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July 22 in Roman History

By: TammyJo Eckhart, PhD on 7/22/2019

 

The Roman calendar was full of festivals and events whose number only increased with each passing generation, as families and individuals competed for the support of the people. Some of these festivals were ancient and focused on the gods, but others were clearly attempting what might be termed “social bribery” by leaders and wannabe leaders. July 22 exemplifies both kinds of Roman holidays.

 

1) Festival of Concordia

Two ancient calendars preserve mention of a festival of Concordia on July 22. The goddess was the personification of harmony, whether domestic (between husband and wife), political (between the Senate and the emperor), or social (between the different social classes). Concordia had a temple on the part of the Capitoline Hill known as the Arx, and two ancient calendars tell us that her festival took place there each year on February 5. An ancient calendar also mentions a festival on July 22, and it is generally held that the holiday was centered on Concordia’s other great temple in Rome, the one in the Roman Forum at the foot of the Capitoline. This site was used for the cult as early as the fourth century BCE, although it is thought that at this time there was no building but just an outdoor altar. The first record of a building proper dates to 121 BCE, and this structure was restored several times.

 

2) Hurray for Caesar! Day 2.

The Circus Maximus was the place to be entertained in ancient Rome since the sixth century BCE. In 366 BCE, the Ludi Romani, the Roman Games, in honor of the god Jupiter, became the first annual festival held in the Circus.

Later, at the conclusion of Julius Caesar’s triumph in 46 BCE, the would-be dictator instituted the Ludi Veneris Genetricis in honor of the goddess Venus Genetrix. This fulfilled a vow he’d made to honor Venus, the legendary founder of his family line. The original games were held on September 26, which was also the foundation date of Caesar’s temple for the goddess in his new Forum adjacent to the Roman Forum. They were the chariot races for which the Circus was famous; there were also “scenic events” (i.e., presentation of plays).

The games were worth the cost to Caesar, and he organized them again the following year. The games may have been renamed the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, making a stronger connection to Caesar personally. But the date was also changed: now the games started on July 20 and ran until July 30. Why this change in dates? Caesar had recently renamed the month of Quintilis, his birth month, to Julius. By both renaming the month and hosting ludi in his honor, he was clearly showing how powerful he was to the Roman people and the Senate. However, July was the month of the Ludi Apollinares, which ran from July 6 to July 13, and August began with a festival at the Temple of Victory. Caesar would not have wanted to have his games immediately after the others. By leaving an interval, he could set his games apart as special. There is also the practical matter that many of the same racing clubs, athletes, and animal traders might have been called upon to help with his event as well, and thus the week-long break would have allowed their slaves (and the rare free person) some time to recover. Ending Caesar’s games close to the birthday for the Temple of Victory would have psychologically connected his victories with that goddess, too, but would still have left a break to allow each holiday to stand on its own.

Were these games continued after Caesar’s assassination? Yes, for a time. His heir Octavian continued the ludi as a funerary rite and also as a way to reinforce his position as Rome’s first emperor. In the first century CE, the games were renamed “Ludi Victoriae Caesaris et Claudi” in honor of the emperor Claudius. We know that they continued to be celebrated down to the time of Trajan. Afterwards, at some indeterminate date, they must have been discontinued, since they do not appear on a calendar composed in the year 354 CE.

For a look into the issues raised in this brief essay, check out J. Ramsey and A. Lewis Licht, The Comet of 44 B.C. and Caesar's Funeral Games (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), as well as the Bryn Mawr Review of it.

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