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LUDI SAECULA´RES Saeculum, like so many words expressing time in Latin (annus, mensis, dies, Censorin. De die natali, 19, 22, 23), has a twofold meaning. There is the saeculum civile and the saeculum naturale. In the years 363 B.C. and 263 we find a recognition of the saeculum civile in the appointment of a dictator clavi figendi causa--a custom which originated probably in 463 B.C., when a grievous plague attacked Rome (Liv. 3.6, 2; Dionys. A. R. 9.67, 68), and a testimony to the irresistible force of fate was made by driving a nail (clavus), the symbol of Destiny, into the wall of the cella of Minerva on the Capitol on the Ides of September (Liv. 7.3, 6; Mommsen, Röm. Chron. 175). The saeculum naturale was not, says Censorinus (238 A.D.) in his locus classicus on the meaning of the word (op. cit. chap. 17), ever established by the Romans, though they fixed the saeculum civile at 100 years. But its significance can be gathered from the celebration of certain games, which in later times indeed were called Ludi saeculares, but in early times Ludi Terentini. This Terentum (from terere) was a volcanic cleft in the Campus Martius, at which even under the monarchy the gens Valeria sacrificed dark victims to Dis and Proserpina (cf. Mart. 10.63, 3, “Romano Terento” ). Valerius Maximus (2.5, 2: cf. Zosimus, 2.1) 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 449 B.C. For though we cannot be certain of any celebration of these games in 349 B.C., we have the most distinct evidence for their being held in 249 B.C. Varro (ap. Censorinus, op. cit. 17, 8) says of this year: “Cum multa portenta fierent, et murus ac turris, quae sunt inter portam Collinam et Esquilinam, de coelo tacta essent et ideo libros Sibyllinos xvviri adissent, renuntiarunt, ut Diti patri et Proserpinae ludi Terentini in campo Martio fierent tribus noctibus et hostiae furvae immolarentur, utique ludi centesimo quoque anno fierent.” (Here, too, we should notice what St. Augustin, de Civ. Dei, 3.18, says of these games, deriving his knowledge probably from Varro: “Jam vero Punicis bellis instaurati sunt ex auctoritate librorum Sibyllinorum ludi saeculares quorum celebritas inter centum annos fuerat instituta. Renovarunt etiam pontifices ludos sacros inferis et ipsos abolitos annis retrorsum melioribus.” ) The next celebration was not in 149 B.C. but in 146 (Censor. op. cit. 17, 11, who quotes contemporary authorities, Piso, Gellius, and Hemina). In the year 49 B.C. religion was silent amid the turmoil of the civil war; and the games were not solemnised till the well-known celebration of Augustus in 17 B.C. But why in this year?

There were many Greek myths (Lobeck, Aglaoph. 791 ff.) of certain ages of the world--the golden age, the silver age, &c.--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 a magnus annus. The same series of people would reappear on earth and repeat again the various exploits of their lives (cf. Verg. Ecl. 4, 34 ff.). 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. Augustin, de Civ. Dei, 22.28: “Genethliaci quidam scripserunt esse in renascendis hominibus quam appellant παλιγγενεσίαν Graeci: hanc scripserunt confici in annis numero quadringentis quadraginta ut idem corpus et eadem anima quae fuerint conjuncta in homine aliquando eandem rursus redeant in conjunctionem.” ) 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 (Censorin. 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. Censorin. 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 (Censor. op. cit. 17, 9: cf. “undenos decies per annos,” Hor. Carm. Saec. 21), and in the interests of Augustus they proceeded to invent celebrations for 456 B.C., 346, 236, 126, Augustus's games being celebrated in the last year of the saeculum, 17 B.C. (cf. Mommsen, op. cit., note 363, p. 185). The contemporaries of Augustus, however, Livy (cxxxvi. ap. Censor. op. cit. 17, 9) and Verrius Flaccus in Festus (s. v. Saeculares Ludos), adopt the theory of the saeculum being 100 years. 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 800th year of the city (47 A.D.), with an actor who had taken part in the secular games of Augustus (Plin. Nat. 7.159). Domitian celebrated them in 841 of the city (=87 A.D.), six years too early if they were to be 110 years after those of Augustus. [p. 2.93](For this somewhat famous celebration, see Fast. Capitol. in C. I. L. i. p. 442; Suet. Dom. 4; Tac. Ann. 11.11; Mart. 4.1, 7, 10.63, 3; Stat. Silv. 1.4, 17, 4.1, 37; Eckhel, 6.383.) Antoninus Pius in the year 900 of the city (147 A.D.) celebrated them (Aurel. Vict. Caes. 15, 4), while Sept. Severus held them 220 years after Augustus in 204 A.D. The last celebration was in the 1000th year of the city (247 A.D.) by the Emperor Philip (Eutrop. 9, 3; Eckhel, 7.323-4). It may be that Gallienus in 257 A.D. (Eckhel, 7.409, 8.22) held them as an extraordinary solemnity in a period of great trouble (Trebell. Pollio, Gall. 5), and Maximian in 304 A.D. certainly intended to hold them (ib. 8.20), 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 Popish Jubilees instituted by Pope Boniface VIII. in 1300 (Gibbon, 1.327, 328; 8.217, 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 (Zosim. 2.4; Varro, ap. Censor. op. cit. 17, 8; Hor. Carm. Saec. 5), are celebrated by the Quindecimviri (Hor. Carm. Saec. 70; Tac. Ann. 11.11) 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 (Censorin. l.c.: “Dein quod Etrusci quorum prima saecula centenum fuerant annorum etiam hic ut in aliis plerumque imitari voluerunt Romani” ). It was as Magister of the College of Quindecimviri that Augustus celebrated the games with M. Agrippa as his colleague (Mommsen, Res gestae d. Aug. pp. 91-93; Eckhel, 6.102).

The rites of the celebration are given by Zosimus (2.5), who also quotes verbatim the Sibylline oracle ordering the celebration. His account is in many points confirmed by coins, and is as follows: Heralds summoned the people to the spectacle they had never seen before and never would see again (cf. Herodian, 3.8, 10). Then in the Capitoline temple of Jupiter and the Palatine temple of Apollo the Quindecimviri gave to all present (slaves were 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 (cf. Eckhel, 6.387, for medals with the inscriptions Suffimenta) populo) data) and A PopuloFruges) acceptae), &c.), 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 Jupiter, Juno Lucina, Apollo, Latona and Diana, the Fates, Demeter (Tellus, Hor. 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 is then erected, the people light torches, a newly-composed hymn is sung, and splendid shows are exhibited: for the oracle said (1. 34) 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 Jupiter and a white cow to Juno, in accordance with the oracle (ll. 12, 15), 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 (50.11), and dark victims offered to Dis and Proserpina (Varro, ap. Censor. op. cit. 17, 8; Festus, s. v. Saeculares Ludos). On the second day the matrons offered supplications and sang hymns to Juno on the Capitol; and on the third day in the Palatine temple of Apollo there was a sacrifice of white oxen (Hor. Carm. Saec. 49), 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 hymn which Horace wrote for the celebration of the games by Augustus.

On the secular games generally, consult Mommsen, Die römische Chronologie bis auf Cäsar, pp. 172-194 (chapter on the Saecula); K. L. Roth, in the Rheinisches Museum, viii. (1853), pp. 365-376; Preller, Römische Mythologie, 469-478; Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, 3.370-378.


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