In ancient Roman religion, the Lucaria was a festival of the grove (Latin lucus) held July 19 and 21. The original meaning of the ritual was obscure by the time of Varro (mid-1st century BC), who omits it in his list of festivals.[1] The deity for whom it was celebrated is unknown;[2] if a ritual for grove-clearing recorded by Cato pertains to this festival, the invocation was deliberately anonymous (Si deus, si dea).[3] The dates of the Lucaria are recorded in the Fasti Amiterni, a calendar dating from the reign of Tiberius found at Amiternum (now S. Vittorino) in Sabine territory.[4]

The Augustan grammarian Verrius Flaccus[5] connected the Lucaria to the disastrous defeat of the Romans by the Gauls at the Battle of the Allia, which was fought on July 18. The festival, he says, was celebrated in the large grove between the Via Salaria and the Tiber river, where the Romans who survived the battle had hidden. The Via Salaria crossed the battlefield about 10 miles north of Rome.[6] The lucus thus would have been located on the Pincian Hill, which was later cultivated as gardens and leisure parks by Lucullus, Pompeius, Sallust and others.[7] This explanatory story has been compared to that of the Poplifugia, which also involved the Gallic sack of Rome.[8] The story may be more aetiological than historical.[9] The Lucaria suggests that grove veneration was a practice which the early Romans had in common with the Gauls.[10]

Like other "fixed holidays" (dies nefasti publici) on the Roman calendar, the Lucaria took place on days of uneven number, with an intervening day that was "non-festive".[11] A mention by Macrobius[12] seems to imply that the festival began at night and continued the following day.[13] Georg Wissowa thought that it may have been connected to the Neptunalia on July 23, when leafy huts, called umbrae, were built as shelters to protect against the hot summer sun and bulls were sacrificed.[14] Neptune embodied fresh as well as salt water among the Romans, and the collocation of festivals in July, including also the Furrinalia on the 25th, may express concerns for drought.[15]

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  1. ^ Varro, De lingua latina 6.3.
  2. ^ Kurt Latte, Römische Religionsgeschicte (C.H. Beck, 1992), p. 88.
  3. ^ Cato, On Agriculture 139; Robert E.A. Palmer, The Archaic Community of the Romans (Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 106.
  4. ^ Jörg Rüpke, Religion of the Romans (Polity Press, 2007, originally published in German 2001), p. 189
  5. ^ As recorded by Festus: Lucaria festa in luco colebant Romani, qui permagnus inter viam Salariam et Tiberim fuit, pro eo, quod victi e Gallis fugientes e praelio ibi se occultaverint.
  6. ^ William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London, 1908), p. 182.
  7. ^ Fowler, Roman Festivals, p. 183.
  8. ^ Fowler, Roman Festivals, pp. 182–183.
  9. ^ Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Routledge, 2000), p. 107.
  10. ^ Martin Henig, Religion in Roman Britain (Taylor & Francis, 1984, 2005), p. 15.
  11. ^ Michael Lipka, Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach (Brill, 2009), pp. 38–39
  12. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.4.15.
  13. ^ According to Julius Caesar, Bellum Gallicum 6.18, the Gauls regularly reckoned time by nights rather than days: "They compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night" (spatia omnis temporis non numero dierum sed noctium finiunt; dies natales et mensum et annorum initia sic observant ut noctem dies subsequatur).
  14. ^ Sarolta A. Takács, Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion (University of Texas Press, 2008), p. 53.
  15. ^ Robert Schilling, "Neptune," Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), p. 138.