Last Updated on 2022/10/11
Liber or Liber Pater was the Italic god of fertility, wine, male fertility and freedom.
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He was a member of the Aventine Triad and the patron god of the peasants in Rome. His celebration of Liberalia (March 17) came to symbolize liberalism and the liberties that come with becoming adulthood. His legend came to be shared by Romanized versions of the Greek Dionysus/Bacchus, with whose worship and activities he was increasingly identified.
Liber was a partner to two different goddesses in two distinct, ancient Italian fertility cults before being officially adopted as a Roman deity. Ceres, a fertility and agricultural goddess of Rome’s Hellenized neighbors, and Libera, who was Liber’s female equivalent, were his companions. He was a phallic god in prehistoric Lavinium. Latin liber, which translates as “free” or “the free one,” also denotes “the free father,” or the personification of freedom and the defender of its rights as opposed to dependent slavery.
Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome
Soon after the fall of the Roman monarchy, the founding of the Republic, and the first of many potential or real plebeian secessions from Rome’s patrician rule, Liber entered Rome’s historical heritage. Liber is linked to specific instances of plebeian disobedience to the civil and ecclesiastical authority claimed by Rome’s Republican patrician elite as a result of his sponsorship of the plebs, or plebeian commoners, who make up Rome’s biggest and least powerful class of citizens.
Liber was a near equivalence to the Romanized form of the Greek deity Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, due to his links with wine, intoxication, unrestrained freedom, and the overthrow of the strong.
The Bacchanalia cults may have presented a challenge to Rome’s established, conventional values and morality, but they were already being practiced in Roman Italy for many years prior to their alleged disclosure as Dionysiac cults, and they were most likely no more secrecy than any other mystery cult. However, their presence at the Aventine prompted a probe.
Featured image: The painting of Liber Pater, recogonisable by his castellated crown and the branch in his hands, and Libera comes from a facade of the building. The construction of a temple and the equipment used by fullers can be seen in the background. The electoral inscriptions in support of C. Julius Polybius and C Lolius Fuscus date to AD 73 and 78 respectively.
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