Role reversal in Ancient Rome…

When: December 17th to 23rd.
Where: Ancient Rome.

The tradition during the popular Roman festival of Saturnalia was for slaves and masters to switch places in a reversal of roles. The slaves were allowed to treat their masters with mock disrespect and hold a banquet which was served by their masters. However, this role reversal was mostly superficial as the banquet was often prepared by the slaves in the first place whilst preparing their master’s dinner as well.

Children headed the family, cross-dressing and masquerades took place and general merriment of all kinds prevailed. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten, wars were put on hold, gifts exchanged. Candles and lamps chased away the spirits of darkness. A mock king (the Lord of Misrule) was also crowned chosen by bean ballot. This evolved into the practice of baking a cake containing a bean, whosoever finds the bean is crowned king.

Saturnalia was introduced around 217 BC to raise morale after a particularly crushing military defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians. It was based upon the Persian holiday (Sacacea) and the Egyptian mid winter celebrations. Originally only celebrated for a day it became so popular (probably more with slaves than masters!) that it grew into a week-long extravaganza.

Saturnalia is believed to have had the first parade floats, called the ‘carrus navalis’ and could be the origins of today’s carnivals.

(via Somewhere in the world today)