SENA* Conference: coins fromthe Roman Empire’s secular games
On 7 October, in the prestigious setting of the Monnaie de Paris, Dominique Hollard presented a very interesting topic. It’s now my pleasure to tell you about it, based on his presentation.
The topic covered coins related to the Roman Empire’s secular games. Before starting, it’s important to point out that the games were secular. According to Roman tradition, the games were intended to celebrate the end of one century and ask for the benediction of the infernal gods for the next century.
Shortly before the start of the games, public criers would invite the population to attend the games “Games that none have ever seen and will never see again”
The first secular games represented in coins were organised by Augustus, the first Roman emperor, with the assistance of a college of fifteen members, the quindecemviri sacris faciundis, presided over by the emperor and those close to him.
The first secular games under Augustus were held in -17. The idea was that they should take place every 110 years, which was the maximum life span of a person at the time, in order to comply with the message “Games that none have ever seen and will never see again”. However, there were also secular games in the strict meaning of the term, that is, every 100 years starting in 48. The year 48 was the anniversary of the founding of Rome in -753, according to Varron.
The coins of the period featured the games. Under Augustus, in -17, there were coins with the inscription “LVDOS SAEC”, that is Ludos saeculares, meaning secular games.
The coins in question featured different aspects of the games. First came the announcement of the games by the public crier carrying the attributes of Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Next came the distribution by the priests of the
suffimenta (inflammable materials) which were used for ritual purifications.
There was also a coin representing the sacrifice of an animal, which was an offering to the
gods. Lastly there was a coin with the Cippus (a stone stela with inscriptions) which indicated the actual holding of the games.
Other emperors continued the tradition after Augustus. They included Emperor Claudius, who organised the games of 48 to celebrate the 800-year anniversary of the foundation of Rome, as well as Domitian, who minted a large number of coins featuring the secular games. The tradition was continued.
In 248, Emperor Philip the Arab organised secular games to celebrate the millennium of Rome’s foundation. The emperor was called “the Arab” because he was born in Syria. Some sources also say that he was the first Christian emperor. The sumptuous games were obviously promoted by the coins both with Philip I on the obverse or Empress Octacilia or their son Philip II.
Many of the coins have animals on the reverse, notably an elephant, which symbolised eternity for Rome.
The secular game tradition was lost during the next century, under the reign of the Christian emperors. When Rome fell in 76, according to late pagans, it was because the tradition was lost, angering the gods!
The coins are a beautiful testimony to the past, documenting the games which certain ancient authors wrote about.
They provide an interesting introduction to the events of the times!
Other ancient coins are available for sale on Delcampe!