Date(s) - 05/09/2021 - 19/09/2021
The oldest, largest and most popular Games, the Ludi Romani, were held in honour of the opening of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus which was on the Capitol and dedicated on 13 September 509 BCE. From this single central date the games were extended both ways over time and ultimately embraced about half the month. Originally they had been votive Games, linked to the celebration of triumphal processions which had culminated at Jupiter’s temple, but at least by 366 BCE they had become annual; they were organized and funded privately by the curule aediles starting in 217 BCE.
Historically the games started with a solemn procession to the Circus Maximus. This is described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus this was led by the Flamen Dialis followed by both consuls, and all the praetores, it proceeded from the Capitol through the Forum to the Circus. Young equestrians and patricians, either on horseback or on foot, were followed by competing charioteers, some of whom drove four horses abreast, some two, and others rode unyoked horses. The competing athletes came next, naked apart from loin-cloths. After them came groups of dancers, men, youths and boys, to the accompaniment of flute and lyre players. Behind came others, impersonating satyrs in goatskins. More flute and lyre players were followed by men who burnt incense along the route, and others carrying gold and silver vessels, both sacred and secular. Next came the rest of the Collegium Pontificum and lastly images of the gods were borne shoulder-high on stretchers, this included not only the twelve Dii Consentes deities but Saturn, Ops, Themis, Latona, the Parcae, the Muses, the Graces and the gods who once had been mortals; Hercules, Aesculapius, Castor and Pollux. Finally came the sacrificial animals.
At the start of the precession at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus with the consuls presiding, the priests after washing their hands purified the oxen with clear water and sprinkled them with mola salsa; they then ordered the assistants to sacrifice. The victim, still standing, was struck on the temple with a club and fell on the sacrificial knives held ready. After it had been flayed and cut up, a piece from each of the innards and of each limb was sprinkled with mola salsa and carried as a first-offering in baskets to the officiating priests, who put them on altars, kindled fires beneath, and poured wine over them as they were burning.
When the procession ended in the Circus Maximus another sacrifice to Jupiter and the gods were made, then the first races immediately began, that of four-horse and two-horse chariots and of unyoked horses. Dionysius also notes three-horse chariots, and two yoked horses with a third acting as a trace-horse. On occasion the driver had a companion, who as soon as the chariot crossed the winning post, leapt down and ran the length of the stadium in competition with his rivals; these runners determined the result of the whole race. Then followed running, boxing and wrestling, the winner of each event receiving a crown.
Another form of racing, not mentioned by Dionysius but recorded as early as 169 BCE, was for a rider to have two horses reined together and to leap from one to the other, perhaps at the end of each lap of the Circus.
Another equestrian event was the Ludus Troiae, was held in the Circus Maximus. First introduced by Aeneas, it involved two squadrons of youths paraded in armour on horseback, carried out some complicated drill movements and then fought a sham battle.
By the end of the Republic and early Empire intense competition between the circus factions had materialized. It is likely these games represented the grandest competition of the year between these factions and could be viewed as the ancient equivalent to annual sports league championship series held in modern times.
Circus games also became social occasions when young men and women, smartly dressed, could meet and flirt, since the two sexes could sit together, which was not allowed in the theatre or amphitheatre.
The circus games clearly dominated the event, but athletic competitions such as running, wrestling etc. and theatre and music also were present throughout the games in a secondary capacity throughout the city.
The games ended with a similar precession as seen at the start of the event, this time starting from the Circus Maximus and ending at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, led by the Flamen Dialis, consuls and all the praetores and directly followed by the champions of the games and then proceeded by the rest of the procession which first opened the games.