Saturnalia the festival of Saturnus, to whom the people of Latium attributed the introduction of agriculture and the arts of civilized life. It was kept towards the end of December, as a sort of harvest home, during which business was suspended; courts and schools were closed; no war was commenced or malefactor punished; slaves were relieved from ordinary labor, and, dressed in their masters' clothes, were waited upon by them at the table. Saturnus being an ancient national god of Latium, the institution of the Saturnalia is lost in the most remote antiquity. One legend ascribes it to Janus, another (by Varro) to the Pelasgi, while a third tradition represented certain followers of Hercules, whom he had left behind on his return to Greece, as the authors of the festival. At first only one day was set apart for the sacred rites of Saturnus, but additions were gradually made until it occupied seven days. In reality, during the empire, three different festivals were celebrated. First came the Saturnalia proper, commencing on XVI Kal. Dec., followed by the Opalia, anciently coincident with the Sigillaria, so called from little earthenware figures (sigilla oscilla) exposed for sale at this season.

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