Tuesday, September 07, 2004

more old news

rogue classicism has a nice feature detailing what events of note happened on this day in the ancient world. today, september 7, is day 3 of the ludi Romani--the site links here for an explanation of the games. here it is:

The Ludi Romani

The Ludi Romani (The Roman Games), also known as the Ludi Magni (The Great Games) was arguably the major religious festival of the Romans, although it would appear that, as time went on, the religious elements were largely overshadowed by the various competitions. These games were originally held on September 13, in honour of the Romans' patron god Jupiter Optimus Maximus, whose temple was dedicated on the 13th in 509 or 507 B.C. (depending on which source you believe). Over time, the festival was expanded up to the fifth of the month and down to the ninteenth, making for over a half-a-month's worth of festivities. After Julius Caesar's assassination, another day was added (September 4) as one of the many honours decreed to him. For most of the period of the Republic, the Ludi Romani were the responsibility of the curule aediles; later Augustus would transfer their organization to the praetor.

The Opening Procession

We are fortunate that Dionysius of Halicarnassus decided to use the Ludi Romani as an exemplum to demonstrate that the Romans weren't actually barbarians, but put on festivals 'just like the Greeks'. As part of this demonstration, he describes in great detail the opening procession (7.72 ff):

*The consuls (and other magistrates) led the procession from the Capitol down through the Forum to the Circus Maximus
*They were followed by young men (perhaps the collegia of iuvenes?), both on foot and on horseback
*Then came those who were presumably going to take part in the chariot races, with some driving teams of four horses, others driving teams of two, and singles
*They were followed by those who were to take part in the athletic competitions; in the procession they wore only a loin cloth
*Next came groups of dancers, made up both of men and boys. They wore red tunics and bronze belts, a bronze crested helmet, and a sword. They also carried a spear(This is all vaguely reminiscent of the Salii; is there a connection?). They were accompanied by assorted musicians
*They were followed by men dressed as hairy satyrs and Silenoi who impersonated (with obvious rustic humour) the flashy military dancers who preceded them (the Romans had a penchant for mixing the bawdy/obscene with the solemn). They too were accompanied by assorted musicians.
*At this point the procession takes on a more religious tone, with men carrying incense and gold and silver vessels
*Penultimately there came images of the gods, which were carried on fercula (something like a stretcher) on the shoulders of other men. The gods included the 12 Olympians as well as a mix of native Italic and imported divinities (e.g. Saturn, Ops, Themis, The Fates, Mnemosyne, the Muses, the Graces. etc.)
*Finally there came the sacrificial animals.

The Sacrificial Ritual

Dionysius also relates the sacrificial ritual. The consuls presided over the ritual and the attendant priests would ritually wash their hands, then purify the oxen with clean water. The priests also sprinkled the oxen with mola salsa, which was a sort of loose (possibly very loose) cake made from spelt which had been gathered and roasted by the Vestal Virgins (this was a standard feature of most sacrifices at Rome). Attendants were then ordered to carry out the sacrifice, which was done by holding knives beneath the throats of the animals, then thumping them on the temple, which caused them to fall on the knives and be slain [note in passing: this strikes me as having the same impetus as throwing criminals from the Tarpeian rock; in effect, the victim kills themself, thus absolving the sacrificer/executioner from blood guilt]. The animals were then butchered and a piece from the 'inward parts' and from each limb was 'seasoned' with mola salsa and carried in special baskets by the priests to the altar, where it was put on fire and wine poured over them while it was burning. This, of course, was the gods' share, the smoke from which provided them with their means of survival (and maintained the pax deorum). The remainder was cut up and presumably distributed amongst the participants present.

The Ludi Scaenici

From at least 240 B.C./B.C.E. on, ludi scaenici (theatrical competitions) were an integral part of the Ludi Romani. In that year, Livius Andronicus was commissioned by the aediles to translate scenes from Greek comedy and tragedy into different metres and perform them. In the following years, it would appear that a 'Greek style' theatrical competition evolved; the participation of actors as well as folks dressed as satyrs might suggest that some of the dramas might have been more ribald than a Greek like Dionysius of Halicarnassus would have liked. By the time we reach the empire, the performances appear to have been largely confined to mime and especially pantomime (the latter being somewhat akin to a modern ballet, with the participants generally having notorious, Nureyev/Isadora Duncan-like reputations).

The Ludi Circenses

Despite the stereotypical image of Rome's national sport being feeding assorted malcontents to the lions, the only sport which really could lay claim to being 'the national sport' was chariot racing. Given that the procession of the Ludi Romani went to the Circus Maximus, with its capacity of possibly 150,000, it's not surprising that ludi circenses, a.k.a. chariot racing, formed a large part of the festivities. Outside of the thrill of the races themselves the Circus Maximus was also one of the very few venues where seating was not segregated according to sex, and if we believe the poet Ovid, it was a great place to meet and rub shoulders (literally) with future spouses and persons one intended to have a less permanent relationship with.

The other attraction with chariot-racing was gambling. Although the magistrates would have paid for horses, chariots, and drivers for the Ludi Romani, the horses and drivers were still identified by their 'stables' (the Blues, the Greens, the Reds, the Whites -- the latter two possibly being a late Republic development) and the fans were pathologically loyal to their favourite stable (to the extent that they might even bury lead 'curse tablets' to ensure their favourite would win).

Dionysius relates that the first race was a sort of mixed thing, with a race between chariots with differing numbers of horses and equipment. We also hear of races in which there were two people in the chariot, and upon crossing the finishing line, one would jump out and run another lap. There were probably numerous other variations as magistrates tried to make their particular games memorable.

Between races (the number on the 'card' seems to vary), there were often other amusements: jugglers, acrobats, etc. the sort of thing we associate with 'circuses' like Cirque de Soleil). The races at the Ludi Romani seem to have been followed by assorted athletic events, such as boxing, wrestling, and footracing. It also seems likely that the so-called Lusus Troiae, a sort of precision equestrian drill put on by the iuvenes (generally the sons of the rich and famous) was part of these festivities. This ancient version of the "Musical Ride" (a little Canadian content there) supposedly had Etruscan origins and was 'revived' by Augustus.

September 13

As mentioned previously, the festival was originally held on September 13 to commemorate the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (509 or 507 B.C.). As might be expected, even though the festival expanded in length in both directions, this was the 'high point' of the whole thing and by the late Republic, there were a number of feasts (epuli) to honour Jupiter and/or assorted divinities closely associated with him (they are somewhat confusing). The earliest such epulum, which possibly dates from 509 B.C., if not earlier, seems to be the epulum Iovi which only involved senatorial types. Later we hear of an epulum Iovi, Iunoni, Minervae (i.e. the Capitoline triad) and one in honour of Minerva alone. By the turn of the second century A.D., however, these (and other) epulones required major organization (presumably because more people were allowed to take part in some of them) and so in 196 B.C. we hear of a college of three epulones -- three special magistrates -- whose sole task was to organize such banquets. By the end of the Republic,ten such magistrates were needed.

Returning to the epulum Iovis, it was, as mentioned, confined to senatorial types. It began with a sacrifice, and for the feast that followed, images of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva were set on a couch, dressed up as if they were actually participating in the feast (Jupiter reclined on a couch; Juno and Minerva sat on 'chairs', as proper Roman matrons would have done).

Down to the third century or so, we hear of another ritual being associated with this day (and probably incorporated into the festival). It was on this day when the praetor maximus (later, one of the consuls) would drive a nail into the wall of the temple of Jupiter. Supposedly this was originally done to avert plague, but it evolved into an important annual ritual -- so important that, if there wasn't a magistrate of sufficient rank to perform the ceremony a 'dictator for the hammering of the nail" might be appointed for the task. Later historians would claim to be able to count the nails and so decide when the Republic began.

The Probatio Equitum

In calendars from the Imperial period we read that on September 14, there was an 'inspection of the cavalry'. During the time of the Republic, this regularly had occurred on July 15; it had fallen into desuetude by the time of Sulla and was revived under Augustus. If the probatio equitum on September 14 was anything like the Republican version, the equites (i.e. those who were granted a state-supplied horse) would parade from the Temple of Mars (outside the walls), pass through various parts of the city, the Forum, past the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and possibly finishing at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. They would pause at the Temple of Castor and Pollus and be formally approved by the censors (in the Republic) or the emperor (in the empire). The horsemen wore their 'dress uniforms', as if coming home victorious from battle: wearing olive branches on their heads and purple robes with scarlet stripes (the trabea. They'd also wear whatever 'medals' they had won in battle. During the empire such parades had political overtones, insofar as this was one venue where their official status as an eques was confirmed in a very public way.

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