A term applied to the various contests and spectacles held in the Roman Circus and
amphitheatre (ludi circenses
) and those of the theatre (ludi scaenici
) and stadium.
Games were either public (publici
) or private (privati
). Public games were originally ceremonials connected
with religion, the oldest being the Equirria, in honour of Mars, and the Consualia, in honour
of Consus. (See Equirria; Consualia
.) Games were
frequently exhibited in fulfilment of a vow (ludi votivi
). Such were the
seven great celebrations of the republican period—the Ludi Magni (or Maximi), the
Ludi Plebeii, the Ludi Cereales, the Ludi Apollinares, the Ludi Megalenses, the Ludi Florales,
and the Ludi Victoriae Sullanae. (See below.) Under the Empire many new games were
introduced—in honour of the emperor's birthday (ludi natalicii
and games instituted at the conclusion of a great war (e. g. ludi Parthici, ludi
Alemannici, ludi Sarmatici
Private games were those given by private individuals, and not by
the emperor or by the State. The most usual private games were the ludi
, celebrated on the ninth day after death, and hence called ludi
Private games were also given by persons of high rank on any occasion of
public thanksgiving (ludi honorarii.
) Games given by the emperor for the
benefit of invited guests alone were also classed as ludi privati.
Games were given in the Circus and amphitheatre, or in the theatre. Those in the Circus were
races (see Circus
); those in the amphitheatre were
gladiatorial contests (see Gladiatores
beast-baiting (see Venationes
). (For the
theatrical games and contests, see Comoedia
.) There were also
contests imported from Greece and called agones
, either musical or
athletic in their nature, for which, see Athletae
The games originally lasted for one day only; but in the later days of the Republic the
duration of them was greatly extended—e. g. the Ludi Magni, or Romani, to sixteen
days, the Ludi Plebeii to fourteen, the Ludi Cereales to eight, etc. Under the Empire the
games were often continued through the night—a custom which probably began with the
Floralia (Ovid, Fasti
, v. 361 foll.).
The observance opened with a regular ritual, which was carefully carried out; and if it
appeared that the instauratio
had been in any way defective in form, the
games were repeated (see Weissenborn on Livy, xxiii. 30, 16
great games were administered by the consuls until B.C. 366, the date of the first creation of
curule aediles. Down to the Empire, the praetors had charge of the Ludi Apollinares. The
gladiatorial contests were frequently given under the direction of the quaestors.
The cost of the games was partly defrayed by the State from a special fund (lucar
) originally formed from the income received from the sacred groves. The rest of
the expense was borne by the giver of the games—i. e. the officials whose duty it
was to administer them. The outlay was often so great as to deter many persons from aspiring
to the curule offices (Dio Cass. liii. 2). Martial tells us that the chariot-races sometimes
cost 400,000 sesterces ($16,000). Symmachus spent nearly $400,000 in this way; and Justinian's
games cost $1,000,000. For an account of the magnificence of these exhibitions, see
; Dio Cass. lxviii. 15; Gibbon, ii. 58-60; and
, ii. 319 foll. (2d ed.).
At the games, the emperor occupied a private box (cubiculum
), and it is
probable that seats were reserved by law for magistrates (consuls, praetors, tribunes, etc.)
and priests and Vestals. Free seats were sometimes given in perpetuity to a distinguished man
and his descendants (Philipp.
ix. 7, 16). At ordinary games seats were
- 1. sold by the exhibitor to those who wished to avoid the crush;
- 2. given by him to his friends and to those who had by law a right to reserved places;
- 3. opened free to the general public.
Tickets for the first class of seats were often secured by speculators (locarii
) and sold at a considerable advance. In early times, slaves were not allowed
to attend the games; but this prohibition was afterwards either withdrawn or ignored. Roman
citizens were obliged to wear the toga at the games; magistrates appeared in official costume.
The exhibitor often gave presents to the spectators in the shape of things to be scrambled for
). Cloaks could be worn over the toga in bad weather, and hats
) as a protection from the sun. When the weather was bad and the
wind so high that the awning (velarium
) could not be used, the spectators
were allowed to hold up their umbrellas (umbracula
Principal games mentioned by the ancient writers
Games in honour of the Actian Apollo, decreed by Augustus in B.C. 31 after his victory
over Antony at Actium. They consisted at Rome of horse-races, gymnastic contests, and
occasionally of gladiatorial contests. They were held every fourth year (Dio Cass. li. 19).
2. Ludi Apollināres
Games established in B.C. 212, in accordance with a prophecy of the seer Marcius , in
honour of Apollo, the averter of evil. They were originally ludi
, and were given by the praetor urbanus
(Livy, xxv. 12, 2
). They were, to a large degree, a Greek festival.
The decemviri sacris faciundis
sacrificed with victims after the Greek
fashion; the State supplied the victims, and also gave 12,000 asses
defray the expenses of the games, and the people aided with a small subscription
(Livy, xxv. 12, 12-14
). The next year the praetor L. Calpurnius
Piso proposed that the games should be vowed each year, and hence the Calpurnii have the
head of Apollo on their denarii (Mommsen, Röm. Münzwesen
pp. 580, 626). After this they were celebrated every year, but till B.C. 208 on no definite
day. In consequence of a pestilence in that year, the praetor P. Licinius Varus voted that
they should be held every year on a fixed day. That day was July 13, which always continued
to be the last day on which these games were held. The number of days gradually increased
from one till it finally reached eight, or perhaps nine. They were, for the most part,
theatrical exhibitions from the very beginning (see the interesting story in Festus, s. v.
, p. 326 Müller); but sometimes there was a venatio
, and Dio Cassius (xlviii. 33) speaks of a horse-race. In the Apollinarian
games, held by Agrippa in B.C. 40, two days were given to the games of the Circus, during
one of which the ludus Troiae
was exhibited (Dio Cass. xlviii. 20).
3. Ludi Augustāles
4. Ludi Capitolīni
Livy states (Livy v. 50, 4
) that in the year B.C. 390 (better 388),
after the defeat of the Gauls, on the motion of Camillus, a decree of the Senate was passed
that Ludi Capitolini should be instituted, inasmuch as Iupiter, the best and greatest, had
preserved his settlement and citadel in a serious crisis, and that the dictator M. Furius
should appoint for that purpose a collegium
, consisting of those who
dwelt in the Capitol and citadel (cf. Livy, v. 52, 11
). As being
administered by a collegium
, the Capitoline games were like the
Circensian games of the Fratres Arvales. After B.C. 384, when Marius Capitolinus was
condemned, a motion was brought before the people that no patrician should dwell in the
citadel or the Capitol (Livy, vi. 20
), so that from this time
only plebeians could be members of this collegium.
For the guild of the Capitolini, see
Q. Fr. ii. 5, 2.
They had magistri
of their own.
Preller (Röm. Myth.
202) thinks this is a very old festival in
honour of Iupiter Capitolinus, so old that it was attributed to Romulus (cf.
5). A curious ceremony was performed at these Capitoline games, from
their supposed connection with a triumph of Romulus over Veii; or, as Mommsen holds, with
the capture of Veii by Camillus in B.C. 396. An old man, who was considered to represent the
king of Veii, was led through the Forum to the Capitol, dressed in regal attire and wearing
suspended from his neck; and a herald accompanying him
proclaimed the “sale of the Sardians,” because the Veientines, being
Etruscans, were supposed to have come from Sardis, in Lydia (Quaest. Rom.
5. Ludi Cereāles
or Ceriāles. See Ceres
6. Ludi Compitalicii
7. Ludi Florāles
8. Ludi Funēbres
See above, p. 972.
9. Ludi Honorarii
See above, p. 972.
11. Ludi Liberāles
, p. 521.
12. Ludi Magni
See above, p. 972.
13. Ludi Martiāles
or Martis Ultōris. Games celebrated annually by the
consuls (Dio Cass. lx. 5; lvi. 46), in honour of Mons Ultor. They included sometimes a mock
14. Ludi Megalenses
15. Ludi Natalicii
See above, p. 972.
16. Ludi Novendiāles
See above, p. 972.
17. Ludi Palatīni
Theatrical exhibitions held on the 21st, 22d, and 23d of each January in a private theatre
and before a specially invited audience, in honour of the divinity of Augustus (Dio Cass.
lvi. 46; lix. 16; Tac. Ann. i. 73
18. Ludi Plebeii
Games held in the Circus Flaminius, and mentioned as early as B.C. 216 (Livy, xxiii. 30, 17
). Now, as the Circus Flaminius was built in B.C.
220 (Livy, Epit.
xx.), we may assign the establishment of the Ludi Plebeii to
the same date, and also the Iovis epulum
on the Ides (for all Ides were
sacred to Iupiter) which is connected with these games (Livy, xxv. 2,
; xxvii. 3, 9
). We find from the Calendar of Philocalus
(A.D. 354) that the Ludi Plebeii lasted till the fourth century. The date of them was
originally Nov. 15, just as that of the Ludi Romani was Sept.15(C. I. L.
i. 401). They were celebrated by the
plebeian aediles; and already in B.C. 207 they lasted for more than one day (Livy, xxviii. 10, 7
). In some early calendars—e. g. the
Fasti Maffeiani—they are put down as lasting from Nov. 4 to
Nov. 17. Dramatic performances formed a part of these games, as is
seen from the didascalia to the Stichus
19. Ludi Pontificāles
The same as the Ludi Actiaci. See above, p. 973.
20. Ludi Romāni
Games held in honour of Iupiter, and said to have been established by Tarquinius Priscus
on the occasion of his conquest of the Latin Apiolae (Livy, i. 35,
); though Dionysius and Cicero refer their establishment to the victory over the
Latins at Lake Regillus. At first they lasted for one day only; a second day was added on
the expulsion of the kings in B.C. 509; a third after the first secession, B.C. 494. From
the year 191 to 171 they lasted ten days (Livy, xxxvi. 2
), and shortly before Caesar's death they appear to have
been a fifteenday festival—from Sept. 5 to 19. After
Caesar's death a day was added: this day must have been Sept. 4; and
so it appears in the calendars of the Augustan period, the days of the games being Sept. 4 to 19. There was the epulum Iovis
on the 13th, and
the equorum probatio
on the 14th. The games in the Circus lasted from
the 15th to the 19th. In the Calendar of Philocalus (A.D. 354) they run from Sept. 12 to 15. The celebration was in the hands, at first, of the
consuls; afterwards of the curule aediles.
We must not suppose that these games were regularly established as annual from the
beginning. Games, as already stated, in many cases began from a vow made by the commander,
and were celebrated as a special festival after his triumphal procession. As the army,
however, used to go forth, as a general rule, each summer, it became customary, when it
returned in autumn, to celebrate such games, though connected with no triumph, and though no
signal victory had been gained. But still, in all cases, they were celebrated as
extraordinary games, and not as games regularly established by law. They were sollemnes
, “customary,” but had not yet become
annui. Ludi magni
is the term applied to extraordinary games originating in
a vow (ludi votivi
), while ludi Romani
is that applied
to the games when they were regularly established as annual (ludi
). The latter term—i. e. ludi Romani
used by Livy in viii. 40, 2
(see Weissenborn ad
); and after that the terms varied according as the games are stati
(e. g. x. 47, 7; xxv. 2, 8) or votivi
10; 10, 7; xxvii. 33, 8; xxxvi. 2, 2; xxxix. 22, 2, etc.; Suet.
). The final establishment of these games must lie between
B.C. 367 and B.C. 322; and the year B.C. 367, when so many changes were effected, and when
we are told a day was added to these games and curule aediles appointed to superintend them,
seems most reasonable to assume.
The actual Ludi Romani consisted of, first a solemn procession (pompa
); then a chariot-race, in which each chariot, in Homeric fashion, carried a
driver and a warrior, the latter, at the end of the race, leaping out and running on foot
). This was a practice confined to the Ludi
Romani. In the exhibitions of riding, each rider had a second horse led by the hand, as it
appears the Roman horsemen, in early times, were in the habit of using two horses in battle
(cf. Gran. Licinian. bk. xxvi.), like the Tarentini in Greek warfare (Livy, xxxv. 28, 8
). Such riders were called desultores
(Livy, xxiii. 29, 5
). Originally, in all probability, there was only
one contest of each kind, and only two competitors in each contest, as “may be
inferred from the circumstance that, at all periods in the Roman chariot-race, only as many
chariots competed as there were so-called factions; and of these there were originally only
two—the white and the red” (Mommsen, R. H.
i. 301, note).
These few events allowed further minor exhibitions, such as boxers, dancers, competition in
youthful horsemanship (ludus Troiae
), etc. It was allowed that the wreath the
victor won should be put on his bier when dead (Twelve Tables, 10, 7). During the festival,
too, the successful warrior in real warfare wore the spoils he had won from the enemy, and
was crowned with a chaplet. After the introduction of the drama in B.C. 364, plays were
acted at the Ludi Romani. In B.C. 161 the Phormio
of Terence was given at
these games. See Mommsen, Römische Forschungen
, ii. 42-57.
21. Ludi Saeculāres
Games originally known as Ludi Terentīni.
) was a volcanic cleft in the
Campus Martius, at which even under the monarchy the Valerian gens sacrificed dark victims
to Dis and Proserpina. Valerius Maximus (ii. 5, 2) tells a story of a certain Valesius who
got his sons cured of a serious illness by giving them water from the Tiber boiled over this
cleft; and these sons saw in the sleep that restored them to health a vision which ordered
the sacrifice of dark-coloured victims to Dis and Proserpina on an altar to be found in the
Terentum, and the celebration of lectisternia
and nocturnal games for
three nights in their honour. The altar was found deep buried, the sacrifice was offered,
and from this sacrifice date the Ludi Terentini. We are told that P. Valerius Poplicola,
first consul, in a case of pestilence offered the same sacrifice and held the same games,
and thereby saved the State (Val. Max. l. c.). But this latter is a very old mistake, due to
the confusion of the first consul with the L. Valerius Poplicola, consul in B.C. 449; for
though we cannot be certain of any celebration of these games in B.C. 349, we have the most
distinct evidence for their being held in B.C. 249 (cf. Varro ap.
Censor. De Die Natali
, 17, 18). The next celebration was not in B.C. 149, but
in 146 (Censor. op. cit.
17, 11, who quotes contemporary authorities,
Piso, Gellius, and Hemina). In the year B.C. 49 religion was silent amid
the turmoil of the Civil War, and the games were not solemnized till the well-known
celebration of Augustus in B.C. 17. But why in that year?
There were many Greek myths (Lobeck, Aglaoph.
791 foll.) of certain ages of
the world—the Golden Age, the Silver Age, etc.—mixed up with
astronomical theories of the whole order of the universe beginning anew when the planets
returned to their original positions after what was called the magnus
The same series of people would reappear on earth and repeat again the various
exploits of their lives (cf. Verg. Ecl. iv.
foll.). Among these myths was one that the cycle began anew after four periods of
110 years each (cf. Probus ad
Verg. l. c.; and Varro ap.
St. August., De Civ. Dei
, xxii. 28). Again, there was an influence
from Etruria. Just as at Rome at the end of every five years there was a propitiatory
offering made to the gods for the people, so in Etruria a similar sacrifice was made at the
beginning of what they considered a saeculum
—i. e. that space
of time which embraced even the longest life. The propitiatory offering was made for all
alive at the time: when that whole race had passed away, the gods signified that the cycle
was over by sending prodigies, and a new sacrifice had to be offered (Censor. op. cit.
17, 5). The first four saecula
Etruscans lasted 100 years each, the fifth 123, the sixth and seventh 119 (Varro ap.
Censor. l. c.): so that something over 100 years was the average
The definite Greek theory that the saeculum
lasted 110 years was taken up by the Quindecimviri (Carm.
21), and in the interest of Augustus they proceeded to invent celebrations for
B.C. 456, 346, 236, 126, Augustus's games being celebrated in the last year of the saeculum
, B.C. 17.
The successors of Augustus celebrated the secular games according to different kinds of
computation. Claudius, says Gibbon, did not treat the oracle with implicit respect. He
celebrated the games, “which none had ever seen before,” in the eight
hundredth year of the city (A.D. 47), with an actor who had taken part in the secular games
of Augustus (Pliny , Pliny H. N. vii. 159
Domitian celebrated them in A.D. 87, six years too early if they were to be 110 years after
those of Augustus. (See Suet. Domit.
Ann. xi. 11.
) Antoninus Pius in the year 900 of the city (A.D. 147)
celebrated them (Aurel. Vict.
Caes. 15, 4
), while Severus held them 220 years after Augustus, in
A.D. 204. The last celebration was in the thousandth year of the city (A.D. 247) by the
emperor Philip (Eutrop. 9, 3; Eckhel, vii. 323, 324). It may be that Gallienus in A.D. 257
(Eckhel, vii. 409; viii. 22) held them as an extraordinary solemnity in a period of great
trouble (Trebell. Pollio, Gall.
5), and Maximian, in A.D. 304, certainly
intended to hold them, but does not appear to have carried out his intention: so from
Philip's time we may say that the secular games disappear till they were revived in the
Middle Ages as the Papal Jubilees instituted by Pope Boniface VIII. in the year 1300
(Gibbon, i. 327, 328; viii. 217, ed. Smith).
The Ludi Terentini, then, and their continuation, the Ludi Saeculares, are not a really
genuine Roman ceremony. They rest on reference to the Sibylline Books (Carm.
5), are celebrated by the Quindecimviri outside the Pomoerium (that the gods
of the lower world might not be brought inside the city), the gods honoured are not Roman,
and the Roman antiquarians considered the solemnities to be derived from Etruria
(Censor. l. c.
The rites of the celebration are given by Zosimus (ii. 5), who also quotes verbatim
the Sibylline oracle ordering the celebration. His account is
as follows: Heralds summoned the people to the spectacle they had never seen before and
never would see again. Then in the Capitoline temple of Iupiter and the Palatine temple of
Apollo, the Quindecimviri gave to all present (slaves excluded) purificatories (καθάρσια
), consisting of torches,
sulphur, and bitumen; and in the same temples, and that of Diana on the Aventine, wheat,
barley, and beans were given to the people to make an offering with, though Zosimus says
these were to be given to the actors in the games. Then began the feast, which lasted three
nights and three days. Offerings were made to Iupiter, Iuno Lucina, Apollo, Latona and
Diana, the Fates, Demeter (Tellus
, Carm. Saec.
29), Pluto, and
Proserpina. On the first night, at the second hour, the emperor, with the assistance of the
Quindecimviri, sacrificed to the Fates, at the Terentum, on the border of the Tiber, three
rams on three altars, letting the blood flow all over the altars, and then thoroughly burned
the victims. A stage was then erected, the people lighted torches, a newly-composed hymn was
sung, and splendid shows exhibited: for the oracle had said that the grave was to be mingled
with the gay. On the next day a sacrifice was made on the Capitol of white bulls to Iupiter
and a white cow to Iuno, in accordance with the oracle, and then in the theatre there were
dramatic representations in honour of Apollo. On the second night a white pig and a white
sow were sacrificed to Tellus, in accordance with the oracle, and dark victims offered to
Dis and Proserpina, at an altar of which some remains were discovered in the winter of
1886-87. On the second day the matrons offered supplications and sang hymns to Iuno on the
Capitol; and on the third day in the Palatine temple of Apollo there was a sacrifice of
white oxen, and thrice nine noble boys and maidens whose parents were still alive (ἀμφιθαλεῖς
, patrimi ac matrimi
) sang hymns in
Greek and Latin for the preservation and prosperity of the Roman Empire. Such a hymn was
called Carmen Saeculare
, and we still possess the one which Horace wrote for
the celebration of the games by Augustus.
A most interesting inscription containing an official report of the Augustan pageant was
discovered September 20, 1890. It was cut upon a block of marble and contained 168 lines of
minute writing. The inscription has been edited by Prof. Mommsen (Rome, 1891)
and is the subject of an excellent popular article by Prof. Lanciani in the Atlantic
for February, 1892.
22. Ludi Sevirāles
The same as the Ludi Martiales.
23. Ludi Taurii
Games in honour of the infernal gods (Fest.
p. 350, Müller). They
included a chariot-race in the Circus. The name is possibly derived from taura
, a barren cow sacrificed to Proserpina. For an
absurd etymology, see Varro, p. 351.
24. Ludi Terentīni
See Ludi Saeculāres above.
25. Ludi Victoriae Caesăris
or Ludi Venĕris Genetrīcis. Games first
celebrated by Iulius Caesar in B.C. 46, on the dedication of the temple of Venus Genetrix,
which had been vowed at the battle of Pharsalia. (See Suet.
; Dio Cass. xlix. 42.) They were held in July, from the 20th
to the 30th. Venus Genetrix was in these identified with Victoria, on which see Gellius, x.
1, 7, and Mommsen in the C. I. L.
26. Ludi Victoriae Sullānae
Games established by Sulla in B.C. 82 (Vell. Paterc. ii. 27).
27. Ludi Volcanalĭci
Games established probably after the recovery of the standards of Crassus from the
Parthians by Augustus. They were celebrated in the temple of Vulcan outside the city, on the
23d of August (Quaest. Rom.
47; Mommsen, C. I. L.
28. Ludi Votīvi
See above, p. 972.
On the games in general, see Friedländer's Sittengeschichte
263-289, 3d ed.; id. in Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverwaltung
462-475; and Mommsen in the C. I. L.
i. pp. 293-412.