Another type of Arbor Day: In the ancient Roman calendar, 22 March marked the celebration of Arbor intrat, or “The Tree Enters.”

By Alexis Culotta

Another type of Arbor Day: In the ancient Roman calendar, 22 March marked the celebration of Arbor intrat, or “The Tree Enters,” a ceremonial procession that served as part of the two-week long Sanguem, a series of festivals honoring the goddess Cybele, known also as Magna Mater, and her consort, Attis. 

Established as an official festival day during the reign of 1st century CE Roman Emperor Claudius, the Arbor Intrat acted as a bookend to the Canna intrat, or ‘The Reed Enters,” held a week earlier and commemorating Cybele’s discovery of Attis as an infant within the reeds of the Phrygian River. Correspondingly, the Arbor intrat honored Attis’ death, which purportedly occurred following a fit of maniacal self-mutilation. In death, as the story goes, he transformed into a pine tree. Thus, during celebrations, priestly dendrophoroi, or “tree bearers,” selected a pine tree and cut it down, adorned it with a likeness of Attis, and processed through Rome to the Palatine Temple of Magna Mater.  


Cybele Enthroned with Lion, Cornucopia, and Crown, c. 50 CE. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. 

Dancing Attis, c. 1st century CE. Vatican Museums. 

Cybele on her Chariot and Attis Leaning on a Sacred Pin, 2nd century CE. Museo della Civiltà Romana, Rome. 

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