Holidays Reporter's Notebook Top

‘Io, Saturnalia!’ Chester, UK celebrates its own Roman history

A scene from the Saturnalia celebration in Chester, UK. (Gemma Christie/YJI)

Chester, UK – People in Chester, England gathered Thursday for the city’s annual Saturnalia festival, some of them dressing as Romans from ancient times.

Saturnalia, a Roman festival that traditionally lasted six days in December, celebrated winter solstice and the hope for new life in the spring.

Romans held it in honor of Saturn, god of farming and harvest and the golden age.

Chester may be the only city to still celebrate Saturnalia, due to its close history with the Romans. Deva Victrix, Chester’s original name, was founded in the 70s AD and it was a legionary fortress.

It was a strategic location for a fortress due to the river Dee which runs through it and gave the Romans access to the sea.

The Roman Legion, played by members of Chester Roman Tours, marched through the streets with flaming torches and Emperor Domitian delivered a speech to confirm Roman rule in Chester.

The people in the parade cosplayed in Roman togas and armour.

“I am Imperator. I am a living god. I am Caesar. I am Rome,” shouted Domitian at the end of his speech. He was emperor when Deva Victrix was founded.

Saturnalia was a unique festival in Rome that defied the city’s social protocol. In ancient times, everyone, including slaves, celebrated Saturnalia.

Slaves and masters would share a day of equality. There was private and public feasting. Romans usually had strict societal hierarchy ranging from the lowest status slaves to the highest status senators, who were only beneath the emperor.

That’s part of what made Saturnalia so special.

In Chester, the procession marched throughout the streets on December 14. It passed many ancient landmarks such as the Roman Walls, which you can still walk around today, and the Roman Amphitheatre, where the famous gladiator fights took place.

The amphitheatre was also used for military training and wrestling.

Chester’s Roman Amphitheatre (Gemma Christie/YJI)

As Saturnalia was a great festival, it is lucky that it is still commemorated today in Chester. It marks the importance of celebrating Chester’s classical culture on which the city’s foundations were built.

A crowd gathered around the historical actors at Chester’s Saturnalia celebration. (Gemma Christie/YJI)

As part of a strong drive to preserve Chester’s unique and ancient history, hundreds crowded the streets this year to watch the parade and join in the traditional salutation of “Io Saturnalia!”

Gemma Christie is a Junior Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International.

Leave a Comment