Ludi Apollinares: Roman Festival in July

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The Ludi Apollinares was an ancient Roman festival held every year from July 6-13 in honor of the god Apollo. This festival was especially important in Rome because of its connection with Julius Caesar, being celebrated in honor of him during his birth month.

The Ludi Apollinares were instituted during the second Punic War as a consequence of the battle at Cannae, at the command of an oracle contained in the books of the ancient seer Marcius (Carmina Marciana, Liv. XXV. 12), and allegedly backed up by the Sibylline Oracles.

It was stated by some of the ancient annalists that these particular ludi (solemn games) were instituted for the purpose of obtaining from the god Apollo the protection of human life during the hottest season of the year, but Livy and Macrobius adopted the account founded upon the most authentic document, the carminia marciana themselves. They stated that the Apollinarian games were started partly to obtain the aid of Apollo in expelling the Carthaginians from Italy and partly to preserve, through the favor of the god, the republic from all dangers.

The oracle suggested that the games should be held each year under the guidance of the praetor urbanus, and that ten men should perform the sacrifices according to Greek rites.

The senate complying with the advice of the oracle made the senatus consulta; one that, at the end of the games, the praetor should receive animals for sacrifice, and another that the ten men should sacrifice to Apollo according to Greek rites. They were to sacrifice to Apollo a bull with gilded horns, and to Latona (Leto, in Greek) a heifer with gilded horns.

520715405-56aac94f3df78cf772b48704The games were held in the Circus Maximus. The spectators were adorned with garlands and each citizen was expected to contribute towards the expenses. 

Roman matrons performed supplications, the people took their meals in the open and kept their doors open in jubilation, and the whole day was filled with ceremonies and rites.

Nosadella_Tiestes_y_AéropeThe ludi games were equestrian in nature, but also included stage performances including praetexta, a genre of Latin (Roman) drama. The most well-known example was when Ennius (239-169 BC) had Thyestes performed as part of the Ludi Apollinares in 169 BC.

Thyestes is part of the revenge tragedy genre. In Greek Mythology, Thyestes was a king of Olympia. Thyestes and his brother, Atreus, were exiled by their father for having murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus, in their desire for the throne of Olympia. They took refuge in Mycenae, where they ascended the throne upon the absence of King Eurystheus, who was fighting the Heracleidae. Eurystheus had meant for their lordship to be temporary; it became permanent because of his death in conflict. [Wikipedia contributors, “Thyestes,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia]


Ancient Roman coin depicting the Ludi Apollinares.

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