times, bringing and end to the ceremony.

The urban form of the Parilia, on the other hand, is blended with other Roman religious practices and carried out by a priest. Ovid personally participated in this form and describes his experiences in the Fasti. While the central actions of the rural ceremony carry over, the urban form adds two ingredients from other religious festivals: the Fordicidia and the October Horse. The Fordicidia
In ancient Roman religion, the Fordicidia was a festival of fertility, held April 15, that pertained to animal husbandry. It involved the sacrifice of a pregnant cow to Tellus, or Mother Earth, in proximity to the festival of Ceres on April 19....

 sacrifices a pregnant cow to the deity Tellus
Tellus is a Latin word meaning "earth" and may refer to:* Terra or Terra Mater, the Roman Earth Mother goddess* Tellus , a citizen of ancient Athens who was thought to be the happiest of men...

 to promote cattle and field fertility. The unborn calf is then removed from the womb and burnt. The October Horse is the right hand horse of the team that won a particular chariot race on October 15 of the previous year. Together, the ashes of the unborn calf and the blood from the head of the October Horse are mixed by the Vestals and are added to the burning bean straw of the bonfire. Dumézil questioned whether the Equus October provided the horse blood, since the two ancient sources that mention the ingredient omit any specific identification of the horse.


By the end of the late Republic, the Parilia became associated with the birthday of Rome. Numerous accounts of the founding of Rome exist, but the particular one related to the Parilia is described by Ovid in the Fasti
In ancient Rome, the fasti were chronological or calendar-based lists, or other diachronic records or plans of official and religiously sanctioned events...

. According to this myth, Romulus
- People:* Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome* Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor* Valerius Romulus , deified son of the Roman emperor Maxentius* Romulus , son of the Western Roman emperor Anthemius...

, upon reaching Rome on the day of the Parilia, took a stick and engraved a line in the ground (the pomerium) that defined the boundaries of the new city. He then prayed to the gods Jupiter
Jupiter (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter or Jove is the king of the gods, and the god of the sky and thunder. He is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon....

, Mars
Mars (mythology)
Mars was the Roman god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter, and he was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions...

, and Vesta
Vesta (mythology)
Vesta was the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion. Vesta's presence was symbolized by the sacred fire that burned at her hearth and temples...

 asking for protection of this area. However, his brother Remus
Remus is the twin brother of the mythical founder of Rome.Remus may also refer to:* Remus , a fictional planet in Star Trek* Remus , a moon of the asteroid 87 Sylvia...

, unaware of the boundaries, crossed the line and was struck down by the god Celer
According to Ovid's description of the founding of Rome by Romulus , Celer was the name of an otherwise unknown foreman, appointed by Romulus to oversee the building of Rome's first walls...


Over time, and under the influence of several Roman rulers, the structure of the Parilia changed. First, after Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 heard the news of Roman Victory at Munda
Battle of Munda
The Battle of Munda took place on March 17, 45 BC in the plains of Munda, modern southern Spain. This was the last battle of Julius Caesar's civil war against the republican armies of the Optimate leaders...

 in 45 BC (around the date of the Parilia), he added games to the ceremony. At these games, the citizens would wear crowns in Caesar’s honor. Secondly, in 121 AD Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

founded a new temple of Venus and Roma and changed the festival’s name to Romaea. The temple was ruined.
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