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
the appointment of a dictator clavi figendi
--a custom which originated probably in 463 B.C., when a grievous plague attacked Rome (Liv. 3.6
; Dionys. A. R. 9.67
), 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.
; Mommsen, Röm.
175). The saeculum naturale
was not, says Censorinus (238 A.D.) in his locus
on the meaning of the word (op.
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.
) 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
“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,
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.
ff.). Among these myths was one
that the cycle began anew after four periods of 110 years each. (Cf. Probus
Varro, ap. St. Augustin, de Civ. Dei
“Genethliaci quidam scripserunt esse in renascendis hominibus quam
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
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
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
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
; Stat. Silv.
; 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.
; 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,
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.
5), are celebrated by the Quindecimviri (Hor.
70; Tac. Ann.
) 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
“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
), 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 Suf
) and A Pop
), &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
On the secular games generally, consult Mommsen, Die römische
Chronologie bis auf Cäsar,
pp. 172-194 (chapter on the
); K. L. Roth, in the
viii. (1853), pp. 365-376; Preller,