Larvae in History

by Charabis

Larvae, also known as Lemures, were the malevolent spirits of the dead in ancient Roman times. These restless souls would wander the night, seeking to torment and strike fear into the hearts of the living, often driving them to madness. Larvae were often wicked people, or those who had died violently before their time.

So fearsome were these spirits, that the feast of the Lemures, also known as the Lemuria, was held. On May 9, 11, and 13 in the Julian calendar, they would attempt to exorcise these malevolent spirits from their homes.

Black beans were given as an offering to appease the Larvae. The ritual itself consisted of walking barefoot at night while tossing the beans over one's shoulder at midnight. The head of the household would wake up at midnight to perform this ritual, repeating "With these beans I redeem me and mine" nine times. This would be followed by everyone in the household slamming together bronze pots while repeating "Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!" nine times over.

In contrast to these malevolent spirits, another class, known as the Manes or Di Manes, existed. These were the souls of deceased loved ones, and were not considered to be evil spirits. Interestingly, they were offered blood sacrifices, and the gladiatorial games are thought to have originiated at funerals for this purpose.

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016