A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities/Liberalia

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LIBERA´LIA were celebrated on March 17. Though the day was sacred to Bacchus, this must be understood of Liber, the Italian Bacchus; and the Liberalia must not be confounded with the festivals Dionysia or Cerialia, which were of Greek origin and celebrated with ludi at different times. On this day the boys who took the toga virilis (called also toga pura and toga libera) went in procession and made an offering in the Capitol, of cakes (liba), which were bought in the streets at little altars. (See the curious description in Varro, L. L. 6.14, “per totum oppidum eo die sedent sacerdotes Liberi, anus hedera coronatae cum libis et foculo pro emptore sacrificantes.” As to the origin of the name, some are disposed to derive it solely from toga libera, allowing no real connexion with the name of the deity, and Marquardt seems to take this view (Staatsverwaltung, 3.363): but (1) the day was certainly regarded as sacred to the god Liber (Ov. Fast. 3.371; Varro, l.c.), and was probably the day of an old Italian festival in his honour; (2) the offering was made by the boys at the shrine of Liber in the Capitol ( “Liberalia Libero in Capitolio,” Calend. Fames.); (3) the toga, when not called virilis, was oftener called pura than libera; so Cicero (Cic. Att. 6.1, 12) says, “Quinto Liberalibus togam puram cogitabam dare;” and Tertullian (de Idol. 16) calls the Liberalia “sollemnitas togae purae” (cf. Plin. Nat. 8.194); and in poetry the name pura is the older (Catull. 68.15). While, however, it seems most natural to connect the name Liberalia with the Italian deity Liber, there is little doubt that the idea of freedom from pupilage was always connected in the Roman mind with this day, on which the boy was “liberatus paedagogo.” But in truth there is no need to quarrel about it; for even if the name of the god and the adjective are not etymologically the same (and, though Curtius distinguishes them, the distinction is by no means certain), there is no doubt that Liber was regarded as the god of freedom at Rome (see Preller, Röm. Myth. 442): so that it is no mere poetic conceit, when Ovid says of this day:

   Sive quod es Liber vestis quoque libera per te
   Sumitur et vitae liberioris iter.

Latin writers sometimes use the word Liberalia to translate the Greek festival Dionysia, which must always be distinguished from the above; and whenever the ludi liberales are mentioned, they refer either to the Bacchanalia or the Cerialia (see those articles), not to the Liberalia properly so called. (See also Serv. ad Verg. Ecl. 4.50; Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, l.c.; Preller, Röm. Myth. p. 445.) [G.E.M]