The Temple of Saturn (Latin: Templum Saturni or Aedes Saturni; Italian: Tempio di Saturno) was an ancient Roman temple to the god Saturn, in what is now Rome, Italy. Its ruins stand at the foot of the Capitoline Hill at the western end of the Roman Forum. The original dedication of the temple is traditionally dated to 497 BC, but ancient writers disagreed greatly about the history of this site.
Constructed in the fourth century A.D. to replace an earlier temple, the Temple of Saturn in Rome served as the ceremonial center of later Saturnalia celebrations. On the first day of the festivities, a young pig would often be publicly sacrificed at the temple, which was located in the northwest corner of the Roman Forum.
The cult statue of Saturn in the temple traditionally had woolen bonds tied around his feet, but during Saturnalia these bonds were loosened to symbolize the god’s liberation.
In many Roman households, a mock king was chosen: the Saturnalicius princeps, or “leader of Saturnalia,” sometimes also called the “Lord of Misrule.” Usually a lowlier member of the household, this figure was responsible for making mischief during the celebrations—insulting guests, wearing crazy clothing, chasing women and girls, etc.
The statue of Saturn at his main temple normally had its feet bound in wool, which was removed for the holiday as an act of liberation. The official rituals were carried out according to “Greek rite” (ritus graecus). The sacrifice was officiated by a priest, whose head was uncovered; in Roman rite, priests sacrificed capite velato, with head covered by a special fold of the toga. This procedure is usually explained by Saturn’s assimilation with his Greek counterpart Cronus, since the Romans often adopted and reinterpreted Greek myths, iconography, and even religious practices for their own deities, but the uncovering of the priest’s head may also be one of the Saturnalian reversals, the opposite of what was normal.
Following the sacrifice the Roman Senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing a deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet followed (convivium publicum).
The day was supposed to be a holiday from all forms of work. Schools were closed, and exercise regimens were suspended. Courts were not in session, so no justice was administered, and no declaration of war could be made. After the public rituals, observances continued at home. On 18 and 19 December, which were also holidays from public business, families conducted domestic rituals. They bathed early, and those with means sacrificed a suckling pig, a traditional offering to an earth deity.