February was considered the final month of the Roman year, and on the 15th, citizens celebrated the festival of Lupercalia. Originally, this week-long party honored the god Faunus, who watched over shepherds in the hills. The festival also marked the coming of spring. Later on, it became a holiday honoring Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome after being raised by a she-wolf in a cave. Eventually, Lupercalia became a multi-purpose event: it celebrated the fertility of not only the livestock but people as well.
To kick off the festivities, an order of priests gathered before the Lupercale on the Palatine hill. The rite began in the cave of the She-Wolf in the city of Rome where legend had it that the founders of the city, Romulus and Remus, had been suckled by the wolf before they were found by a shepherd. The priests then sacrificed a dog for purification, and a pair of young male goats for fertility. The hides of the goats were cut into strips, dipped in blood, and taken around the streets of Rome. These bits of hide were touched to both fields and women as a way of encouraging fertility in the coming year.The sacred fig tree grew in front of the cave. Vestals brought to the site of the sacrifice the sacred cakes made from the first ears of the last years grain harvest.
Two naked young men presided over the sacrifice of a dog and a goat. With the bloody knife, their foreheads were smeared with blood, and then wiped clean with wool dipped in milk. The young men laughed and girded themselves in the skin of the sacrificed goat. Much feasting followed. Finally, using strips of the goat skin, the young men ran, each leading a group of priests, around the base of the hills of Rome, around the ancient sacred boundary of the old city called the pomarium. During this run, the women of the city would vie for the opportunity to be scourged by the young men as they ran by, some baring their flesh to get the best results of the fertility blessing.
The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims and ran in two bands round the walls of the old Palatine city,. the line of which was marked with stones, striking the people who crowded near. A blow from the thong prevented sterility in women. These thongs were called februa, the festival Februatio, and the day dies febraiatus (februare = to purify); hence the name of the month February, the last of the old Roman year. The object of the festival was, by expiation and purification, to secure the fruitfulness of the land, the increase of the flocks and the prosperity of the whole people.
It was at the Lupercalia in 44 BC that Mark Antony, who as one of the Luperci, ran up to Caesar as he watched from the Rostra and offered him a laurel wreath as a token of kingship, a gesture that some in the crowd applauded. But, when it ostensibly was rejected, there was a roar of approval, which demonstrated to Caesar that his being crowned did not have the support of the people. His statues, too, had been decorated with diadems, which the tribunes, as defenders of the plebs, removed to the loud applause of the people, who called them "Brutuses" because it was Brutus who had deposed the kings of ancient Rome and given power to the senate and people. Caesar, angry at the insult, berated the men and deprived them of their tribuneship. Exactly one month later, he was assassinated.
After the priests concluded the fertility rites, young women placed their names in a jar. Men drew names in order to choose a partner for the rest of the celebrations -- not unlike later customs of entering names in a Valentine lottery.
Enjoy the Holiday