"The wine, justly owed to Jupiter, was paid." - The Vinalia Rustica of Ancient Rome

19 August, ancient Rome celebrated the festival of the Vinalia Rustica, the rustic vinalia,  honouring Jupiter and Venus in her probably oldest aspect as Mother of the Romans and the upcoming vintage.

“Mezentius donned his armour, / And so did Aeneas, and addressed Jove: / ‘The enemy’s pledged his vine-crop to the Tyrrhenian king: / Jupiter, you shall have the wine from the Latin vines!’ / The nobler prayer succeeded: huge Mezentius died, / And struck the ground, heart filled with indignation. / Autumn came, dyed with the trodden grapes: / The wine, justly owed to Jupiter, was paid. / So the day is called the Vinalia: Jupiter claims it, / And loves to be present at his feast.” (Ovid, “Fasti”)

Detail from a 3rd century CE Sarcophagus representing a Dionysiac Vintage Festival, courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The defeat of the Etruscan King Mezentius, who was, according to Virgil, a “despiser of the gods”, by Aeneas, son of Venus, marks a Roman wine festival that is, interestingly enough, not connected with the Wine God Bacchus. Opinions of antique authors differed why, besides Aeneas alleged vow, Jupiter was present. The father of the gods appreciated a good drop, like the other gods and goddesses, but it was his role as weather deity that assured a good vintage and wine was regarded as a kingly drink anyway. Thus, on August 19th, a priest of Jupiter picked a first bunch of grapes, blessed the first pressing of it, like the blessing of the first wine that is still celebrated in some Catholic regions today, and offered an “agna”, a female lamb as sacrifice.

Jupiter as lamb bearer in archetypical "good shepherd" pose during the Vinalia Rustica

The “agna” is a connection to the second deity celebrated during the vinalia rustica, Venus. Her first temple in Rome was dedicated during the festival in 295 BCE on the Aventine to her aspect as Venus Obsequens, the compliant Venus, who allegedly assisted the Consul Gurges in a battle against the Samnites in southern Italy who plagued the Romans until Sulla reacted with his infamous rigorous measures against them in 89 BCE. But actually Venus Obsequens mirrored a far more benign aspect of the goddess, when she was responsible for vegetation and growth, long before Aeneas came to Italy.

During the celebrations, the Roman kitchen- and market-gardens as well as the vineyards dedicated to her were decorated and libations poured among general merry making at home and probably in her temples as well, in honour of Venus, growth and a good vintage and the vinum spucrum, the ordinary or rustic wine, whose patron the goddess was as well. Then, the grape harvest and the pressing would begin with its own festivities until vinum spucrum, sampled from last year’s vintage, and Venus were celebrated again during the Vinalia prima on April 23rd, when the deity was asked, in her other aspects, for beauty and popular favour.