Today is Ferragosto in Italy. A national religious holiday.
The name ‘Ferragosto’ comes from the latin feriae Augusti, in honour of Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor. The month of August is also named after him.
Richard Overy, author of “A History of War in 100 Battles”, claims that ferragosto was introduced by Augustus after his victory over Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium on the 2nd of September 31 BCE.
The month of August was a period of rest and festivities introduced by Augustus in 18BC. These festivities were in addition to other Roman festivals which were celebrated during the month of August. This included, the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia.
Consualia was dedicated to the god Conso who for pagan Romans was the god of the land and fertility. The festival thus celebrated the fruits of the harvest at the end of a long period of intense agricultural labour.
But the Feriae Augusti also served as propaganda. By linking the different festivities together called the Augustali, those who were mainly hard labour workers could rest.
The celebrations included horse races which were held across the Empire. Oxen, donkeys and mules which carried the heavy loads of the land were given rest from their work duties and decorated with flowers.
During the festivities the workers greeted their masters who in return would give them a tip. This custom became so strongly rooted that in the Renaissance it was made compulsory in the Papal States.
And these ancient traditions are still alive today and almost unchanged. For instance, the Palio dell’Assunta takes place on 16 August in Siena. In fact, the name Palio comes from the latin, pallium. A pallium, was a piece of precious fabric which was the prize given to winners of the horse races in ancient Rome.
The 13th of August was dedicated to the goddess, Diana. Diana was the goddess of the moon, wild animals and the protector of women.
The festival was eventually adopted into the Catholic religion around the 7th century. Today, the 15th of August is the celebration of the Assumption of Mary.