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T. II, Vol. 2

Article by J. A. Hild in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

FORDICIDIA. — A festival of the Roman calendar, also called Fordicalia, Hordicidia and Hordicalia;​1 its name derives from horda or forda, a country expression for a pregnant cow; it was celebrated on April 15th in honor of Tellus,​2 during the Cerealia and the Ambarvalia, a few days before the Palilia; it was part of an entire set of springtime ceremonies designed to provide for the fertility of the earth and of animals and the welfare of people. The main act of the Fordicidia consisted in a sacrifice of pregnant cows; the calves they were bearing were then burnt by the chief Vestal, no doubt on the hearth of the Regia, with bean straw; the ashes, mixed with the blood of the October horse [October equus] provided the suffimenta or februa casta distributed to the people for the celebration of the Palilia.3

The institution of this festival was attributed to king Numa, to whom the oracle of Faunus, interpreted by the nymph Egeria, was said to have revealed it as a remedy for a span of several lean years.​4 The Pontiffs and Vestals were involved in it as in all ceremonies that aimed at the common welfare of the city [Argei].​5 Sacrifices took place in each of the thirty Curiae, i.e., in the oldest meeting-places of the Roman people.​6 These several celebrations were brought together in a single common sacrifice at the Capitol and by the closing ceremony at the hearth of Vesta. The political character of the holiday was shared with the Fornacalia and the Paganalia.​7 The meaning of the festival is not in doubt; the burning of the stillborn calves is explained by the fact that the ear in the fields is still green.​8 The Greeks, after the harvest, had the sacrifice of a bull [Bouphonia], based on similar ideas.​9 Mannhardt relates this with a spring festival in China, where it is customary to carry around the clay figure of a cow, which is then smashed: from its stomach many small cows are pulled out, which are then distributed among the people as so many pledges of the year's fertility.10

The Author's Notes:

1 Varro, L. L. XI.15; Lyd. de Mens. IV.49; Varro, R. R. II.5.6 and the Calendars.

2 Cf. Arnob. VII.22, where one must read: Telluri gravidas atque fordas (instead of foetas) ob honorem fecunditatis ipsius.

3 Ov. Fast. IV.629‑672.

4 Ov. loc. cit. 641 ff.

5 J. Lyd. loc. cit. and Ov. op. cit. 639.

6 Varro, L. L. VI.15: Publice immolantur boves praegnantes in curiis complures . . . ; Ov. 635: Pars cadit arce Jovis. Lydus mentions in addition a ceremony outside the city: ἔξωθεν τῆς πόλεως, by which one should understand a procession in the fields of each curia; there may be a confusion on his part with the Ambarvalia.

7 Cf. Gilbert, Geschichte und Topographie der Stadt Rom, etc. II, p135 ff.

8 Preller-Jordan, Roem. Myth. II.6.

9 Unger, Philologus, XXV.6.

10 Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen, p189 ff.; id., Antike Wald und Feldkulte, p313 ff.

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