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Date(s) - 15/01/2020
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The goddess Carmenta has festivals on two days, with a three-day interval. Carmenta is a goddess both of childbirth and of prophecy and one of the most ancient of Roman cults. Ovid, refers to Carmenta as the ‘happy prophetess’ (felix vates). Virgil calls her ‘the soothsaying prophetess, who first foretold the greatness of Aeneas’ sons’. Her cult was closely connected with women. Varro records that ‘in order to avoid breach births, altars were set up in Rome to the “two Carmentes”, of whom one is called Postverta (Backward) and the other Prorsa (Forward) in reference to an abnormal foot first breech birth of a child. Carmenta is regarded as the mother of Evander, who came from Arcadia to Italy and established a settlement there. Carmentis has also been interpreted as a moon goddess or a goddess of beginnings.

Carmenta had a priest (flamen) of her own. Ovid suggests that the pontiffs were involved in this festival and that the flamen provided a sacrifice on the Carmenta days. The skins of animals were excluded from shrines to Carmenta. Varro reports that at shrines nothing dead might be brought in. Is is probable that violation of this taboo may result in the birth of dead children.

The celebration of this festival likely started at sundown of the preceding day with possible sacrifices being offered at sunrise.

The two Carmenta days probably represent two originally separate celebrations held by two communities, the Romans and Sabines, which were later joined.

The Carmenta festival on 13 January was established by Roman King Romulus as part of the celebrations related to the capture of Fidenae.

Varro offers more explanation of the festival’s history. After Camillus had captured Veii in 394 BCE the women of Rome made an especially generous offering of thanks to the oracle at Delphi. In recognition of this event, the Senate decreed that Roman women be allowed to drive carriages and that a second official festival in honour of Carmentis occur in order to promote Roman childbirth.

January was an important time for childbirth in Rome since many births likely occurred during this time. Marriages were favoured in April but discouraged in May or early June. Thus, January is a probable popular time for childbirth in ancient Rome.

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