Tuesday, April 06, 2021


Ludi Saeculares

Zosimus, New History. A Translation with Commentary by Ronald T. Ridley (Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982 = Byzantina Australiensia, 2), pp. 26-28 (2.5-7):
5. This is how we are told the festival was celebrated. Heralds go about summoning everyone to attend a spectacle they have never seen before and will never see again. In summer, a few days before it begins,the Quindecemviri sit in the Capitol and in the Palatine temple11 on a tribunal and distribute purifying agents, such as torches, brimstone and pitch, to the people; slaves do not participate in this, only freemen. (2) When all the people assemble in the above-mentioned places and in the temple of Diana on the Aventine, each one bringing wheat, barley and beans, they keep the all-night vigils to the Fates with great solemnity for nights. Then when the time arrives for the festival, which is celebrated for three days and three nights in the Campus Martius, the victims are dedicated on the bank of the Tiber at Tarentum. They sacrifice to Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Latona, Diana, and also to the Fates, Lucina, Ceres, Dis and Proserpine. (3) On the first night of the spectacle, at the second hour, the emperor with the Quindecemviri sacrifices three lambs on three altars on the river bank, and sprinkling the altars with blood, he offers up the victims burnt whole. After preparing a stage like that in a theatre, they light torches and a fire, sing a newly composed song, and present sacred spectacles. (4) Those who participate are rewarded with the first fruits of the wheat, barley and beans, for they are distributed to all the people, as I said. The next day they go up to the Capitol where they offer the usual sacrifices, and thence to the theatre where games to Apollo and Diana are celebrated. On the second day noble ladies, gathering at the Capitol at the place specified by the oracle, pray to and sing the praises of the goddess, as is right. (5) On the third day in the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, twenty seven outstanding boys and as many girls, all of whom have two living parents, sing hymns and victory songs in both Greek and Latin for the preservation of the Roman empire.

There were other celebrations as well, in accordance with the gods' direction, and as long as they were all observed, the Roman empire remained intact. To convince us of the truth in these matters, I will add the Sibyl's oracle although others before me12 have already referred to it.

6. "When the longest span of human life has elapsed,
And the cycle of years comes round to one hundred and ten,
Remember Romans, especially if you are forgetful,
Remember all this, to the immortal gods
Sacrifice in the plain by the Tiber's boundless stream,
Where it is narrowest, when night comes over the earth,
And the sun hides its light. Sacrifice
To the all-engendering Fates, lambs and black she-goats.
Conciliate the Eleithuiai, who bring
Children to birth, at altars smoking with incense, as is proper.
To Earth sacrifice a pregnant black sow,
But let milky-white bulls be brought to Zeus' altar
By day, not at night. For to the heavenly deities
The way to sacrifice is in the day-time.
A young heifer with unblemished skin
Let Hera's temple receive from you. And Phoebus Apollo,
Also called Helios, should receive the same sacrifices,
Being Leta's son. Let Latin paeans
Sung by boys and girls fill the temple
Of the gods. Let the girls have their own separate chorus
And the boys stand apart, and each
Must have two living parents.
Let women subject to the bonds of marriage on that day
Kneel at the famous altar of Hera
And pray to the goddess. Purification will be given to all,
Both men and women, but especially to women.
Let everyone bring from their homes whatever is fit
To be brought by mortals offering first fruits
As propitiation to the infernal gods and the blessed gods
In heaven. Let everything be heaped up there,
In order that to provide for the men and women
Seated there you may be mindful. In the days
And nights that follow let the seats of the gods
Be thronged with people, and seriousness be mixed with laughter.
Remember these things, keep them always in mind,
And the whole land of Italy and the whole of Latium
Will wear a yoke fitting their necks beneath your sceptre."

7. Therefore, as the oracle truly says, while all this was observed according to direction, the Roman empire was safe and Rome remained in control of virtually all the inhabited world,13 but once this festival was neglected after Diocletian's abdication, the empire gradually collapsed and was imperceptibly barbarised.
Id., pp. 149-150:
1. This long digression on the ludi saeculares was apparently occasioned by Maximianus' plan to hold them in 303 (note history resumes in 305 in 8.1). It is commonly assumed that Zosimus' source here was someone like Phlegon who wrote a work in three books on Roman festivals — the oracle (chap. 6) appears in his Macrobioi (v. O. Keller, Rerum natural. script. gr. min., 1877, 57f) — or Verrius Flaccus through Phlegon. Sources for the secular games are the Augustan and Severan acta (CIL 6 32323, 32326-36), Horace, Carmen Saeculare, coins of Domitian (RIC 2.153), Censorinus, de die natali 17, Phlegon, Peri Makrobion (Jacoby FGH 2.257).


11. In the temples of the Capitoline triad and of Apollo, respectively.

12. v. note 1.

13. The oracle promises Rome rule only in Italy, but Zos. extends it to the whole world.

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