TODAY is the start of the month dedicated to Mars, god of war and fertility. In Rome 24 young patrician men would be chosen to act as "Salii" dancers.
We wonder if Antinous was allowed to be one of the Salii. But at any rate, he would have watched in awe as this ancient Roman spectacle unfolded before his eyes on the first day of March.
The Salii were the "leaping priests" of Mars in Ancient Rome introduced by King Numa Pompilius: twelve pairs of patrician youths, dressed in outfits worn by archaic warriors.
They wore an embroidered tunic, a breastplate, a red cloak (paludamentum), a sword, and a spiked headdress called an apex.
They carried the 12 bronze ancilia (shields).
These shields resembled a figure-of-eight, like Mycenaean shields.
One of the shields was said to have fallen from heaven in the reign of King Numa, and eleven copies were made to protect the identity of the sacred shield, on the advice of the nymph Egeria, 'consort' of Numa, who prophesied that wherever that shield was preserved the people would be the dominant people of the earth.
On March 1 they would lead a procession through the city, singing, dancing and leaping high in the air as they clashed their swords or spears against their shields.
At night the Salii would congregate in the temple and feast in honour of Mars. Emperor Claudius is said to have left his own banquet and gone to join them as their food and wine was better than his own.
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