Io Saturnalia! – Celebrating ‘The best of days’ in Ancient Rome

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Bing, Dec 17, 2018.

  1. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Happy Saturnalia, everyone! Or, as the Romans said, Io Saturnalia!

    I've extracted the following from internet sources. It's just a summary of the Roman celebrations

    December 17th was the official start of Saturnalia in the Roman Empire, and for seven days the Roman world, and especially Rome itself, experienced what can only be described as a carnival atmosphere.

    Saturnalia was basically a winter solstice festival in honor of the god Saturn, the chthonic (of the earth) Roman god of seed sowing.

    The festival of Saturnalia was originally a single day, but eventually ran from December 17th to December 23rd, ending on the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun. The three days from December 17th to the 19th were considered to be legal holidays.

    The festivities began on December 17th with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Forum.

    After the sacrifice, which may have been a suckling pig, there followed a grand public banquet, or convivium publicum, which was paid for by the state. A statue of Saturn was placed upon a couch for this event so that the god could preside over the festivities.

    As a festival of light, or the solstice, wax candles, or cerei, were lit everywhere and given as gifts.

    Another symbol of the season was holly, which was considered sacred to Saturn. Sprigs of this were also given as token gifts. Many other gifts were given at this time of year, mainly on December 19th, which was the day of the sigillaria, the day of gift-giving.

    In addition to the public celebrations of Saturnalia, the festivities continued at home.

    On December 18th and 19th, domestic rituals of the family were observed, such as bathing, and the common sacrifice of a suckling pig to Saturn.

    Gifts were given among the family on the day of the sigillaria, but also in the days to come.

    One interesting tradition was that the usual clothes worn by Romans, such as the toga or plain tunica, were discarded during Saturnalia in favor of colorful clothes known as synthesis, which were a mish-mash of patterns and
    colors. They were the Roman party clothes of Saturnalia! Along with the synthesis, Roman men also wore a felt or leather conical cap known as a pileus.

    Saturnalia was a time of role reversal, a time when the opposite of normal was acceptable.

    For instance, during Saturnalia gambling was permitted in public, with the stakes being either coins or, oddly enough, nuts!

    Overeating and drunkenness were common, as was guising, which was the wearing of masks or costumes to take on another persona.

    However, perhaps the most commonly known tradition of Saturnalia was the role reversal of masters and slaves. Traditionally, masters would serve their slaves a meal of the sort that they would usually enjoy, sigillaria would be given, and the slaves were even at liberty to insult their masters without fear of retribution.

    SO, Io Saturnalia to all

    AR Denarius
    OBVERSE: Head of Saturn facing right, harpa and legend PISO behind, CAEPIO and symbol below, Q below chin
    REVERSE: AD FRV EMV EX SC, the two quaestors seated left between 2 grain ears
    Struck at Rome 100 BC
    3.6g, 20mm
    Crawford 330/1a; Syd 6031

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  3. AnYangMan

    AnYangMan Well-Known Member

    Io Saturnalia! Wishing everyone here pleasant holidays, both Roman and those more contemporary :) And excellent overview and coin @Bing!

    For those who prefer a more visual explanation of the holiday; an excellent video from one of my favourite people on youtube (Historia Civilis):

  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Just a guy making his way in the universe

    Thanks for the write-up @Bing - I learned a lot.
  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    I was thinking on this tradition. Since my wife is the boss all year long, I was wondering, if we could do a role reversal where I become the boss for a couple of days. Nah, that will never happen.
  6. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    Excellent post Bing. Very informative - thanks for posting it.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2018
  7. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Great post, Bing!!

    Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 9.25.10 AM.jpg
    L. Saturninus, AR denarius, c. 104 BCE. Roma / Saturn in quadriga r., holding reins and harpa, Crawford 317/3a. Partial brockage.
  8. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Active Member

    Thanks for your various contributions, friends and 'IO SATVRNALIA!'

  9. Multatuli

    Multatuli Homo numismaticus Supporter

    Io Saturnalia, Bing! Excellent thread! Always learning!
    I'm going to propose to my wife one day of Saturnalia. Even ruling for the other 364 days at home, I really doubt she will accept ... I will remain being the slave...
  10. Dafydd

    Dafydd Well-Known Member

    Io Saturnalia ! Thank you Bing for teaching me the correct Salutation.
    I was quite amazed at my Secret Saturnalia gift for many reasons. It arrived last month and not appreciating I should wait to open it today as this was my first Secret Saturnalia, I opened it on receipt last and I am indebted to Benhur767 for his generous gift. I opened a Maximus 1 denarius, RIC 16, RSC 99a reverse with Victory advancing. This was quite a victory for me as I had recently bought a biography on Maximus Thrax and he was the next Emperor on my "hit list" and I had intended to bid on some coins at the Roma auction that very weekend. Of all of the 147 Emperors Benhur767 could have chosen, he could not have chosen a more timely and well received example, thank you Mike! This will be a coin I could never forget so makes my Secret Saturnalia SO special. I'm sure Benhur767 will not mind me mentioning his name as it was on his card. I did email immediately explaining the circumstances and have looked forward to sharing this.
    Happy Holidays everyone, this has been such an educational year for me looking and learning on this forum. Maximus1.JPG maximus1RevA.JPG Max1book.jpg
  11. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Great post Bing!
    L. Appuleius Saturninus
    AR denarius
    Rome 104 B.C. Helmeted Roma head left bankers mark on check / Saturn in galloping quadriga right, pellet omega below, L.SATVRN in exergue. Cr. 317/3. ?
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