Although the ancient Roman holiday of Floralia began in April, the Roman month of the love goddess Venus, it was really an ancient May Day celebration. Flora, the Roman goddess in whose honor the festival was held, was a goddess of flowers, which generally begin to bloom in the spring. The holiday for Flora (as officially determined by Julius Caesar when he fixed the Roman calendar) ran from April 28 to May 3.
Romans celebrated Floralia with the set of games and theatrical presentations known as the Ludi Florales. Classical scholar Lily Ross Taylor notes that the Ludi Floralia, Apollinares, Ceriales, and Megalenses all had days of ludi scaenici (literally, scenic games, including plays) followed by a final day devoted to circus games.
Financing Roman Ludi (Games)
Roman public games (ludi) were financed by minor public magistrates known as aediles. The curule aediles produced the Ludi Florales. The position of curule aedile was originally (365 B.C.) limited to patricians, but was later opened up to plebeians. The ludi could be very expensive for the aediles, who used the games as a socially accepted way of winning the affection and votes of the people. In this way, the aediles hoped to ensure victory in future elections for higher office after they had finished their year as aediles. Cicero mentions that as aedile in 69 B.C., he was responsible for the Floralia (Orationes Verrinae ii, 5, 36-7).
The Floralia festival began in Rome in 240 or 238 B.C., when the temple to Flora was dedicated, to please the goddess Flora into protecting the blossoms. The Floralia fell out of favor and was discontinued until 173 B.C., when the Senate, concerned with wind, hail, and other damage to the flowers, ordered Flora's celebration reinstated as the Ludi Florales.
Floralia and Prostitutes
The Ludi Florales included theatrical entertainment, including mimes, naked actresses, and prostitutes. In the Renaissance, some writers thought that Flora had been a human prostitute who was turned into a goddess, possibly because of the licentiousness of the Ludi Florales or because, according to David Lupher, Flora was a common name for prostitutes in ancient Rome.
Floralia Symbolism and May Day
The celebration in honor of Flora included floral wreaths worn in the hair much like modern participants in May Day celebrations. After the theatrical performances, the celebration continued in the Circus Maximus, where animals were set free and beans scattered to ensure fertility.
- "The Opportunities for Dramatic Performances in the Time of Plautus and Terence," by Lily Ross Taylor. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 68, (1937), pp. 284-304.
- "Cicero's Aedileship," by Lily Ross Taylor. The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 60, No. 2 (1939), pp. 194-202.
- Floralia, Florales Ludi Festival… - University of Chicago. penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Floralia.html.