April 21 in Rome: Natale di Roma & the festival of Palilia

Today, on the 21st of April, the City of Rome celebrates the anniversary of her foundation, the story of which is passed down to us in Book 1 of Livy. Rather than use this journal entry to retell that story, we shall be using it to highlight other events and present more information surrounding the day.

Today and over this weekend you will see plenty of celebration over it being the 2771st birthday of Rome, which is officially correct, but people can get stuck on the number of years due to the misconception that there was a Year 0 so in fact, Rome is technically 2770 years old today.

Natale di Roma celebrations at the Circus Maximus in 2017. Photo by  Jamie Health

Natale di Roma celebrations at the Circus Maximus in 2017. Photo by Jamie Health

Returning briefly to the story of Livy, a key part of the lives of Romulus and Remus is Lupa finding them at the riverbank and suckling them until Faustulus arrives. It has very much become an image of the city, from the model in the Capitoline Museums to the badge of the city's football club. But did you know that Lupa was also a Latin word for prostitute? Livy says:

Faustulus took them to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to nurse. Some think that the origin of this fable was the fact that Larentia was a common whore and was called Wolf by the shepherds’.

A lot is made of the founders of Rome being suckled by a wolf, it especially helps explain the war-like nature of the Romans. If it was a fable as Livy suggests, then that risks removing that natural ferocity they are trying to push and cultivate. When it comes to the actual foundation of the city, some accounts have Romulus committing fratricide in the dispute over the hills and some say a follower of his called Celer was the one that killed Remus. Livy gives us the fratricide whilst Ovid the Celer version, therefore it seems to be personal preference of the author.  

The festival of Palilia (or Parilia) was also celebrated by the Romans on April 21st. It was a festival to celebrate the rustic deity Pales. It is not entirely clear whether this deity was male or female, but they were the patron of Shepherds and sheep. Book 4 of Ovid’s Fasti tells us about the festival, in it he suggests that the festival is older than the city. In pre-Imperial times it was celebrated with a rural feel, but due to the urbanisation during the empire the festival was reworked and perhaps it was merged with the celebrations of Natale di Roma. We know that Philip the Arab returned to Rome from fighting in the East to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the founding in AD 248. He commemorated this occasion on silver coinage.

Keep an eye on AIRC Director Darius Arya's Facebook and Periscope profiles for livestreams today from the celebrations at the Circus Maximus and the Forum Romanum (see images below, all by Darius Arya). If he has already finished the live-streams and you missed it, they will be available to watch on his channels. Through his Twitter you can also watch Gruppo Storico Romano celebrating the Parilia In the Forum (see images below, all by Darius Arya).

We would also advise keeping an eye on the Roma, Turismo Roma, and Musei in Comune social media and websites for all information on the events over the weekend if you happen to be lucky enough to be in Rome for this time. Musei in Comune for instance have announced that museums are free today as well as other educational initiatives.

This journal entry was written by Jamie Heath, a member of our digital team. Connect with Jamie on Twitter.