CALENDARS AND RULERS IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

The inclusion of (deceased and in some cases still living) Roman emperors into the calendars of Roman coloniae (i.e., colonies) was a deliberate political and religious action taken by local magistrates and civic leaders. In the process, these government officials demarcated certain days related to Roman emperors as sacred, which is unlike any phenomenon in the modern American calendric system. In short, the inclusion of Roman emperors into the sacred time shared by the deities of the Roman world was an attempt to foster a closer connection between the emperors and deities, and the city-states themselves with their Roman overlords. In order to exemplify this, I shall examine the calendar from the Roman colonia (i.e., colony) of Praeneste.

The persons in charge of establishing the calendar of Praeneste were its own government officials. These men were supposed to ensure the health of the city by ensuring the proper sacrifices occurred on the proper days. Thus the civic leaders of Praeneste divided sacred days in honor of the gods and goddesses from profane ones. Hence, the Praeneste calendar evidences a close connection of religion and politics foreign to the calendar of the modern United States. This close association of religion and politics is evident in that the Praeneste calendar includes events from the lives of Roman emperors (including Julius Caesar). The calendar, which dates about 6-9 CE with later interpolations during the reign of Tiberius, was displayed publicly in the forum of Praeneste inscribed on very costly marble columns.

The persons in charge of establishing the calendar of Praeneste were its own government officials. These men were supposed to ensure the health of the city by ensuring the proper sacrifices occurred on the proper days. Thus the civic leaders of Praeneste divided sacred days in honor of the gods and goddesses from profane ones. Hence, the Praeneste calendar evidences a close connection of religion and politics foreign to the calendar of the modern United States. This close association of religion and politics is evident in that the Praeneste calendar includes events from the lives of Roman emperors (including Julius Caesar). The calendar, which dates about 6-9 CE with later interpolations during the reign of Tiberius, was displayed publicly in the forum of Praeneste inscribed on very costly marble columns.

Concerning the association of emperors into the sacred time of the city, on April 6, the inhabitants celebrated a “holiday because on this day Gaius Caesar son of Gaius [conquered] king [Juba] in Africa” (Beard, North, and Price, Religions of Rome, 2.65). There are two noteworthy matters concerning this festival. First, it marked an event that occurred in 46 BCE. Thus the calendar not only honored days from hallowed Roman antiquity (e.g., the Roman festival of Parilia), but also events that recently occurred within Rome’s history. Second, the celebration was designated as NP (possibly meaning nefastus publicus, the exact interpretation is unknown), which meant that neither the courts nor the assemblies met on that day and it was considered a great public festival.

Notwithstanding the celebrations of victories of Roman rulers, on April 23, while the occupants of Praeneste honored Jupiter because of Jupiter’s aid in a past battle, they also remembered the day that Julia and Tiberius “dedicated a statue of their father divus Augustus at the theatre of Marcellus,” which is evidence for later interpretation in the calendar during the reign of Tiberius (Beard, North, and Price, Religions of Rome, 2.65). What is important concerning this festival is that it was included within an already existing celebration.

Not only were events to deified emperors remembered in Praeneste’s calendar, but also events in the life of the reigning emperor were celebrated. On April 24, the city honored the day that Tiberius transitioned from childhood to adulthood as he put on his toga virilis in 27 BCE (Beard, North, and Price, Religions of Rome, 2.65). While the day was not as sacrosanct as the previous two festivals associated with emperors (only being designated C, i.e., comitialis and thus a day when public assemblies and courts met), it is noteworthy that this celebration was added during the reign of Tiberius, for no one knew in 27 BCE that he would succeed Augustus as emperor. Hence, the Praeneste calendar reflected the current political events of Rome.

When the above information is contrasted with the modern American calendar the differences are striking. The only official national American holiday dedicated to rulers of any kind is Presidents’ Day, which is a day when Americans honor all presidents past and present. The American calendar neither has a day dedicated to the baptism of Bill Clinton, the wedding day of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, nor the dedication of any presidential library. The American calendar is also not as contemporary as Praeneste’s. As evident, the civic leaders of Praeneste attempted to have their calendar reflect the contemporary political situation in Rome. Moreover, beside banks, schools, and all government offices being closed, Presidents’ Day is probably one of the least celebrated holidays on the American calendar. No American city honors Presidents’ Day with a “great public festival” like the inhabitants of Praeneste were to celebrate a victory of Julius Caesar.

Picture Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Picture Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

The inclusion of days devoted to honoring events associated with the lives of Julius Caesar and Tiberius are evidence of the close connection of religion and politics in the Roman world, which is unlike the modern United States. Furthermore, the evidence from the Praeneste calendar witnesses a deliberate political/religious action taken by local magistrates and civic leaders to incorporate events contemporary to their time into their city’s calendar. Occasionally, this included the assimilation of events associated with emperors into existing festivals to deities. In this regard the calendar witnesses a close connection between the deities of the Roman world and the emperors. Notwithstanding this conclusion, we have no evidence that suggests how large and to what extent the populace of Praeneste celebrated the festival commemorating Tiberius’s transition from childhood to adulthood. It may have been celebrated with as much fervor as Americans remember Presidents’ Day. On the contrary, it may have been a huge party. We simply do not know.  Nevertheless, it is significant that the civic leaders of Praeneste attempted to forge a closer association of their city with the rulers of the Empire by assimilating them into their civic calendar.

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