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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, etc.).

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 funebres, celebrated on the ninth day after death, and hence called ludi novendiales. 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), or beast-baiting (see Venationes). (For the theatrical games and contests, see Comoedia; Histrio; Mimus; Pantomimus; Theatrum; Tragoedia.) There were also contests imported from Greece and called agones, either musical or athletic in their nature, for which, see Athletae; Cursus; Hippodromus; Palaestra; Pugil; Stadium.

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). The 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 Calpurnius, Ecl. vii.; Dio Cass. lxviii. 15; Gibbon, ii. 58-60; and Friedländer, Sittengeschichte, 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; or
  • 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 (missilia). Cloaks could be worn over the toga in bad weather, and hats (causiae) 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

Ludi Actiăci (Ἄκτια).

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). See Actia.

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 votivi, 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 to 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. Thymelici, 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

See Augustales.

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. Spect. 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 a bulla 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. 53, p. 227).

5. Ludi Cereāles

or Ceriāles. See Ceres.

6. Ludi Compitalicii

See Compitalia.

7. Ludi Florāles

See Floralia.

8. Ludi Funēbres

See above, p. 972.

9. Ludi Honorarii

See above, p. 972.

10. Iuvenalia

See Iuvenalia.

11. Ludi Liberāles

See Dionysia, 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 sea-fight, venationes, etc.

14. Ludi Megalenses

See Megalesia.

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, 10; 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 of Plautus.

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, 9); 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; xxxix. 22, 1), 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 stati). The latter term—i. e. ludi Romani—is first used by Livy in viii. 40, 2(see Weissenborn ad loc.); and after that the terms varied according as the games are stati (e. g. x. 47, 7; xxv. 2, 8) or votivi (xxii. 9, 10; 10, 7; xxvii. 33, 8; xxxvi. 2, 2; xxxix. 22, 2, etc.; Suet. Aug. 23). 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 (Dionys.vii. 72). 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. Terentum (from terere) 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 annus. The same series of people would reappear on earth and repeat again the various exploits of their lives (cf. Verg. Ecl. iv. 34 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 of the 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 saeculum. The definite Greek theory that the saeculum lasted 110 years was taken up by the Quindecimviri (Carm. Saec. 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. 4; Tac. 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. Saec. 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, suffimenta), 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 Monthly 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 or taurea, 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. Aug. 10; 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. i. 397.

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. i. 400).

28. Ludi Votīvi

See above, p. 972.


On the games in general, see Friedländer's Sittengeschichte, ii. 263-289, 3d ed.; id. in Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverwaltung, iii. 462-475; and Mommsen in the C. I. L. i. pp. 293-412.

hide References (20 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (20):
    • Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus, 2.5
    • Vergil, Eclogues, 4
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 10
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 23
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.11
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.73
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 30
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 50.4
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 52
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 28
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 35
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 22
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