The goddess Flora was celebrated in the six day Floralia festival, which climaxed with gladiatorial games. The Greek counterpart of this ancient Roman goddess was Chloris.
Flora, the minor Roman goddess of flowers, fertility and spring
Flora was goddess of flowering or blossoming plants, particularly of wheat and other crops. Flora was the twin sister to Fauna, the goddess of animals and wildlife and was originally was called Sabine. Her Greek counterpart was Chloris. Her name, Flora, survives in the botanical term for the plant life in a particular region. Most people recognise the names of the twin goddesses as they are used in the context of flora and fauna to mean the plant and animal life. Although Flora was a minor goddess the Romans held her in high esteem. Flora was depicted in art wearing a crown of flowers and her image was engraved on Roman coins. She was referred to by Ovid as "The goddess comes, crowned with garlands of a thousand flowers". In opposition to Flora was an antagonistic divinity, called Robigus, who was the cause of destruction of crops. His wrath could only be averted by prayers and sacrifices, when he was invoked under the title of Averuncus, or the Avertor. The festival of Robigus (the Robigalia) was celebrated on April 5.
The Temples of Flora
The goddess Flora, the goddess of flowers was first honored in Rome, with a temple that was built in her honor. The content of the Sibylline Books motivated the construction of the Temple of Flora, and strongly advised the building of seven other temples. The Sibylline Books (Libri Sibyllini) were a collection of a collection of prophecies from an Oracle named the Sibyl of Cumae, bearing upon Roman religion and the welfare of Romans and the Roman state. On the advice of the Sibylline books, Titus Tatius, the King of the Sabines, vowed a shrine and a temple in honor located on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. with the purpose of gaining protection from Flora of the crops and plants. Flora was also given a temple near the Circus Maximus in 238 and was represented by one of the twelve minor flamines (priests or sacrificers) in the collegium pontificum, the association of Pontiffs who were the chief priests. A festival in her honor called the Floralia, or Ludi Florales, was instituted on the occasion of the dedication of the temple to Flora near the Circus Maximus.
The Festival of Flora - the Floralia
Flora was one of several Roman fertility goddesses. The Romans also believed Flora to be a love Goddess possessing the properties of fertility, sex and the blossom of spring and the renewal of the cycle of life. She was honored with the festival know as the Floralia or Ludi Florales. This springtime festival was celebrated to honor Flora between April 27 and May 3. The Floralia lasts for six days and during this time Romans decked their houses and temples with flowers and also wore flowers in their hair. Even their animals were decorated with flowers in honor of Flora. Floralia, the festival of Flora, was a lively affair involving merry making, feasting, drinking and games. Romans wore highly colorful clothing, instead of their usual white clothes, to imitate colorful flowers that were believed to be the result of the influence of Flora. The six day festival of Floralia started with theatrical performances and mimes and culminated with games called the Florales Ludi. The theatrical performances received official recognition and, when first instituted, were known for their licentiousness and a particular favorite of the the plebeians (lower class Romans). The festival was a carnival of sexual fun and liberty featuring erotic dancing and stripping by prostitutes. The prostitutes of Rome identified with Flora at this time and claimed this day as their own and performed various erotic dances and mimes.
The Worship of Flora - Sacrifices
Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and fertility was worshipped in the same way as any other Roman divinity with prayers, making vows, dedicating altars, sacrificing animals and birds and making offerings of milk, honey, flowers and grain to the goddess. White animals were sacrificed to the gods and goddesses of the upper world and the sex of a sacrificial animal or bird had to correspond to the sex of the goddess to whom it was offered.
The Games in honor of Flora - Ludi Florales
The festival to Flora included games (ludi Floralis) on the final days of the festival. The first games of the Floralia, or Florifertum, were celebrated on the fifth day of the festival when it was customary to bring stalks of wheat. Florifertum centered around the Kalends of May (May Day), and offerings of milk and honey would be made to the flower goddess. Lupins, purplish-blue flowers were thrown to the crowds at the Floralia together with a variety of lentils and beans as symbols of fertility. The crowds wore brightly colored clothes and decked their hair with flowers and wreaths. An unusual feature of the games was an enactment of hunting small animals such as hares and goats which were set in an elaborate setting. The usual gladiatorial games, the main events, followed towards the end of the day. The festival and games were discontinued at one point due when the authorities clamped down on the rowdy and licentious behaviour of the crowds. But were restored in 173 BCE after storms had destroyed crops and vines.