February 17 – The Fornicalia

February 17 was the ancient Roman festival called the Fornicalia. NO, get your mind out of the gutter, it’s got nothing to do with what you’re thinking of! The word comes from the Latin word fornax, meaning “oven”; the English word “furnace” comes from this. The word is also related to fornix, meaning an archway or a vaulted ceiling, probably in reference to the curved opening to an oven or its domed shape. On this day, grain was roasted in the oven which would be used to make sacrificial bread. The bread that was baked on this day was meant specifically for religious rituals and was not intended for ordinary day-to-day eating.

As the ever-quote-worthy Ovid states…

“The earth of old was farmed by ignorant men. Fierce wars weakened their powerful bodies. There was more glory in the sword than the plough, and the neglected farm brought its owner little return. Yet the ancients sowed corn, corn they reaped, offering the first fruits of the corn harvest to Ceres. Taught by practice they parched it in the flames, and incurred many losses through their own mistakes. Sometimes they’d sweep up burnt ash and not corn, sometimes the flames took their huts themselves. The oven was made a goddess, Fornax: the farmers pleased with her, prayed she’d regulate the grain’s heat. Now the Curio Maximus, in a set form of words, declares the shifting date of the Fornacalia, the Feast of Ovens” (Ovid, Fasti, book 1, February 17).

The Fornicalia ritual is apparently quite old. It is stated that Rome’s second king Numa Pompilius instituted this holy day (John Mason Good et al, Pantologia, volume 5. London: 1819). The date of the Fornicalia was set up so that people who belonged to this or that clan gathered in their appointed curial districts to conduct their sacrifices. But what if you didn’t know which clan you belonged to – how do you know where to go to carry out the religious rites? Or what if, for some reason, something prevented you from carrying out the sacrifices on that day? In that case, anyone who didn’t know their religious district or who had missed the Fornicalia went on the last day. For this reason, this day, which was known as the Quirinalia, the fifth day of the Parentalia mourning period, was known as the “Day of Fools” or the “Feast of Fools” (Plutarch, Roman Questions, #89).



February 15 – The Lupercalia

Do you fancy yourself a wolf when it comes to the ladies? Well, today’s your chance to show your stuff! February 15 is the day of the Lupercalia, which was the major fertility festival in the ancient Roman calendar. The name might come from Lupercus, a god of fertility, but this explanation is seldom given. More likely, it is in reference to the Lupercal, the wolf’s lair, where the she-wolf suckled the infants Romulus and Remus. On the day of the Lupercalia, a boy dressed only in a goat skin wrapped around his waist and his body smeared all over with milk and goat’s blood would run through the streets whipping any woman that he met on the way with leather straps in order to get her pregnant. You can’t make this up. How in the world did we get from a wolf’s cave to this?

We know from the writings of the ancient Romans, especially Ovid and Plutarch, that even they scratched their heads in bewilderment at some of the rituals that they conducted as part of their culture. No doubt they also shook their heads and laughed at the reasoning behind some of the things that they did. Thankfully, we have a few Roman writers who give us details about why the eyebrow-raising events which occurred on this day happened in this manner, namely Ovid, Plutarch, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

The Lupercalia has its roots in the ancient Greek region of Arcadia. When the Greeks settled in southern Italy, a group of Arcadians, who were devoted followers of the god Pan, came to the area where Rome would later stand. Prior to the establishment of the village of Rome in the 8th Century BC, the area that the Eternal City stood on was unsettled and was used only by shepherds to graze their flocks. On one side of the Palatine Hill, which at that time was completely covered with trees, there was a large cave, and within this cave was a spring that streamed out water towards the Tiber. The Arcadian Greeks, who had occasionally visited here, consecrated the forest to Pan and erected an altar dedicated to him inside the cave, where they would sacrifice a she-goat to Pan in exchange for safeguarding their livestock. Therefore, the festival was originally a shepherd’s festival (Plutarch, The Life of Julius Caesar, chapter 61; Ovid, Fasti, book 2, February 15; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, book 1, chapters 32, 79).

Ovid claims that the reason why the Lupercalian youths run naked through the streets wearing nothing but a goat skin is partly in emulation of the free-spirited Pan (who, if you remember your Greco-Roman mythology, was half-man and half-goat) and also as an act of remembrance of how they used to live in the dark ages of prehistory, a testament as to how old some of these belief are; Ovid comments that in centuries past, the people lived as hunter-gatherers, walking around naked, making simple huts out of branches and grass, and possessing no knowledge of art or agriculture. Ovid also relays an old tale involving Pan, the hero Hercules, and his mistress. Hercules and his lover were travelling through Latium and they stopped to rest at the Tiber River, near the sacred cave of Pan. When Pan saw her, he got randy as he always did at the sight of a pretty female. The two travelers took shelter inside the cave for the night, but when Pan went inside in the dark to have his wicked way, he got a very unwelcome surprise and fled (Ovid, Fasti, book 2, February 15).

It was this very same cave that would play a part in the foundation of Rome. When the basket containing Romulus and Remus had washed up on the shore of the Tiber River, they were discovered by a she-wolf who had just given birth to a liter of pups. Her carnivorous temper temporarily tempered by her motherly instincts, he carried the two babies into the cave and nurtured them. A little while later, they were discovered by a shepherd who adopted them as his children – again, the theme of shepherds emerges. (Ovid, Fasti, book 2, February 15; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, book 1, chapters 32, 79).

When they had become teenagers, Romulus and Remus were exercising in a field naked, as was the Classical custom, when the cry went up that thieves were stealing their cattle. Since it would have taken them too long to go back to their cottage to clothe and arm themselves, they immediately chased after the thieves, stark naked and weaponless, and regained their stolen cattle. This is one of the reasons why the male youth of Rome ran naked through the streets every February 15th (Ovid, Fasti, book 2, February 15)

Later, after Romulus became king and the infamous Rape of the Sabines occurred, the gods showed their displeasure as the Romans’ actions by making all of the women in the area sterile. After a while, husbands and wives came to the Sacred Grove of Juno and prayed for her help. The trees shook with a sudden wind, and the goddess said “Let the sacred he-goat pierce the Italian wives”. Needless to say, these words could be interpreted in several ways, some of them rather disturbingly, and the men were understandably worried about what the goddess meant. Thankfully, an Etruscan augur priest just happened to be travelling close by (amazing how all of these coincidences occur, isn’t it?) and he concluded that the women had to offer themselves up to the lash. He sacrificed a male goat, skinned it, cut its skin into long thin strips, and then whipped the women on their bare backs with it. Amazingly, it worked, and all of the women became fertile again (Ovid, Fasti, book 2, February 15).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus comments that by the time that he was writing, the Sacred Forest of Pan which covered the Palatine Hill had been entirely clear-cut, but the cave still existed. Furthermore, because it was such an important site to the Romans, it was regarded as a holy shrine. In his day, the cave’s entrance was framed with elaborate masonry, or “built up” as he put it, and outside was a bronze statue “of ancient workmanship” (he possibly means that the statue is either many centuries old or was made in an archaic style, or both) of the she-wolf suckling the divine twins. This is confirmed in Caesar Augustus’ list of accomplishments, in which he says with pride that he conducted a restoration project on the Lupercal cave (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, book 1, chapters 32, 79; Caesar Augustus, Res Gestae, part 4, chapter 19).

The date of February 15 had two titles in the ancient Roman calendar. Yes it was called the Lupercalia, but it was also known as the Februalia, the Feast of Purification. This particular feast day appears to be of Etruscan or Sabine origin, and it involved purifying the city and the landscape around it. This religious ritual was the epicenter of the month of February. The priests who presided over the purification ceremony wore crowns made from pine branches, which had to be cut from “a pure tree”, meaning that it grew straight, it had no physical defects such as a crooked trunk, broken branches, or other injuries, and it wasn’t infected with disease. The priests also wore special clothing on this day, but unfortunately no description is given as to what these purifying vestments looked like other than they were made of wool. The poet Lucan makes a comment that the priests wore their togas with a belt around the waist, “Gabii style”, and may be a reference to the Etruscan priesthood. Branches of pine were distributed to the people to burn as incense inside their homes in order to smoke out any bad smells or miasmas that might spread disease. So, it seems that the ancient Romans invented the pine air freshener – another accomplishment to their credit! The Roman priests sacrificed a dog in order to purify the city, although Plutarch wasn’t exactly sure where this tradition came from. He hypothesized that this tradition may have come from the Greeks, because the ancient Greeks used to sacrifice a god as a means of purification, and since February was the month of purification (as I mentioned in an earlier post), this would make sense. He gives a few other hypotheses in addition to the aforementioned one, but the ancient Greek connection seems most likely, since both the Etruscans and Romans were very Hellenized people. Lucan and Vopiscus describe how the Roman citizens, led by the priests and the Vestal Virgins, conduct a ritual promenade around the city’s boundary – the “pomerium” – chanting their prayers and appeals to the gods; the goddesses Minerva, Vesta, and Cybele are called upon with much greater fervency than the rest. This particular aspect of the day’s festivities was known as the Amburbium, which means “walk around the city”. When the circumambulation is completed, a bull is sacrificed and its entrails are read to determine if their efforts have been successful in bringing good luck (Ovid, Fasti, book 2, introduction; Plutarch, Roman Questions, #68; Vopiscus, The Life of Aurelian, chapter 20; Lucan, De Bello Civili, book 1, lines 642-677).

Over time, these two separate holy practices of the Februalia and the Lupercalia, since they were conducted on the same day, merged together into a single celebration. During the time of the Roman Empire, the February 15th festival took on the form that we know. The festivities began with the sacrifice of a goat and a dog – the first in honor of Pan and to protect the shepherds’ flocks, and the second as a means of cleansing. Plutarch gives a description of what happened next: “At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped to an easy delivery, and the barren to pregnancy”. Not only did the Luperci supposedly grant fertility to barren women, but they also had a part in cleansing the earth. Ovid states “the Luperci cleanse the earth with strips of purifying hide”, meaning that they beat the ground with strips of leather in order to drive out the evil humors which might ruin their crops or flocks (Plutarch, Roman Questions, #68; Plutarch, The Life of Julius Caesar, chapter 61; Ovid, Fasti, book 2, introduction).

Revising my Troodon drawing

Hello everyone. Time to kick off the new year with some much belated paleo-art. One of the projects on my to-do list was to re-do my 2012 drawing of Troodon. Seven years ago, this drawing was my first attempt at making modern up-to-date paleo-art featuring feathered theropods. I was venturing into new territory then. However, I soon realized that my illustration was utterly pitiful, and I needed to make a new one that was not only more scientifically accurate but also more artistically pleasing.

Below is my original drawing of Troodon, made in 2012.


And here is my revised drawing that I made recently.

I hope that you’ll agree it’s a distinct improvement.

Some Quickie Drawings of Late Triassic Life

Hi everybody. As many of you already know, I occasionally volunteer at the Garvies Point Museum in Nassau County, New York. One day, I decided to hash out some drawings of Late Triassic creatures when I had a few moments of spare time, and I stuck them on the wall over the bulletin board. Recently, I went back to the museum for their annual Native American Feast, and to tell you the truth, I had completely forgotten about these pictures. I decided to take some photos of them while I was there. I’m hoping that the museum staff uses them for coloring activities with the children that visit the museum every week.

Holiday sale: My history book is 25% off!

Hi everybody. In time for the holidays, my publisher Pen & Sword Books is having a massive sale. My own book Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, 2nd edition, is on sale for 25% off. That’s a great deal. So if you’re interested in ancient history, Roman history, or military history, or if you know somebody who is, then get a copy of this book right now! This sale will not last, so get a copy at this reduced price while you can.

Click on the link below to access the book’s page:

Book update: Amazon is taking pre-publication orders of my book

Hello everybody. Even though my second history book The Great Illyrian Revolt has not been published yet (it’s scheduled to hit the shelves in either February or March 2019), Amazon is already taking pre-publication orders. I know for a fact that a couple of people that I personally know have already purchased it, and several professional academics have expressed their interest in this work. If ancient Roman history or military history is your thing, please go to Amazon and reserve a copy for yourself so that it will be shipped to you as soon as it is released!

Book preview: Illustrations from “The Great Illyrian Revolt”

Hi everybody,

A couple of people have asked me to see a preview of my upcoming history book The Great Illyrian Revolt, which will be released sometime next year in either February or March 2019. While I cannot show any text material yet because the editing process is still going on, I am able to show you the illustrations that I made for this book project. Time contraints prevented me from adding in more.

The first image that you see below is a geographic map of the various mountain ranges and rivers in southeastrn Europe

The next image is a map of southeastern Italy, in the region that is now called Apulia. However, during the BC centuries, this region was inhabited by three Illyrian tribes who were collectively referred to as the Iapygians. These tribes were the Daunians, the Peucetians, and the Messapians.

The third image is of “the Glasinac Warrior”. This was an Illyrian nobleman who lived during the 7th Century BC, and whose grave was discovered in Glasinac, Bosnia. In addition to the skeleton, the grave also contained jewelry, a bronze-handled sword, two spears, a pair of highly-decorated bronze greaves (armor for the lower leg), and what appears to be the remains of a shirt that was affixed with rows of metal studs as an early form of body armor. The material that made up the shirt rotted away, but it was probably leather of some thick fabric. Although a shield was not found in the grave, we know what shields from this time period looked like, so one was portrayed here.

The final image is a representation of an Illyrian noblewoman’s clothing and jewelry, dated somewhere from the 6th to 4th Centuries BC. The illustration is based upon graves and artifacts found at Donja Dolina, Ribić, Zaton, Gorica, Stična, and Opačići. Items include a veil with a decorated metal band, large hoop earrings, circular fibulae, a cloak, a long-sleeved dress with a pleated skirt, a triangle-shaped amber necklace, a wide belt decorated with metal studs, and bronze wrist bangles. Clothing styles are based upon illustrations found in ancient Greek art as well as descriptions of Illyrian clothing found in Greek and Roman literature. Collectively, this is likely what an Illyrian noblewoman of this time period would have dressed herself like. Since the emphasis for this illustration was on her clothing and jewelry, I chose to give the subject a blank mannequin-like face.

Hello, I’m back!!!

Hi everybody.

Back in June of this year, I posted a message saying that I had encountered several problems that needed to be addressed and required my full attention. Therefore, I was not able to do the writing and drawing that I enjoy, and which many of you enjoy also. I announced that I would be taking a break from this blog while I got all of these matters sorted out. Now I’m back.

While the various issues in my life situation are not completely taken care of yet, I’ve managed to get control of enough of them to allow me some breathing space. Perhaps now, I can once again turn my attention towards writing and drawing. Granted, I will not be able to crank out my work to the same speed and volume that I was previously able to do, but I will try to do what I can when I can. I am still fully aware that I have a “to-do list” of artwork and research articles that I promised to post here, and I will try to get to them as soon as I can, although I will likely not address them in the order that I had previously listed. Understandably, I will endeavor to knock out the easier projects first.

I look forward to getting back in the game again, and I also hope that you will appreciate the material that I will post here in the future. Keep your pencils sharp, everybody.



Website update: I’ll be leaving for a while

Hello everybody. A month ago, I posted that I would be keeping myself busy this summer by cranking out lots of artwork. When will I learn to NEVER make plans, because whenever I do, something always happens to ruin them, and sure enough, that’s happened once again. Life has a habit of getting in the way of my life. Several things have come up all at once that are altering my life situation, and they must be addressed right away. These will not be quick fixes, but will instead take months or even an entire year to address. As such, I will not have any time for art or writing articles on this website.

So, for the time being, it’s goodbye. I hope you understand.


Hi everyone. I know that the next artwork on my to-do schedule is an Allosaurus’ head, but it’s taking a while to collect the info on this, and I wanted to put something on here in the meantime. So, here’s a quick drawing that I made of a little-known Morrison Formation theropod named Coelurus. Note the unusually long metatarsal bones. This guy was likely a swift runner. I imagine him as a combination between a secretary bird, roadrunner, and cheetah.

There are two images here. The first is an uncolored pencil drawing, and the second is a colored drawing that I made using Prismacolor colored pencils. I don’t like coloring my drawings because it tends to wash out the detail. Black and white is more my “thing”.