Ludi (Latin plural) were public games held for the benefit and entertainment of the Roman people (//populus Romanus//). Ludi were held in conjunction with, or sometimes as the major feature of, Roman religious festivals, and were also presented as part of the cult of state.
The earliest ludi were horse races in the circus (ludi circenses).[1[[|]]] Animal exhibitions with mock hunts (venationes) and theatrical performances (ludi scaenici) also became part of the festivals.[2[[|]]]
Days on which ludi were held were public holidays, and no business could be conducted — "remarkably," it has been noted, "considering that in the Imperial era more than 135 days might be spent at these entertainments" during the year.[3[[|]]] Although their entertainment value may have overshadowed religious sentiment at any given moment, even in late antiquity the ludi were understood as part of the worship of the traditional gods, and the Church Fathers thus advised Christians not to participate in the festivities.[4[[|]]]
The singular form ludus, "game, sport" or "play" has several meanings in Latin.[5[[|]]] The plural is used for "games" in a sense analogous to the Greek festivals of games, such as the Panhellenic Games.[6[[|]]] The late-antique scholar Isidore of Seville, however, classifies the forms of ludus as gymnicus ("athletic"), circensis ("held in the circus," mainly the chariot races), gladiatorius ("gladiatorial") and scaenicus ("theatrical").[7[[|]]] The relation of gladiatorial games to the ludi is complex; see Gladiator.

Politics and religion

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Terracotta plaque (1st century) depicting a venatio, or human-animal blood sport

Originally, all ludi seem to have been votive offerings (ludi votivi), staged as the fulfillment of a vow to a deity whose favor had been sought and evidenced. In 366 BC, the Ludi Romani became the first games to be placed on the religious calendar as an annual event sponsored by the state as a whole.[8[[|]]] Games in the circus were preceded by a parade (pompa circensis) featuring the competitors, mounted youths of the Roman nobility, armed dancers, musicians, a satyr chorus, and images of the gods. As the product of military victory, ludi were often connected to triumphs. The first recorded venatio (staged beast hunt) was presented in 186 BC by M. Fulvius Nobilior as part of his ludi votivi, for which he paid with booty displayed at his triumph.[9[[|]]]
As religious ceremonies, ludi were organized at first by various colleges of priests; during the Republic, they were later presented by consuls, but became most associated with the responsibilities of the aediles. Although public money was allocated for the staging of ludi, the presiding official increasingly came to augment the splendor of his games from personal funds as a form of public relations.[10[[|]]] The sponsor was able to advertise his wealth, while declaring that he intended to share it for public benefit. Although some men with an eye on the consulship skipped the office of aedile for the very reason that massive expenditures were expected, those with sufficient resources spent lavishly to cultivate the favor of the people. The religious festivals to which the ludi were attached also occasioned public banquets, and often public works such as the refurbishing or building of temples.[11[[|]]]
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Octavian crowned as Augustus

Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Marcus Brutus realized that a significant segment of the populus regarded him not as a liberator, but as the murderer of a beloved champion, and among other gestures of goodwill toward the people, he arranged to sponsor the Ludi Apollinares, held annually July 6–13. Caesar's heir Octavian at once upstaged him with Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, "games in honor of Caesar's victory," which ran July 20–28 in conjunction with a festival to honor Venus Genetrix, Caesar's patron deity and divine matriarch of the Julian //gens//. It was during these ludi, which also served as funeral games, that the comet famously appeared to "announce" Caesar's newly divine status. Octavian recognized the value of the festivals in unifying the people, and as Augustus instituted new ludi within his program of religious reform; public spectacles and entertainments were thus subsumed by Imperial cult.[12[[|]]]

Ludi compitalicii

See also: Compitalia
The ludi compitalicii ("crossroads games") were entertainments staged by the neighborhoods or community associations of Rome (vici)[13[[|]]] in conjunction with the Compitalia, the new year festival held on movable dates between the Saturnalia and January 5[14[[|]]] in honor of the crossroads Lares. In the late Republic, performances were held at the main intersections of neighborhoods throughout the city on the same day.[15[[|]]] During the civil wars of the 80s, these ludi gave rise to often unruly plebeian political expression by the neighborhood organizations. Freedmen played a leading role, and even slaves participated in the festivities.
In 67 BC, the Compitalia had been disrupted by a riot at the ludi,[16[[|]]] which were also the scene of disturbances in 66–65 BC. This unrest on the first occasion was a response to the trial of Manilius, who had backed reforms pertaining to the voting rights of freedmen, and on the second is attached to the murky events later referred to misleadingly as the First Catilinarian Conspiracy.[17[[|]]] Along with some forms of occupational guilds (collegia) and neighborhood associations, the ludi compitalicii were consequently banned by the senate in 64 BC.[18[[|]]]
An unnamed tribune of the //plebs// supported efforts to stage the ludi for 61 BC, but the consul-designate Metellus Celer squelched the attempt.[19[[|]]] In 58 BC, Clodius Pulcher, who had given up his patrician status to become one of the people's tribunes, restored the right of association, but even before his law was enacted, his aide Sextus Cloelius had prepared the way by organizing new-year ludi. The consul Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law of Caesar, permitted the games, even though the organizations that ran them were still outlawed.[20[[|]]] Caesar banned the collegia and ludi again in 46 BC.
In 7 BC, Augustus reorganized Rome for administrative purposes into 265 districts which replaced but which were still called vici.[21[[|]]] An image of the Genius of Augustus now stood between the Lares at the crossroads shrines, and the ludi once considered dangerously subversive became expressions of Imperial piety.[22[[|]]]

Ludi circenses

Ludi circenses were games presented in the circus. The Circus Maximus was primarily a venue for chariot races, but other athletic events, races, and beast hunts might be offered as well.[23[[|]]]The games were preceded by an opening parade, the pompa circensis. Ludi circenses were regularly featured in celebrating a triumph or dedicating a major building. They were part of the most important holidays and festivals, such as the Floralia, //Ludi Romani// ("Roman Games"), and //Ludi Plebeii// ("Plebeian Games").[24[[|]]] During the Imperial era, circus games were often added to festivals not traditionally celebrated with them in the Republic.[25[[|]]] Circus games were held in various provinces throughout the empire, as indicated by archaeological remains of tracks and supporting structures, although many areas would have lacked costly permanent facilities and instead erected temporary stands around suitable grounds.[26[[|]]]

List of ludi

The following lists of ludi are not exhaustive. Unless otherwise noted, the sources are Matthew Bunson, A Dictionary of the Roman Empire (Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 246–247, and Roland Auguet, Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games (Routledge, 1972, 1994) pp. 212–213.

Annual ludi

Listed in order by month as they appear on the Roman calendar.
  • Ludi Megalenses, April 4–10, established 204 BC in honor of the Magna Mater, in conjunction with the Megalensia.
  • Ludi Ceriales, April 12–19, established 202 BC in conjunction with the Cerealia April 12.
  • Ludi Florales, April 28–May 3, established 173 BC in honor of Flora, in conjunction with the Floralia May 1 and its "atmosphere of primitive license and pastoral orgy."[27[[|]]]
  • Ludi Apollinares, July 6–13, first celebrated in 211 BC in honor of Apollo to secure his aid against Hannibal, and made annual in 208 BC by senatorial decree.
  • Ludi Romani, September 4–19 in 44 BC, September 12–15 in the 4th century AD, established according to some legends in the 6th century BC in honor of Jupiter, or perhaps Father Liber, and at first held occasionally, not annually.
  • Ludi Augustales, October 3–12, established 14 AD after the death of Augustus and based on the Augustalia.
  • Ludi Plebeii, originally November 13, on the Ides of Jupiter, and expanded to run November 4–17; established 216 BC and held in the Circus, and continued in the 4th century of the Christian era.

Ludi not held annually

Single-occasion ludi

The following ludi were held only once.

See also


  1. ^Not all chariot races were part of religious festivals.
  2. ^Mary Beard, J.A. North, and S.R.F. Price, Religions of Rome: A History (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 66.
  3. ^Matthew Bunson, A Dictionary of the Roman Empire (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 246. In the late Roman Republic, 57 days were spent at ludi on fixed dates, with many of the additional game days added by Augustus.
  4. ^Beard, Religions of Rome, p. 262.
  5. ^Ludus, for instance, may refer to child's play, erotic game-playing, an elementary school, and a training camp for gladiators: Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, 1985 reprint), pp. 1048–1049.
  6. ^Helen Lovatt, Statius and Epic Games: Sport, Politics, and Poetics in the Thebaid (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 5–6.
  7. ^Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 18.16.3.
  8. ^Alison Futrell, The Roman Games: A Sourcebook (Blackwell, 2006), p. 2.
  9. ^Ida Östenberg, Staging the World: Spoils, Captives, and Representations in the Roman Triumphal Procession (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 169.
  10. ^Lovat, Statius and Epic Games, p. 10.
  11. ^Overview based on Sumi, Ceremony and Power (see below). For an example, see discussion of Clodius Pulcher's aedileship in W. Jeffrey Tatum, The Patrician Tribune (University of North Carolina Press, 1999), pp. 198–199 online.
  12. ^Geoffrey S. Sumi, Ceremony and Power: Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire (University of Michigan Press, 2005), p. 15. Brutus's Ludi Apollinares is discussed at length, pp. 143–150, followed by discussion of Octavian's counter-efforts. See also John T. Ramsey and A. Lewis Licht, The Comet of 44 B.C. and Caesar's Funeral Games (American Philological Association, 1997), and Ittai Gradel, Emperor worship and Roman religion (Oxford University Press, 2002).
  13. ^The Latin word vicus may refer to either the neighborhood itself, or to the neighborhood association. For a modern equivalent, see Neighborhood association.
  14. ^In 67 BC, the Compitalia was held on December 31; in 60 and 58, on January 1; and in 50, January 2 (Cicero, Ad Atticum 2.3.4 and 7.7.3; In Pisonem 8). The calendar of Philocalus (4th century AD) and that of Polemius Silvius (5th century AD) place ludi compitales on January 3–5.
  15. ^T.P. Wiseman, Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal (Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 46.
  16. ^Asconius 45C.
  17. ^Andrew Lintott, Violence in Republican Rome (Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 80.
  18. ^Nicholas Purcell, "The City of Rome and the plebs urbana in the late Republic," The Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge University Press, 1994, 2003, 2nd ed.) vol. 9, p. 674. For a discussion of the problematic relationship of the vici and the collegia, see W. Jeffrey Tatum, The Patrician Tribune: Publius Clodius Pulcher (University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 117. John Bert Lott, The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 177, makes a distinction between the Compitalia proper, which was a state holiday, and the localized celebrations that were "discouraged at times."
  19. ^Cicero, In Pisonem 7.25–26; Tatum, Patrician Tribune p. 118.
  20. ^Cynthia Damon, "Sex. Cloelius, Scriba," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 94 (1992), pp. 228 and 232.
  21. ^Asconius 6–7; Suetonius, Divus Julius 42.3 and Augustus 30.2 and 31.4; William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London, 1908), pp. 279–280. Costas Panayotakis, Decimus Laberius: The Fragments (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 208, is not convinced that ludi scaenici, or theatrical performances, were part of the crossroads events.
  22. ^Anthony James Boyle, An Introduction to Roman Tragedy (Routledge, 2006), p. 174.
  23. ^Lawrence Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 82.
  24. ^Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary, pp. 82, 87; Michele Renee Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 1990), p. 120.
  25. ^Salzman, On Roman Time, p. 126 et passim.
  26. ^Duncan Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire (Brill, 2004), vol. 3, pp. 337–343; A.T. Fear, Rome and Baetica: Urbanization in Southern Spain c. 50 BC–AD 150 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, 2002), p. 197.
  27. ^Auguet, Cruelty and Civilization, p. 213.

Festivals of Rome
Agonalia - January 9. Honors Janus, whom the Romans invoked before undertaking any affair of importance. Also on May 21 and December 11.

Carmentalia - January 11-15 [or 11th and 15th?].

Paganalia - January 24-26.

Feralia - Occurred in January.

Faunalia - February 13.

Fornicalia - February. A corn festival in honor of Fornax.

Parentalia - February 13-21. During this festival the Romans honoured their ancestors at the family shrines within their own homes, thus, all other temples remained closed and weddings were forbidden.

Lupercalia - February 15. This feast celebrated the founding of Rome, and was held in honour of the god Pan. The festival began with the sacrifice of two goats and a dog, then the bloody knife was touched to the foreheads of two youths of illustrious descent who must smile as they are touched, and afterwards, the blood was wiped from their faces with wool dipped in milk. Following this, the victims were skinned and their hides cut into thongs out of which were fashioned a pair of whips. The youths then ran naked around the Palatine Hill and the city, whipping all they came across. The festival derives its name from the Greek name for Pan, Lyceus, from ????s, 'a wolf'. The Lupercal, where the festival was celebrated, lay at the foot of the Aventine Hill, and was where the she-wolf was reputed to have reared Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome.

Quirinalia - February 17.

Feast of Fools - February 17. A celebration for people who had not participated with their curia in the Fornacalia.

Feralia - February 18.

Terminalia - February 23. This festival marked the end of the ancient Roman year

Regifugium - February 24.

Equiria - February 27.

Matronalia - March 1. A festival held at Rome in honour of Mars, in commemoration of the rape of the Sabine women. Only married women could attend the celebrations, during which they made offerings of flowers in the temples of Juno.

Equiria - March 14.

Ides of March - March 15. It was on the Ides of March that Julius Caesar was assasinated.

Anna Perenna - March 15. Roman families traditionally picknicked along the banks of the Tiber.

Liberalia - March 17. Also known as Agonalia.

Quinquatrus - March 19-21.

Tubilustrium - March 23.

Ludi Magalesia - April 4-10. Games in honour of Cybele, whose sanctuary on the Palatine Hill was dedicated in 191BC.

Fordicidia - April 15. Honored Tellus, Goddess of Earth, and was observed by slaughtering pregnant cows, taking the unborn calves from the womb, and burning theim inorder to insure fertility for the growing corn.

Quinquatria - 18 - 22 April. This popular festival was held in honour of the goddess Minerva at Rome. The celebrations lasted for five days, and is the basis for the name of the festival. On the first day, sacrifices and oblations were offered, though no blood was spilled, the next three days were taken up mostly with gladiatorial displays, and on the fifth and final day a solemn procession was held through the streets of the city. The scholars and pedagogues were also given a holiday at this time, and it was customary for them to offer up sacrifices to Minerva, who was their patron goddess. The school-masters would also receive gifts from their pupils when they resumed lessons at the end of the holiday; all of these gifts would be accepted in the name of Minerval. Throughout the festival plays would be enacted and public discussion of the arts openly encouraged. The festival was also associated with the opening of the campaign season; during this time the arms, horses and trumpets of the Army would be ceremoniously purified at Rome. The ancient 'Dance of the Salii' took place during the Quinquatria on 19 Apr, and also during the Armilustrium on 19 Oct.

Cerealia - April 19. Celebrates the beginning of the six vegetative months.

Parilia - April 21. Honored the pastoral goddes Pales, and was observed by driving sheep through burning straw. Also called Palilia.

Vinalia - April 23. A festival celebrated by sampling new wine.

Robigalia - April 25. An ancient religious festival, on which day foot races were held in Rome.

Floria - April 28 to May 3. The festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers, during which the Roman wore fresh garlands of flowers about their necks, and danced through the streets. Instituted after 173BC.

Lemuria - May 9-13.

Ludi Martiales - May 12. Games held in connection with the dedication of the shrine and temple of Mars Ultor; also held on 1 Aug.

Ludi Merceruy - May 15. The birthday of Mercury, who could travel with the speed of thought.

Ambarvalia - May 29.

The Vestalia - June 9. Honors Vesta, the virgin sister of Zeus, and goddess of hearth and home. In Rome, a perpetual fire that was dedicated to her was tended by six virgin priestesses, or "vestal virgins".

Matralia - June 11.

Quinquatrus Minusculoe - June 13.

Ludi Apollinares - July 5. Celebrated with games in honor of Apollo.

Ludi Victoriae Caesaris - 20 - 30 July. Games held in celebration of Caesar's conquests.

Neptunalia - July 23.

Nemoralia - August 13. In honor of Diana the moon goddess, during which slaves were given a holiday.

Portunalia - August 17.

Vinalia Rustica - August 19.

Ludi Consualia - August 21. Honored Consus, the god of counsel and secret plans, and was celebrated with horse and chariot races.

Volcanalia - August 23.

Ludi Magni - Ludi Magni begins sep 4th in honor of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva

Romani - September 5-19.

Meditrinalia - October 11. Celebrated when a liberation of new wine was made in honor of Meditrina.

Faunalia - October 13.

Equiria - October 15. Celebrated when the "equus October" was sacrificed to Mars in the Campus Martius.

Armilustrium - October 19. The 'Dance of the Salii' took place on this festival and also during the Quinquatria on 19 Apr.

Ludi Victoriae Sullanae - 26 October - 1 November. Games instituted by the dictator Sulla in celebration of his victories, and dedicated in his honour for up to 200 years after his death in ?BC.

Ludi Plebii - November 4-17. The 'Games of the Common People' were instituted sometime between 220 and 216BC

Epulum Jovis - November 13.

Faunalia - December 5.

Larentalia - occurred in December.

Agonia - December 11. Observed by sacrificing victims on the seven hills of Rome.

Saturnalia - December 17-23. The most important festival of the year was held in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture. During the main feast day of this festival, the masters of every household in Rome waited upon their domestic slaves.

Opalia - December 19. Honored Ops, the goddess of plenty and fertility.