How did the month of February get its name? Ancient Rome and the second month of the year.

Jerry Anderson   February 4, 2016   Comments Off on How did the month of February get its name? Ancient Rome and the second month of the year.

February gets its name from the ancient Roman festival of fertility and purification called “Februa.” The festival of “Februa” emphasized atonement and the need for purification to bring about good fortune and fertility. The Romans were a very superstitious people, and in ancient times February was the first month of the year. It made sense to them to have a festival that would encourage good fortune in the coming year.

The ancient Romans called the month "Februarius." By the Middle Ages it was known, in English, as Februarie," before the modern spelling was adopted.

The ancient Romans called the month “Februarius.” By the Middle Ages it was known, in English, as Februarie,” before the modern spelling was adopted.

The festival of “Februa” was celebrated every February 15th and began with the killing of two sacrificial goats in the Roman Forum. Goats were the chosen animal because they were a symbol of sexual vigor. (This may be the origin of the phrase, “horny as a goat.”) The goats were skinned and the skins cut into strips which were then soaked in the blood of the sacrificed animals.

A domestic goat, similar to those sacrificed during

A domestic goat, similar to those sacrificed during the Roman festival of “Februa.”

Two men (usually of noble birth) who had been chosen for the celebration would have their bodies smeared (“anointed”) with blood, and then run naked through the streets of Rome waving the bloody goat-skin strips in the air and lashing out at the crowds lining the streets. This was thought to bring about  fertility, ease of child birth, and protection from curses or bad luck in the coming year. As they proceeded they also drank wine, laughed and encouraged the crowds to celebrate the occasion.

luperclia

Note the bloody strips of goat skin and the goat’s blood smeared on the bodies of the two runners. The woman in this image is pregnant and is seeking good fortune during the carrying of her child, as well as a safe delivery.

Women who had proven barren, or who were having difficulty becoming pregnant, were pushed to the front of the crowds, or threw themselves into the paths of the two men. These women were struck, very lightly, with the bloody animal skins as the men traveled by in hope that the blood from the sacrificed animals would purify them and make them fertile. Some women tore off their clothing in order to enhance the effectiveness of the bloody strips. They believed their nakedness made it more likely that they would be able to conceive in the future. Pregnant women also presented themselves, believing that the bloody lashes would bring them good fortune during their pregnancy and childbirth. Men were also sometimes struck and marked with blood in the belief that it would increase their potency and fertility.

lupercalia-large

Women as well as men threw themselves forward into the path of the two runners, hoping to be touched and marked with the blood of sacrificial goats.

These bloody strips of goat skin were called “februles” and it is from this word (as well as the name of the festival itself, “Februa”) that word historians say the month of February gets its name. The ancient Romans called the month “Februarius.” By the way, the month originally had 29 days but the Romans took a day away from it and gave the day to the month of July (named after Julius Caesar) so that July and August (named after Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor) would be of equal length, 31 days. A month named after a famous Roman had to possess the largest number of days possible. So the theft of a day from the month of “Februarius” in ancient times accounts for the fact that February is the shortest month of the year.

TO WRAP UP, A DIGRESSION:

To many, one of the highlights of the month of February is Valentine’s Day. To end this story I leave you with a short 3 minute video giving you an abbreviated history concerning the creation of this holiday. Was there ever a real Saint Valentine?

DONE FOR NOW.