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 p528  Feriae

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp528‑530 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

FE′RIAE, holidays, were, generally speaking, days, or seasons during which free-born Romans suspended their political transactions and their law-suits, and during which slaves enjoyed a cessation from labour (Cic. de Leg. II.8.12, de Div. I.45). All feriae were thus dies nefasti. The feriae included all days consecrated to any deity: consequently all days on which public festivals were celebrated were feriae or dies feriati. But some of them, such as the feria vindemialia, and the feriae aestivae, seem to have had no direct connection with the worship of the gods. The nundinae, however, during the time of the kings and the early period of the republic, were feriae only for the populus, and days of business for the plebeians, until, by the Hortensian law, they became fasti or days of business for both orders (Macrob. Sat. I.16; compare Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. II, p213, &c.; Walter, Geschichte d. Röm. Rechts, p190).

All feriae were divided into two classes, feriae publicae and feriae privatae. The latter were only observed by single families or individuals, in commemoration of some particular event which had been of importance to them or their ancestors. As family feriae, are mentioned the feriae Claudiae, Aemiliae, Juliae, Corneliae, &c., and we must suppose that all the great Roman families had their particular feriae, as they had their private sacra. Among the family-holidays we may also mention the feriae denicales, i.e., the day on which a family, after having lost one of its members by death, underwent a purification (Festus, s.v.; Cic. de Leg. II.22; Columell. II.21). Individuals kept feriae on their birthdays, and other occasions which marked any memorable event of their lives. During the time of the empire the birthday of an emperor sometimes assumed the character of a public holiday, and was celebrated by the whole nation with games and sacrifices. Thus the birthday of Augustus, called Augustalia, was celebrated with great splendour even in the time of Dion Cassius (LIV.34, LVI.46). The day on which Augustus had returned from his wars was likewise for a long time made a holiday of (Tacit. Ann. I.15, with the note of Lipsius; Dion Cass. LIV.10). The dies natalicii of the cities of Rome and Constantinople were at a still later period likewise reckoned among the feriae (Cod.3 tit. 12 s6).

All feriae publicae, i.e. those which were observed by the whole nation, were divided into feriae stativae, feriae conceptivae, and feriae imperativae. Feriae stativae or statae were those which were held regularly, and on certain days marked in the calendar (Festus, s.v.; Macrob. l.c.). To these belonged some of the great festivals, such as the Agonalia, Carmentalia, Lupercalia, &c. Feriae conceptivae or conceptae were held every year, but not on certain or fixed days, the time being every year appointed by the magistrates or priests (quotannis a magistratibus vel sacerdotibus concipiuntur, Macrob. l.c.; Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.25, &c.; Festus, s.v.). Among these we may mention the feriae Latinae, feriae Sementivae, Paganalia, and Compitalia. Feriae imperativae are those which were held on certain emergencies at the command of the consuls, praetors, or of a dictator. The books of Livy record many feriae imperativae, which were chiefly held in order to avert the dangers which some extraordinary prodigy seemed to forebode, but also after great victories (Liv. I.31, III.5, VII.28, XXXV.40, XLII.3; Polyb. XXI.1). They frequently lasted for several days, the number of which depended upon the importance of the event which was the cause of their celebration. But whenever a rain of stones was believed to have happened, the anger of the gods was appeased by a sacrum novemdiale, or feriae per novumº dies.​a This number of days had been fixed at the time when this prodigy had first been observed (Liv. I.31). Respecting the legitimate forms in which the feriae conceptivae and imperativae were announced and appointed, see Brisson. de Form. p107, &c.

The manner in which all public feriae were kept bears great analogy to our Sunday. The people generally visited the temples of the gods, and offered up their prayers and sacrifices. The most serious and solemn seem to have been the feriae imperativae, but all the others were generally attended by rejoicings and feasting. All kinds of business, especially law-suits, were suspended during the public feriae, as they were considered to  p529 the sacred season; the rex sacrorum and the flamines were not even allowed to behold any work being done during the feriae; hence, when they went out, they were preceded by their heralds (praeciae, praeclamitatores, or calatores), who enjoined the people to abstain from working, that the sanctity of the day might not be polluted by the priests seeing persons at work (Festus, s.v. Praecia; Macrob. l.c.; compare Serv. ad Virg. Georg. V.268; Plut. Numa, c14). Those who neglected this admonition were not only liable to a fine, but in case their disobedience was intentional, their crime was considered to be beyond the power of any atonement; whereas those who had unconsciously continued their work, might atone for their transgression by offering a pig. It seems that doubts as to what kinds of work might be done at public feriae were not unfrequent, and we possess some curious and interesting decisions given by Roman pontiffs on this subject. One Umbro declared it to be no violation of the feriae, if a person who did such work as had reference to the gods, or was connected with the offering of sacrifices; all work, he moreover declared, was allowed which was necessary to supply the urgent wants of human life. The pontiff Scaevola, when asked what kind of work might be done on a dies feriatus, answered that any work might be done, if any suffering or injury should be the result of neglect or delay, e.g., if an ox should fall into a pit, the owner might employ workmen to lift it out; or if a house threatened to fall down, the inhabitants might take such measures as would prevent its falling, without polluting the feriae (Macrob. l.c. and III.3; Virg. Georg. I.270, with the remarks of J. H. Voss; Cato, de Re Rust. 2; Columella, II.22; compare Math. XII.11; Luke xiv.5). Respecting the various kinds of legal affairs which might be brought before the praetor on days of public feriae, see Digest. 2 tit. 12 s2.

It seems to have been owing to the immense increase of the Roman republic and of the accumulation of business arising therefrom, that some of the feriae such as the Compitalia and Lupercalia, in the course of time ceased to be observed, until they were restored by Augustus, who revived many of the ancient religious rites and ceremonies (Suet. Aug. 31). Marcus Antoninus again increased the number of days of business (dies fasti) to 230, and the remaining days were feriae (Capitol. M. Anton. Phil. c10). After the introduction of Christianity in the Roman empire, the old feriae were abolished, and the Sabbath, together with the Christian festivals, were substituted; but the manner in which they were kept was nearly the same as that in which the feriae had been observed. Law-suits were accordingly illegal on Sundays and holidays, though a master might emancipate his slave if he liked (Cod. 3 tit. 12). All work and all political as well as judicial proceedings, were suspended; but the country people were allowed freely and unrestrainedly to apply themselves to their agricultural labours, which seem at all times to have been distinguished from and thought superior to all other kinds of work; for, as mentioned below, certain feriae were instituted merely for the purpose of enabling the country-people to follow their rural occupations without being interrupted by law-suits and other public transactions.

After this general view of the Roman feriae, we shall proceed to give a short account of those festivals and holidays which were designated by the name of feriae.

Feriae Latinae, or simply Latinae (the original name was Latiar, Macrob. l.c.; Cic. ad Quint. Frat. II.4), had, according to the Roman legends, been instituted by the last Tarquin in commemoration of the alliance between the Romans and Latins (Dionys. Hal. IV. p250, Sylb.). But Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, II. p34) has shown that the festival, which was originally a panegyris of the Latins, is of much higher antiquity; for we find it stated that the towns of the Priscans and Latins received their shares of the sacrifice on the Alban mount — which was the place of its celebration — along with the Albans and the thirty towns of the Alban commonwealth. All that the last Tarquin did was to convert the original Latin festival into a Roman one, and to make it the means of hallowing and cementing the alliance between the two nations. Before the union, the chief magistrate of the Latins had presided at the festival; but Tarquin now assumed this distinction, which subsequently, after the destruction of the Latin commonwealth, remained with the chief magistrates of Rome (Liv. V.17). The object of this panegyris on the Alban mount was the worship of Jupiter Latiaris, and, at least as long as the Latin republic existed, to deliberate and decide on matters of the confederacy, and to settle any disputes which might have arisen among its members. As the feriae Latinae belonged to the conceptivae, the time of their celebration greatly depended on the state of affairs at Rome, as the consuls were never allowed to take the field until they had held the Latinae (Liv. XXI.63, XXII.1, XXV.12). This festival was a great engine in the hands of the magistrates, who had to appoint the time of its celebration (concipere, edicere, or indicere Latinas); as it might often suit their purpose either to hold the festival at a particular time or delay it, in order to prevent or delay such public proceedings as seemed injurious and pernicious, and to promote others to which they were favourably disposed. This feature, however, the feriae Latinae had in common with all the other feriae conceptivae. Whenever any of the forms or ceremonies customary at the Latinae had been neglected, the consuls had the right to propose to the senate, or the college of pontiffs, that their celebration should be repeated (instaurari, Cic. ad Quint. Frat. II.4; Liv. XXII.1, XLI.16). Respecting the duration of the feriae Latinae, the common opinion formerly was, that at first they only lasted for one day, to which subsequently a second, a third, and a fourth were added (Dionys. Hal. VI. p415, Sylb.); but it is clear that this supposition was founded on a confusion of the feriae Latinae with the Ludi Maximi, and that they lasted for six days; one for each decury of the Alban and Latin towns (Niebuhr, Hist of Rome, II. p35; comp. Liv. VI.42; Plut. Camill. 42). The festive season was attended by a sacred truce, and no battle was allowed to be fought during those days (Dionys. Hal. IV. p250, Sylb.; Macrob. l.c.). In early times, during the alliance of the Romans and Latins, the chief magistrates of both nations met on the Alban mount, and conducted the solemnities, at which the Romans, however, had the presidency. But afterwards the Romans alone conducted the celebration, and offered the  p530 common sacrifice of an ox to Jupiter Latiaris, in the name and on behalf of all who took part in it. The flesh of the victim was distributed among the several towns whose common sanctuary stood on the Alban mount (Dionys. Hal. l.c.; Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.25; Schol. Bobiens. in Cic. Orat. pro Planc. p255, &c. Orelli). Besides the common sacrifice of an ox, the several towns offered each separately lambs, cheeses, or a certain quantity of milk (Cic. de Div. I.11), or cakes. Multitudes flocked to the Alban mount on the occasion, and the season was one of great rejoicings and feasting. Various kinds of games were not wanting, among which may be mentioned the oscillatio (swinging, Festus, s.v. Oscillum). It was a symbolic game, and the legend respecting its origin shows that it was derived from the Latins. Pliny (H. N. XXVII.2) mentions that during the Latin holidays a race of four-horse chariots (quadrigae certant) took place on the Capitol, in which the victor received a draught of absynthium.

Although the Roman consuls were always present on the Alban mount, and conducted the solemn sacrifice of an ox, yet we read that the superintendence of the Latinae, like that of other festivals, was given by the senate to the Aediles, who, therefore, probably conducted the minor sacrifices, the various games, and other solemnities (Dionys. Hal. VI. p415). While the consuls were engaged on the Alban mount, their place at Rome was filled by the praefectus urbi. [Praefectus Urbi.]

The two days following the celebration of the Latin holidays were considered as dies religiosi, so that no marriages could be contracted (Cic. ad Quint. Frat. II.4). From Dion Cassius we see that in his time the Feriae Latinae were still strictly observed by the Romans, whereas the Latin towns had, at the time of Cicero, almost entirely given up taking any part in them. The Romans seemed to have continued to keep them down to the fourth century of our era (Lactant. Institut. I.21).

Feriae Sementivae, or Sementina dies, was kept in seed-time for the purpose of praying for a good crop; it lasted only for one day, which was fixed by the pontiffs (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.26, de Re Rust. I.2, init.; Ovid, Fast. I.658, &c.).

Feria vindemialis lasted from the 22d of August to the 15th of October, and was instituted for the purpose of enabling the country-people to get in the fruits of the field and to hold the vintage (Codex, 3 12).

Feriae aestivae were holidays kept during the hottest season of summer, when many of the wealthier Romans left the city and went into the country (Gellius, IX.15 §1). They seem to have been the same as the messis feria (Cod. 3 tit. 12 s2, 6), and lasted from the 24th of June till the 1st of August.

Feriae praecidaneae are said to have been preparatory days, or such as preceded the ordinary feriae; although they did not belong to the feriae, and often even were dies atri, they were on certain occasions inaugurated by the chief pontiff, and thus made feriae (Gellius, IV.6).​b

Thayer's Notes:

a The term (often in the Italian form novendiali) is still in use in religion today, in the Catholic Church; it is the nine-day span after the death of a Pope, set aside for his funeral and related observances, before the conclave.

b But see, on the linked page, J. C. Rolfe's note to the passage of Gellius cited here; our dictionary author may have overreached himself.

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