The Seedy, Scandalous History of Valentine’s Day

Imagine half naked men running through the streets, whipping young women with bloodied thongs made from freshly cut goat skins. Although it might sound like some sort of perverted sado-masochist practice, this is what the Romans did until 496 A.D.

Indeed, mid-February was Lupercalia (Wolf Festival) time. Celebrated on February 15 at the foot of the Palatine Hill beside the cave where according to tradition the she-wolf had suckled Romulus and Remus, the festival was essentially a purification and fertility rite.

Directed by the Luperci, or “brothers of the wolf,” the festival began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog, their blood smeared on the faces of Luperci initiates and then wiped off with wool dipped in milk.

As thongs were cut from the sacrificed goats, the initiates would run around in the streets flagellating women to promote fertility.

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