Ludi Romani

This article is about a religious festival in ancient Rome. For gladiatorial games, see Gladiator.
Roman Games (Ludi Romani)
Observed by Roman Republic,
Roman Empire
Type Classical Roman religion
Date September 4–19
Related to the god Jupiter

The Ludi Romani ("Roman Games"; see ludi) was a religious festival in ancient Rome. Usually including multiple ceremonies called Ludi. They were held annually starting in 366 BC from September 12 to September 14, later extended to September 5 to September 19. In the last 1st century BC, an extra day was added in honor of the deified Julius Caesar on 4 September. The festival first introduced drama to Rome based on Greek drama.


These games—the chief Roman festival—were in honour of Jupiter,[1] and are said to have been established by Tarquinius Priscus on the occasion of his conquest of the Latin Apiolae,[2] though Dionysius of Halicarnassus[3] and Cicero[4] refer the establishment to the victory over the Latins at Lake Regillus.

At first they lasted only one day. A second day was added on the expulsion of the kings in 509 BC,[5] and a third after the first secession of the plebs in 494 BC.[6] From the year 191 to 171 they lasted ten days,[7] and shortly before Caesar's death they apparently lasted fifteen days,[8] September 5 to 19. After Caesar's death a day was added.[9] This day must have been September 4, because Cicero says[10] that there were 45 days from the Ludi Romani to the Ludi Victoriae Sullanae on October 26, so at the time the Verrines were composed September 19 must have been the last day of the Ludi Romani.[11]

In the calendars during the Augustan era, the days of the games were September 4 to September 19. There was the Epulum Jovis on the 13th, and the Equorum probatio (a cavalry revue) on the 14th. Circus games lasted from the 15th to the 19th. In the Calendar of Philocalus (354 AD) they run September 12 to 15. The celebration was originally organized by the consuls, later of the curule aediles.

When and Why

These games were not necessarily every year from their inception. In many cases, games began from a vow (votum) by the commander, and were celebrated as a special festival after his triumphal procession. As the army 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, "yearly".[12] Livy identifies the two kinds, the ludi magni and the ludi Romani, and so do Cicero (Repub. ii. 20, 35), Festus (l. c), and Pseudo-Asconius.[13] In all his other books, however, Livy observes a distinction which has been pointed out by Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl (Parerga zu Plautus, &c. p. 290), that 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 established as annual (ludi stati). 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. The distinction drawn by Ritschl is to be considered proven, but it is unclear when the "established" games became annual.

Most probably, says Mommsen,[14] on the occasion of the first appointment of the curule aediles in 367 BC, who were to be the curatores ludorum sollemnium. For in the oldest Roman calendars which date from the time of the Decemvirs (cf. Mommsen, Die röm. Chronologie, &c. p. 30) these festivals are not engraved in capitals but in small characters, so they must be additions made after 449 BC. Also, in 322 BC, the ludi Romani are mentioned as a regular annual festival, so they must have finally become established between these dates; and the year 367 BC, 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 the most reasonable to assume.

Facets of Ludi Romani

Yet Livy and the other authors who identify the ludi magni and Romani are not altogether in error: for the arrangement of the two kinds of games was similar. An incidental proof of this is that when Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus ludi votivi in 70 BC, they lasted 15 days (Cicero In Verrem i. 1. 0, 31), like the ludi Romani; and we find similar sums, viz. 200,000 asses, bestowed for both ludi magni and ludi Romani.[15] 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; and cf. Orelli, 2593, where a charioteer is spoken of as pedibus ad quadrigam). This is a practice confined to the ludi Romani. In the exhibitions of riding, each rider had a second horse led by the hand (Festus, s. v. Paribus Equis), as it appears the Roman horsemen in early times often used two horses in battle,[16] like the Tarentini in Greek warfare (Liv. xxxv. 28, 8). Such riders were called desultores.[17]

Most likely, originally there was only one contest of each kind, and only two competitors in each contest (Liv. xliv. 9, 4), since at all periods in the Roman chariot-race only as many chariots competed as there were so-called factions, which were originally only two, the white and the red (Mommsen, R. H. i. 236, note). These few events allowed further minor exhibitions, such as boxers, dancers, competition in youthful horsemanship (ludus Trojae). It was allowed that the wreath the victor won (for this in Greek style was the prize of victory) should be put on his bier when dead (Twelve Tables, 10, 7, and Mommsen's remarks, Staatsrecht, i.2 411, note 2). Also, during the festival the successful warrior in real warfare (as opposed to imaginary warfare) wore the spoils he had won from the enemy, and was crowned with a chaplet.

After the introduction of the drama in 364, plays were acted at the ludi Romani, and in 214 BC we know that ludi scenici took up four days of the festival (Liv. xxiv. 43, 7). In 161 BC the Phormio of Terence was acted at these games.

History of scholarship

The classic work on the Ludi Romani is Mommsen's article "Die Ludi Magni und Romani" in his Römische Forschungen, ii. 42-57 = Rheinisches Museum, xiv. 79-87; see also his Roman History, i. 235-237 (where the Greek influences on the Roman games are traced), 472, 473; and Friedländer in Marquardt's Staatsverwaltung, iii. 477, 478.


  1. Festus, s. v. Magnos Ludos.
  2. Livy I.35, 9.
  3. vii. 71.
  4. de Divinatione i. 26, 55.
  5. Dionysius vi. 95.
  6. Livy vi. 42, 12.
  7. Livy xxxvi. 2, xxxix. 22, 1; Mommsen, Röm. Forsch. ii. 54.
  8. Cicero In Verrem i. 1. 0, 31.
  9. Cicero Philippicae ii. 4. 3, 110.
  10. In Verrem ii. 52, 130.
  11. CIL I.401.
  12. sollemnes, deinde annui mansere ludi Romani magnique varie appellati, Liv. i. 35, 9
  13. pp. 142-3, Or.
  14. Röm. Forsch. ii. 53; cf. R. H. i. 472
  15. Pseud.-Ascon. p. 142; Dionys. vii. 71)
  16. cf. Gran. Licinian. lib. xxvi.
  17. Liv. xxiii. 29, 5
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