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TROJAE LUDUS [more frequently known as Troja, in the phrase Trojam ludere; in Greek τὴν Τροίαν ἱππεῦσαι, D. C. 49.43; in Suet. Cal. 18, Trojae decursio; in Tac. Ann. 11.11, ludicrum Trojae], an equestrian sham-fight, performed in the Circus Maximus by boys of high rank (sons of senators, according to Dio Cass. l.c.). It was supposed to represent an exercise introduced by Aeneas and the Trojans after their landing in Italy, and celebrated afterwards by Ascanius at Alba (Verg. A. 5.597). The earliest mention in historical times is the celebration by Sulla in his dictatorship B.C. 81 (Plut. Cat. 3, where it is called παιδικὴ καὶ ἱερὰ ἱππασία ἣν καλοῦσι Τροίαν): the two boyish leaders on this occasion were Aemilius Scaurus, stepson of Sulla, and Cato the younger. Similarly Julius Caesar, when he returned in triumph to Rome and dedicated the temple of Venus, celebrated τὴν ἱππασίαν τὴν Τροίαν καλουμένην παίδων τῶν εὐπατρίδων κατὰ τὸ ἀρχαῖον (D. C. 43.23): from the last word it may be inferred that it was a custom older than Sulla, in fact of unknown antiquity, as we should imagine from the traditions connected with it. Augustus celebrated it certainly twice: first in B.C. 27 (D. C. 49.43; 51.22; 53.1; 54.26), on which occasion Tiberius at the age of 15 was “ductor turmae puerorum majorum” (Suet. Tib. 6); secondly at the dedication of the temple of Marcellus, B.C. 12, when his grandson Gaius took a chief part. He then discontinued the celebration because Asinius Pollio complained in the senate that it was a dangerous sport, in which his grandson Aeserninus had broken his leg (Suet. Aug. 43). Caligula celebrated it in the first year of his reign when he dedicated the temple of Augustus, and again at the funeral games of Drusilla: and of Nero's boyhood we are told that he often “Trojam lusit” up to the age of 11 (Suet. Nero 7).

The method of celebration may be gathered from Verg. A. 5.553-603. In this account the Trojan boys are first marshalled in three squadrons of twelve each, under Ascanius, Priamus (son of Polites), and Atys. They come forward ceremoniously, much as the gladiators did, or as the performers in a modern bull-fight do now, to salute the spectators before the combat begins: then they break up their triple formation, and, forming into two equal bands, retire to opposite stations. Such we take to be the meaning of “discurrere pares” and “diductis solvere choris” : the agmen is the processional line in the opening ceremony; the chori the two opposing squadrons. After this, they charged and retired with evolutions so complicated that they seemed to Virgil (supposing him to be an eye-witness of what he describes) comparable to nothing but the Cretan Labyrinth or troops of dolphins at play. It is hard to explain why Virgil introduces the difficulty of three leaders and three companies. In all historical accounts there were two: in the earliest (in the time of Sulla) it is expressly said that there could be only two leaders; and when three candidates appeared, Scaurus, Cato, and Sextus Pompeius, it was necessary that one should retire (Plut. Cat. 3): similarly in Tac. Ann. 11.11 we find two leaders named, Britannicus and Domitius. We can hardly doubt that Virgil, under cover of the story of Aeneas, is describing what he actually saw, and this must have been the celebration in B.C. 27. In that contest we know from Suet. Tib. 12 that Tiberius was one leader, and from the same chapter it may be inferred that Marcellus was another. We may surmise that Virgil introduced this elaborate account for the same reason which led him to bring in the touching allusion to Marcellus in Aen. vi. There may have been a third leader in the preliminary display on that occasion, to give distinction to Sextus Appuleius, the son of Augustus's colleague in the consulship, who, as appears from Tac. Ann. 2.50, afterwards [p. 2.900]married Marcella, daughter of Octavia. Assuming then that in the real celebration of B.C. 27 there were three leaders for the procession, and that for the combat two lines were formed according to custom under Tiberius and Marcellus, we may suppose that Virgil makes three corresponding leaders in his Troja, viz. Julus and Atys out of compliment to Augustus, and a Priamus as appropriate to the Trojan game.


hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 5.553
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 5.597
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 5.603
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 18
    • Suetonius, Nero, 7
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 6
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.11
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.50
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 43
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 12
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