The Ludi Romani was the biggest festival in Rome. Sources debate the origin date, but it's ballparked around the 5th century BCE. Allegedly it started out as a quickie festival, only on the Ides of September, but with an influx of cash, the festival grew larger. Some sources claim they were held annually, others claim they were sporadic for a time but eventually became an annual event.
There were chariot races and plays and concerts and gladiatorial contests and feasts and sacrifices. Actually, I stated all of that backwards: The festival started with a procession to the temple of Jupiter where a cow was sacrificed. I've also read that the procession went from the temple to the Circus Maximus. Its likely both are correct: The festival evolved over the years in length and entertainments presented. During this festival was the Epulum Jovis, a banquet where the statues of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the Capitoline Triad, were adorned and sat at the table with those feasting. They were served the food on the dishes and their priests were their, as one site put it, "gastronomic proxies."
This site has some nifty information as well as the picture of a coin which shows what the Temple probably looked like.
What I can't find is the end date for the Ludi Romani. When were they no longer celebrated? Or are they still celebrated in some form?
Aside from the historical stuff you can look up on wiki as easily as I can, what I want to focus on a bit is the legend of how the games began: Tarquinus Priscus, later known as Tarquinus the Elder, was the 5th King of Rome. However, he was from Etruria. Legend has it that he was denied political office in Etruria because his father was a Greek immigrant, so he went to Rome to find his fortune. That he did! Further, the legend tells of an eagle swiping his cap when he entered the city and placed it back on his head. I wonder who started that one! He became friends with the 4th King and when his friend passed, Tarquinus talked the senate into declaring him King. Apparently it worked. The Ludi Romani were allegedly started in honor of Tarquin's winning a military victory, which one is debated. He created the Circus Maximus for chariot races.
Little remains of the Circus Maximus, but from the evidence we have, it was effing fabulous! Biggest. Arena. Ever. I've come across a site which claims the last games held at the Circus Maximus, not specifically the Ludi Romani, were in 549 CE. A thousand years of games. Today? Pft. They knocked down and rebuilt Giant Stadium AND Yankee Stadium in the past few years. Take a gander here, and you'll be able to see what's left, which is barely the footprint.
|Circus Maximus depicted on the back of a coin|
So now the question is, why oh why was Rome partying while everyone else in Italy was bringing in the last harvest and preparing for winter? The games were free to all, but was this just a festival for the wealthy? More tomorrow, perhaps on what the rest of Italia was up to in September!