In Roman mythology, Lupercus is a god sometimes identified with the Roman god Faunus, who is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan. Lupercus is the god of shepherds. His festival, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple on February 15, was called the Lupercalia.
The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, explaining the name of the festival, Lupercalia, or "Wolf Festival." The festival was celebrated near the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine Hill (the central hill where Rome was traditionally founded), to expiate and purify new life in the Spring. The Lupercal cave, which had fallen into a state of decay, was rebuilt by Augustus; the celebration of the festival had been maintained, as we know from the famous occurrence of it in 44 BC. A highly decorated cavern 50 feet (15 m) below Augustus' palace in the correct approximate location was discovered by archeologists in October 2007, which may prove to be the Lupercal cave when analyzed.
The religious ceremonies were directed by the Luperci, the "brothers of the wolf (lupus)", a corporation of priests of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin, whose institution is attributed either to the Arcadian Evander, or to Romulus and Remus. The Luperci were divided into two collegia, called Quinctiliani (or Quinctiales) and Fabiani, from the gens Quinctilia (or Quinctia) and gens Fabia; at the head of each of these colleges was a magister. In 44 BC, a third college, the Julii, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar, the first magister of which was Mark Antony. In imperial times the members were usually of equestrian standing.
The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the flamen dialis) of two male goats and a dog. Next two young patrician Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh.
The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims, which were called februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth. This tradition itself may survive (Christianised, and shifted to Spring) in certain ritual Easter Monday whippings.
By the 5th century, when the public performance of pagan rites had been outlawed, a nominally Christian Roman populace still clung to the Lupercalia in the time of Pope Gelasius I (494–96). Gelasius finally abolished the Lupercalia after a long dispute.