Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saturnalia Quiz

Saturnalia in The Roman Mysteries TV series
Would it surprise you to learn that many of the customs we observe at Christmas go back to Roman times and have nothing to do with the birth of baby Jesus?

Here is a quiz for you to test your knowledge of the Roman SATURNALIA and its influence on modern Christmas.

1. The followers of which deity celebrated his birth on 25 December?
a) Sol Invictus
b) Mithras
c) Jesus Christ
d) all of the above

2. Three days before 25 December, what event occurs?
a) Summer Solstice
b) Summer Equinox
c) Winter Solstice
d) Winter Equinox
e) Easter

3. The Romans gave gifts on the Saturnalia. Which of the following did they NOT give?
a) chocolate
b) silver objects
c) preserved fruit
d) small clay or wooden figures
4. Mottoes and riddles in Christmas crackers might go back to the Roman practice of
a) hiring comic actors to deliver gifts
b) writing epigrams for Saturnalia gifts
c) Roman singing telegrams (in dactylic pentameter)
d) memorizing and reciting lines from Virgils Aeneid as a Saturnalia party trick

5. Which ONE of the following Christmas customs did NOT orignate in the Saturnalia:
a) feasting
b) drinking
c) putting up lights
d) putting up greenery
e) Santa and his reindeer
f) giving gifts
g) taking time off work

6. In first century Rome, which illegal practice was permitted only during the Saturnalia?
a) murder
b) theft
c) witchcraft
d) gambling

7. The paper crown in British Christmas crackers reminds us of the Roman custom of:
a) choosing a King of the Saturnalia
b) Caesar wearing a wreath
c) the Etruscan king Tarquin
d) It has nothing to do with any Roman custom

8. Santa's red conical hat might well be traced back to hats worn during Saturnalia by:
a) Trojans
b) Greeks
c) Persians
d) Smurfs
e) freedmen

9. Here are some more Christmas customs which might go back to the Saturnalia. Which one is bogus?
a) mulled wine
b) Christmas stockings
c) singing songs
d) pantomime

10. Which of the following foods was certainly NOT part of the Saturnalia feast?
a) hot chestnuts
b) honey-glazed ham
c) turkey and mashed potato
d) roast peacock
To find out more about the Saturnalia, check out my blog about A Roman Christmas!

Some fun kids
 book set in first century Rome during the Saturnalia are The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina in my Roman Mysteries series and The Thunder Omen in my Roman Mystery Scrolls series; it features dancing Saturnalia chickens and illustrations by Minimus Latin Course artist Helen Forte.  The episode of the BBC TV series based on The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina shows what the Saturnalia might have looked like.  

Answers: 1 = d; 2 = c; 3 = a; 4 = b; 5 = e; 6 = d; 7 = a; 8 = e; 9 = b; 10 = c


  1. Io Saturnalia Caroline!

    I came across your excellent blog via Rowan Stanfield's. I have always been interested in things Roman (they formed part of my OU degree course) and your blog is right up my street. I look forward to catching up on your previous posts!

  2. Just on question 8, and that's the strange thing about truth, fiction, history and quizzes. Coca Cola claim credit for the red conical hat that we know and love from Mr and now Mrs Santa. Sometime in the 30s I think they had a christmas campaign with Santa in his Green Man outfit, and others go with the gods of the northmen with Santa so only indirectly Saturnalian. So anyway the media presentation guy takes a look at the photo of Santa on the big truck and says it's good but can we make the suit red, it'll stand out more. Plus loads of psychologists from the new departments of psychology migrated to media and advertising and they argued red makes people hungry so anyway it might not be true but as Pontius Pilatus put it.

  3. carol9:12 PM

    What fun. I love quizes. Brilliant idea.