Pliny describes a secluded suite of rooms in his Laurentine villa , which he used as a retreat: " This way I don't hamper the games of my people and they don't hinder my work or studies. The Sigillaria on 19 December was a day of gift-giving. Some emperors were noted for their devoted observance of the Sigillaria. In a practice that might be compared to modern greeting cards , verses sometimes accompanied the gifts. Martial has a collection of poems written as if to be attached to gifts. Gift-giving was not confined to the day of the Sigillaria.
In some households, guests and family members received gifts after the feast in which slaves had shared. Imperial sources refer to a Saturnalicius princeps "Ruler of the Saturnalia" , who ruled as master of ceremonies for the proceedings.
He was appointed by lot, and has been compared to the medieval Lord of Misrule at the Feast of Fools. His capricious commands, such as "Sing naked! The future emperor Nero is recorded as playing the role in his youth. Since this figure does not appear in accounts from the Republican period , the princeps of the Saturnalia may have developed as a satiric response to the new era of rule by a princeps , the title assumed by the first emperor Augustus to avoid the hated connotations of the word "king" rex.
Art and literature under Augustus celebrated his reign as a new Golden Age, but the Saturnalia makes a mockery of a world in which law is determined by one man and the traditional social and political networks are reduced to the power of the emperor over his subjects. The phrase io Saturnalia was the characteristic shout or salutation of the festival, originally commencing after the public banquet on the single day of 17 December. It was a strongly emotive ritual exclamation or invocation, used for instance in announcing triumph or celebrating Bacchus , but also to punctuate a joke.
As an observance of state religion, Saturnalia was supposed to have been held ante diem xvi Kalendas Ianuarias , sixteen days before the Kalends of January, on the oldest Roman religious calendar ,  which the Romans believed to have been established by the legendary founder Romulus and his successor Numa Pompilius. It was a dies festus , a legal holiday when no public business could be conducted.
It was felt, however, that the original day had thus been moved by two days, and so Saturnalia was celebrated under Augustus as a three-day official holiday encompassing both dates. By the late Republic , the private festivities of Saturnalia had expanded to seven days,   but during the Imperial period contracted variously to three to five days. The date 17 December was the first day of the astrological sign Capricorn , the house of Saturn, the planet named for the god.
The Saturnalia reflects the contradictory nature of the deity Saturn himself: "There are joyful and utopian aspects of careless well-being side by side with disquieting elements of threat and danger. As a deity of agricultural bounty, Saturn embodied prosperity and wealth in general. The name of his consort Ops meant "wealth, resources".
Her festival, Opalia , was celebrated on 19 December.
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The Temple of Saturn housed the state treasury aerarium Saturni and was the administrative headquarters of the quaestors , the public officials whose duties included oversight of the mint. It was among the oldest cult sites in Rome, and had been the location of "a very ancient" altar ara even before the building of the first temple in BC.
The Romans regarded Saturn as the original and autochthonous ruler of the Capitolium ,  and the first king of Latium or even the whole of Italy. Roman mythology of the Golden Age of Saturn's reign differed from the Greek tradition. He arrived in Italy "dethroned and fugitive",  but brought agriculture and civilization and became a king.
As the Augustan poet Virgil described it:. Under his reign were the golden ages men tell of: in such perfect peace he ruled the nations. The third century Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry took an allegorical view of the Saturnalia. He saw the festival's theme of liberation and dissolution as representing the "freeing of souls into immortality"—an interpretation that Mithraists may also have followed, since they included many slaves and freedmen.
The Mishna and Talmud Avodah Zara 8a describe a pagan festival called Saturna which occurs for eight days before the winter solstice. It is followed for eight days after the solstice with a festival called Kalenda culminating with the Kalends of January. The Talmud ascribes the origins of this festival to Adam , who saw that the days were getting shorter and thought it was punishment for his sin.
He was afraid that the world was returning to the chaos and emptiness that existed before creation. He sat and fasted for eight days. Once he saw that the days were getting longer again he realized that this was the natural cycle of the world, so made eight days of celebration.
The Talmud states that this festival was later turned into a pagan festival. Unlike several Roman religious festivals which were particular to cult sites in the city, the prolonged seasonal celebration of Saturnalia at home could be held anywhere in the Empire. The actual date of Jesus 's birth is unknown,   but, in the fourth century AD, Pope Julius I — formalized that it should be celebrated on 25 December,   around the same time as the Saturnalia celebrations.
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As a result of the close proximity of dates, many Christians in western Europe continued to celebrate traditional Saturnalia customs in association with Christmas and the surrounding holidays. During the late medieval period and early Renaissance , many towns in England elected a " Lord of Misrule " at Christmas time to preside over the Feast of Fools. Nonetheless, in the middle of the nineteenth century, some of the old ceremonies, such as gift-giving, were revived in English-speaking countries as part of a widespread "Christmas revival".
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Saturnalia disambiguation. Saturnalia by Antoine Callet , showing his interpretation of what the Saturnalia might have looked like. See also: Religion in ancient Rome.
For at this festival, in houses that keep to proper religious usage, they first of all honor the slaves with a dinner prepared as if for the master; and only afterwards is the table set again for the head of the household. So, then, the chief slave came in to announce the time of dinner and to summon the masters to the table. Main article: Sigillaria ancient Rome.
Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. On Greek Religion. Retrieved The Classical Tradition. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. See Versnel , pp. Wiedemann , Emperors and Gladiators Routledge, , , p. For another Roman ritual that may represent human sacrifice, see Argei. Horace similarly sets Satire 2. See also Dolansky , p. Fowler thought the use of candles influenced the Christmas rituals of the Latin Church , and compared the symbolism of the candles to the Yule log.
Vermaseren Brill, , vol. See Aulus Gellius A Christmas Compendium.
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London, England: Ebury Press. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Stein, G. Stevenson, R. Wells, H. The Roman Saturnalia. The Golden Bough. W E have seen that many peoples have been used to observe an annual period of license, when the customary restraints of law and morality are thrown aside, when the whole population give themselves up to extravagant mirth and jollity, and when the darker passions find a vent which would never be allowed them in the more staid and sober course of ordinary life.
Such outbursts of the pent-up forces of human nature, too often degenerating into wild orgies of lust and crime, occur most commonly at the end of the year, and are frequently associated, as I have had occasion to point out, with one or other of the agricultural seasons, especially with the time of sowing or of harvest. Now, of all these periods of license the one which is best known and which in modern language has given its name to the rest, is the Saturnalia.
This famous festival fell in December, the last month of the Roman year, and was popularly supposed to commemorate the merry reign of Saturn, the god of sowing and of husbandry, who lived on earth long ago as a righteous and beneficent king of Italy, drew the rude and scattered dwellers on the mountains together, taught them to till the ground, gave them laws, and ruled in peace. His reign was the fabled Golden Age: the earth brought forth abundantly: no sound of war or discord troubled the happy world: no baleful love of lucre worked like poison in the blood of the industrious and contented peasantry.
Slavery and private property were alike unknown: all men had all things in common. At last the good god, the kindly king, vanished suddenly; but his memory was cherished to distant ages, shrines were reared in his honour, and many hills and high places in Italy bore his name.
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