Welcome to another of the odd festival of Ancient Rome! Today is the start of the Lupercalia, a purification ritual with very confusing origins. (Purification was needed as February was considered ill-omened by the Romans.)
The ritual took place in a sacred cave, the Lupercal Cave, on Palatine Hill where two goats and a dog were sacrificed, to whom is still debated, but it was for purification and -as purification was linked to fertility- for fertility. Two chosen boys, originally sons of the equestrian (aristocratic) order, who were marked on the forehead with the blood of the goats from the sword used to slain the sacrifice which was then wiped away with wool dipped in milk after which the boys must laugh(!). The boys then took lashes made from the goat skin and run through the old boundaries of the city, dressed only in girdles of goatskin, striking people with the lashes. Women would seek to be struck by these, offering their hands, as the touch of the lash was suppose to increase fertility, cure barrenness and ease the pains of childbirth.
Now, who exactly the sacrifices were to, where the ritual originated and many other details have been lost to the mists of time. But a fascinating piece of history.
Notes: Photo by Rennett Stowe and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.