Among the oldest of the annual festivals of Rome was that known as the Lupercalia.
It was celebrated on February 15 in honor of Lupercus, an ancient Italian god of fertility, sometimes identified with Pan or Faunus.
He was the god of shepherds; thus the festival was connected with Romulus and Remus, the kings of shepherds, and thence introduced into Rome.
In the ceremony, goats and dogs, noted for strong sexual instincts, were sacrificed by the priests. Two youths of noble birth were then touched upon the forehead with a sword smeared with the blood of the goats.
Other priests then wiped the foreheads clean with wool dipped in milk. Whereupon the two youths were then obliged to shout with laughter.
After that the priests, all of whom were of patrician birth, cut the skin of the goats into strips and, holding the strips in their hands and clad only in a loincloth of goatskin, they ran through the streets of the city touching or striking all persons whom they met.
Women sought the runners eagerly, because the thongs were thought to be charms against barrenness. These thongs were called februa, purifiers, derived from februo, to purify, and the day upon which the festival occurred was called dies februatus, day of purification.
From this most important festival in its period, the name februarizts, month of purification, was given to the month. Thence our term, February. (See also JANUARY.)