Festivals of Ancient Rome: the Ludi Taurei Quinquennales

The Ludi Taurei Quinquennales were horse races that took place in the Campo Marzio at the end of June and were created in honour of the Lords of the underworld: here is all you need to know about this ancient Roman feast.

The general characteristics of this reoccurring event

The Ludi Taurei Quinquennales were games that were held in Ancient Rome from the 25th to 27th of June. Also called Ludi Terentini, they were officiated in the royal age by the powerful Sabine family of Valerii, in honour of Proserpina and Hades, the Lords of the underworld, to whom was dedicated an underground altar sprinkled with earth.

They were re-established by Ottaviano with the name of Ludi Secolari, where they would be carried out for three days and three nights in Campo Marzio, in the area called Terento. These games were not part of a religious festival. Rather, they were held as expiatory rites religionis causa.

The historical sources

Varro reports that they took place in the Late Republic age. We also know that during the reign of Antoninus Pius, they took place every five years from 140 to 160 AD. attested in the Fasti ostienses.

The bullfighting games were horse races or chariot races (the less likely reality between the two). Horse racing and atonement for the underworld Gods were a characteristic of the old and obscure Roman festivals, such as the Consualia and October equus.

Ludi, in Ancient Rome, were the public games organized to entertain the people and were usually organized on the occasion of parties. During the Roman Empire, they were an essential part of the imperial cult. The collective value is found in the large participation in these events, taken from Greek culture.

The origins of the name

If the games were of Etruscan origin, as Festus and Servius affirm, then taurii would probably derive from the Etruscan word tauru which means tomb. However, Festus also proposes the etymology of the bull from the Latin taurus. Many scholars in the past have often argued that the adjective, taurii, indicated the presence of bulls in games, following the traditional bullfighting of Mediterranean origin. Given that Livy’s chronology places the Ludi Taurii immediately after the announcement of a Roman victory in Spain, other historians have tried to correlate them with the ancient bullfights of Spanish culture.