The History of Valentine’s Day

Everyone knows that Valentine’s Day is a holiday when people show love family and friends. Some people send cards, candy or flowers to each other. But do you know how Valentine’s Day got its name?

The ancient Romans dedicated February 14 as a day of love. On that day, Romans honored Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. If they praised Juno, Romans believed that the goddess would help young men and women find their future wives and husbands. On February 14, the boys each drew a girl’s name from a container. When all the girls’ names were picked the next day, each boy paired up with the girl whose name he chose for another holiday to honor the god Lupercus. Older adults hoped that each pair of boys and girls would fall in love during the festival.

As Christianity spread across Europe, church officials didn’t want to honor the Roman gods, but they knew that the yearly celebration of love was very popular. In A.D. 486, Pope Gelasius replaced the Roman holiday with another festival. He named it after the Christian saint of love, Saint Valentine.

Painting of St. Valentine Kneeling

Painting of St. Valentine Kneeling

Saint Valentine is a mysterious figure. Some historians think that at least three different people in history shared the name Valentine. One legend says that Valentine was a Christian priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius had a hard time getting soldiers to fight his wars, so he forbid young men from marrying. Valentine disagreed with the emperor and performed secret marriages. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions, he threw the priest in jail. In this legend, Valentine was killed on February 14.

In another legend, Emperor Claudius wanted everyone to pray to the Roman gods. Valentine refused because he believed in the Christian religion. Claudius imprisoned Valentine for his disobedience. While Valentine was in jail, he fell in love with the prison guard’s blind daughter and gave her a note before he was killed. Suddenly, the girl could see again.

As time passed, people associated St. Valentine with lovers, and his day became a time when people hoped to find their sweethearts.

Going to School in Ancient Rome

Did you ever think your teacher was difficult to please? Children in ancient Rome often had very strict teachers. Roman boys and girls attended elementary school when they were six or seven, if their parents could afford the school fee. The teacher, known as a magister or grammaticus, taught the children basic reading, writing, and math in two languages–Greek and Latin.

Teachers in ancient Rome sometimes made learning very complicated. For example, the teacher would say the letters of the alphabet aloud without showing students what the letters looked like. As a result, learning to write took a long time because students did not know the shape of the letters.

In addition to mastering two languages, Roman children had to behave themselves. Since there was no principal’s office to send a disobedient student to, teachers would physically punish students. The famous Roman Augustine still had nightmares as an adult about the beatings he received for playing ball during lessons.

School days lasted from dawn until noon without a break. Students did have a summer vacation and didn’t attend school on certain festival days. They also had every eighth day off, which was known as market day. Since many “schools” met in small groups outdoors, it would have been impossible to hear lessons on a busy market day.

Only boys went to the ancient Roman version of high school. By the age of twelve, girls left school to learn how to run a household before they married. In the next couple of years, Roman boys learned grammar and studied literature in Greek and Latin. Other subjects like history and geometry were considered less important and science was rarely studied.

Since teachers expected to receive a fee from the students’ parents, not all Roman children had access to education. Some were lucky enough to have household members who knew how to read and they taught the children what they knew. Many children whose parents did not have money or were slaves, however, remained illiterate.