June in Ancient Rome – when love was in the air!

The month of June – Junius to Ancient Romans – was a time of festivals, with celebrations literally bursting out all over during the first week of the month.

There are also many theories as to why June is called Junius – the most obvious being that the month was named after the goddess Juno, goddess of marriage, who was married to the most important god, Jupiter.

However, the period from the middle of May to the middle of June was considered bad luck for those getting married, although June was considered more favourable than May for a wedding.

The ancient poet Ovid revealed this, after he asked the high priestess of Jupiter about the date for his daughter’s wedding and she advised him to wait until after June 15.

June was also thought to have been named after Lucius Junius Brutus, who died around 509 BC and who is credited with founding the gens Junia – one of the most famous and revered families in Ancient Rome, from whom Julius Caesar’s assassin Brutus is descended.

The month of June may also be named after what are called the iuniores – the juniors – as it is thought the month of Maius (May) was named after the elders (maiores). The Elders belonged to the Senate, the name of which is derived from the Latin word senex, meaning old age. The Elderly were revered in Roman society for their wisdom and experience so the Senate meant a Council of Elders.

Curia Julia, Roman Forum – where Julius Caesar’s Senate met, later
converted to the Church of Saint Adrian in the 7th century

May to June – the thirteenth zodiac sign

The period from mid-May to mid-June (13 May to 13 June) was also thought by some mystics to constitute a thirteenth sign of the zodiac – Arachne, the sign of the spider goddess.

Those born under this sign were – and still are – considered to have the qualities of genius, with a brilliance for music, art, writing, poetry, magic and psychic abilities. So far I have not found any Roman Emperors born during this period, but it may be that a few soothsayers were. The metaphysical poet WB Yeats, who was known to be psychic, was born during this period, as are many famous actors, singers and icons like Marilyn Monroe.

The story behind Arachne – a Greek shepherd’s daughter – is that she was given the power of spinning and weaving by the goddess of wisdom, Athene, and fell out of favour as a result by boasting that she was a better weaver than her benefactress. Athene eventually challenged her to a weave-off, which ended in Arachne’s suicide after her weaving portrayed stories that insulted the gods and Athene turned on her. Moral of the story – never cross a goddess, even if you think you are a genius.

Party time in Ancient Rome – everything’s coming up roses

Whatever the origins of the name Junius, Ancient Romans decided to celebrate as much as possible, anyway, and some of the festivals like the Ludi Fabarici (29 May to June 1) and the Rosalia (20 June) centred around roses, which bloom from early summer.

Roses were worn during festivals in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome – the phrase “roses and violets”, meaning living a carefree and comfortable life, derives from ancient literature. Roses were especially associated with the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology) and god of love of Eros (Cupidus or Cupid to the Romans) – as well as Dionysus (Bacchus), god of pleasure, eroticism and wine.

So despite the advice given to the poet Ovid to delay his daughter’s wedding until after June 15, the month is associated with festivals, pleasure and love. Today, roses are as big a part of Rome as ever, with flower sellers offering roses for sale to tourists – often you will be given one as a “gift”, only to be asked for payment once it is in your clutches! Be firm if you don’t want to part with your precious euros and politely refuse any “gifts”, or you will end up carrying round a bagful, as I have often done. I still have a dried rose from a trip to Rome in 2015 – see below!

Roses in Rome

Less romantically, the Kalends of June (Kalendae Fabariae) on June 1 was a festival involving bean feasting, to ask the goddess Carna for good health for the internal organs such as the heart and liver. Bean stew would be cooked for the feasting and prayers offered for good health.

On June 3, the Festival of Bellona took place – with festivities to celebrate the roman goddess of war, Bellona, whose temple was within the Campus Martius, near Teatro Marcello. She was a consort of the god of war, Mars, who was one of the most important gods to the Romans. Mars was the son of Jupiter – the top Roman god – and Juno, after whom the month of June may well be named.

On June 7, the festival of Ludi Piscatorii was celebrated in 3 BC, in which fishermen in Rome honoured the Father of the River Tiber. Any fish caught on June 7 were taken to the Temple of Vulcan – the god of fire – to be sacrificed to the god.

Vulcan was considered to be one of the less physically attractive gods, but he managed to sweep Venus off her feet – one of the most beautiful goddesses. A perfect story of romance for the month of Junius – and a hot couple!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is statuette_vulcanus_mba_lyon_a1981.jpg
Vulcan, God of Fire – married to Venus, Goddess of Love

No sooner had the Ludi Piscatorii finished than Vestalia celebrations were underway from June 7 to June 15, in honour of the goddess of the hearth and family, Vesta – and the sacred fire of Rome that burned in the Temple of Vesta. It was thought if ever the fire went out, Rome would fall. In Ancient Rome, the fire was extinguished and relit to celebrate the original new year on March 1 – but if ever it went out of its own accord, it was considered an ominous portent.

On June 9, a donkey would be dedicated to the goddess Vesta and would be strewn with garlands and bread to mark the story of how Vesta was very nearly seduced by the god of fertility, Priapus, a rustic Greek god. She was alerted by a braying donkey and managed to escape, so a donkey featured in the celebrations.

Temple of Vesta, Forum, Rome

During the festival of Vestalia was an especially interesting celebration on June 15 – the Quando Stercum Delatum Fas. It was a cleansing ritual of the Temple of Vesta and any dirt and detritus would be thrown into the River Tiber. The phrase Quando Stercum Delatum Fas means “when dung may be removed lawfully”, to put it politely.

On June 20 was Rosalia – the celebration of roses, which could take place on set dates from May to July, when the heat of Ancient Rome and the wedding season meant that love was in the air.

Secular Games could also be held in May and June – but usually only every 100 years, so there was always plenty of time for the participants to get fit.

For Ancient Romans, June was a busy month of celebration, when the gods were honoured and love was on the menu – along with beans! June in Ancient Rome was bursting out all over in lots of ways!

Beatus Junius – Happy June! Celebrate like a Roman!

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