Ludi Lupercales 2761 Sprint Race - Semi-Finals (Nova Roma)
live from Circus Flaminius, by M' Verus Paenula for CLC (Catena Ludorum Curulium)
It is a beautiful, winter sunny afternoon in Circus Flaminius for the beginning of the Lupercales Sprint Race.
People have come from every neighborhood of Rome and from many tribes territories, to assist the first Athletics race. Everybody feels excited at the same time because such an event is not frequent, and also because it is the beginning of this exceptional program of sports contests included into the Decennales games, the special games for Nova Roma tenth birthday.
The Factiones have accepted to march into the Circus before and after the athletes, to witness their involvement and interest for this new kind of contest. What is wonderful is not only that the old Ludi, the ancient athletic and fighting institutions, have been reactivated for this 14th day before the Kalends of March, but also that every factio has accepted to invoke the support of one God : Factio Iuppiter is thus sponsored by Ludus Albatus, Factio Martis by Ludus Praesina, Factio Quirini by Ludus Russatus, and Factio Iunonis by Ludus Venetus.
Precisely, Factio Iuppiter contestants, so members of Ludus Albatus, have just returned from the Capitoline Hill, where a special ceremony and ritus was given in honor of Iuppiter Optimus Maximus at the Temple of the Capitoline Triad. White supporters are now entering in large groups, the Circus, today used as a Stadium. You can easily recognize them : look ! they are all in toga candida! This is one of the first times they look so pure and virginales ! No doubt they will not stay quiet when their champions, the soft-stepping brothers Vestigius Quietus, Marcus and Lucius, will stand on the starting line! For the moment, they seem impressed by the presence, in his senatorial seat, at the center of Flaminius degrees, of Consularis Gn. Equitius Marinus, now in his senatorial seat, who has received in the temple, from the Flamen Dialis and on behalf of Factio Iuppiter, the vermillion and the crowns of laurel which is now enlightening the foreheads of the Fratres Vesqui, as they are called by their supporters.
Factio Martis contestants with all their supporters were the first ones here. We must remind that Ludus Praesinus was not this morning in the walls of their school, but met in the Praesina Stables, roughly 1,5 stadia from here, in this Campus Martius area. The aedilician services, specially the police ones, have reported that, once again, the Praesini have considered that the protection of Mars meant making much noise and showing aggressive smiles to people in the street several hours before the Race, specially deep in last night. Naturally, the aediles have been weak enough not to listen to the protests of the three dozens of Campus inhabitants who came to protest against this uproar, and who declared solemnly that they will go towards the praetors to sue the State. Really, Factio Mars is appreciated by many people, specially by poets and artists, because one is amazed by the striking contrast between these warlike supporters and the sweet Gaia Aurelia Falco Silvana, the illustra patrona of this Factio, today highly representated by athletes Gaius Aurelius Falco Celer and Manius Aurelius Falco Rapax.
The marching ceremony is over! People are shouting. The factiones lanistae have just informed their athletes in which semi-finals they will run.
I see that young Iulius Sabinus Crassus, Quirinus's Factio, is keeping on stretching and jumping up into the air, but this time in the right Circus's turn, assigned to warming-up. Crassus, unlike many young men, gives much importance to stretching. Sabinus was chosen to represent Team Quirinus on the superstitio of his name -Quirinus being a very important God of the Sabines - but overall for his possibilities, and because he is reputed living in close relation with our environment : he cares about the food he eats, he is globally aware, he is open to Greek and Sarmatian philosophies, etc.. Bad tongues say in a smile that "He is very quirinal" - do not forget that our Quirinus is among our ancient gods the one that cares on food and harvests - and that he could not run on the grass, being afraid injuring it.
But the Reds supporters do not mind these gossips, for they are sure of their strenght, and of Crassus's one. Ludus Russatus physical preparation coach even told me, in his meridional accent, that if he wanted, his champion would just have to make one pace to win the race. Info or intox ?
Factio Iuno, represented by members of the Ludus Venetus, seem confident, too, warming up in special blue-dyed goat skins. The skins are extra-short and have a gilded image of Iuno sewn onto the front side of the skins. It is evident to most here that these are not the skins from the sacrificial goats of the festival in the Lupercal earlier this morning. Many are debating the Blues decision to use these obviously pre-fabricated skins, but the team maintains that the decision will be in Iuno's favor. What is not debatable is the number of amphorae of goat's milk that the team has consumed this afternoon. Naturally, the other Ludi are shouting them a few unpleasant words, saying that they are not men if dressed like women, and have all their wine hidden in their athlete's room. This athlete seems not caring all these lazzi, and very concentrated. Despite his young age, Quaestor Triarius' nephew, Quintus Vitellius Triarus Vopiscus, who will run in hte first Semi, seems as determined as the other athlets, as for example Rutilus, also in the first semi, and Celera, both sponsored by Maxima Valeria Messallina. Celera, not to be taken for the already mentioned Celer, seems physically ready. You can see him near Crassus, and Celer, warming-up on the right side of the usual chariot track. Sure Celera does not hear what other Factiones supporters are hurling to him, concerning his name in "-a", and his alleged Bithynian practice resort.
The place around the Circus is as crowded as the Circus itself even if, according the aediles's staff, the situation is better now and under control. The hardest supporters are still in jail, where all colors are reconciliating around amphores exceptionally displayed there. Timeo aediles et dona ferentes !
Vendors are selling small statuary of the specially honored Gods, today, and allegedly "blessed," amphorae of goat's milk on every corner. Gee, these guys will stoop to anything for extra denarii! Some women are anxiously waiting for the race to begin ; other ones carry on their particular trade, shouting : "Ad lupam! Ad lupam! Veni parve, veni mi Reme, veni Romule!". Happily, scriba aed. Scholastica and former praetor, very sharp on morality, is still in the Circus, and not aware of this. She is the terror of these kind of female special merchants.
It is time now for the 1st semi-final! The contestants who kept their tunic for warming-up just put it off. Lucius V.Q. is getting close his lane 1, soon followed by Rutilus at lane 2, Vopiscus and Rapax being assigned the 3th and 4th. From the first rank, one may see that, behind the athlete's apparent impassibility, every athlete is seized by the doubt, at this precise moment. The Circus crowd is now close to silent. Scriba Lentulus, whose designation as Camillus Concordiae has been announced a few mintues ago, has been applauded. Now his work is of another kind: trying to remind the contestants the rules of the race. He is repeating : "Cives athletici, remember that you and we all are all brothers! No hit, and stay in your lane! Respect of the rules, and Concordia : con-cor-dia !".
But the athlets are already, mentally, in their race. The commemorative strip of goat skin for the race, symbolizing those used by the two Luperci in ancient times, has been received from Quaestor M. Hortensia Maior, which is known as a skilled amateur of leather, and left aside by the athletes, near the spina, beneath the first degree or in the hands of their Magister Ludi.
The aediles curules are in the grand stand. They have welcomed the whole senate, which is nearly as harassing than running and swimming back to Rome to announce Pydna victory. The aediles could not however have the pleasure welcoming Consularis Gn. Salvius Astur, who has just announced his decision to resign his public charges. The aediles have now sat down, the Consules by their side. Consul Piscinus seems calm while Consul Sabinus is a bit nervous: young athlete Crassus is his son, and it is his first official race in Flaminius!
Quaestor L. Vitellius Triarius, in his new toga, is standing by the middle of the track, facing the stand, while aedilician scribes are standing on both lines, looking at him attentively. In Vitellius's hand, the famous mappa. The senators facing the quaestor can see that the mappa has, in every one of its corners, the wolf symbol in every faction color in competition.
Questor Triarius is raising the right arm. He has repeated this simple move several times during the previous week, even the night, when the whole domus was sleeping : "overall, the right hand!" has he repeated himself. But, naturally, he does not mistake now. He is now turning over and looking up two ranks higher, where aediles and consuls are sitting. The crowd now knows that Vitellius is a hard working man, and we can hear a few "Long life Vitelli!", along with bursts of applause. A short glance, and Vitellius turns back toward the contestants. He is raising the mappa higher than ever. He would be swallowed to the skies by the gods that nobody would be that amazed. Everyone is focusing to the mappa. The silence is now total. Even outside the Circus, no noise. Total but now oppressive silence, a strange and anxious one. For it reminds of the wonderful events, but also a few bad times, when the open streets were deserted, the city waiting for bad news, or for the enemy marching into the City.
As in a dream, the mappa has fallen. As four Numidian lions at last released, Vesqui, Rutilus, Vopiscus and Rapax have sprung up from their marks!
4:00 PM : Semi-Finals Race I
Rutilus blasts down the lane ahead of the others like a scorpion bolt. Vopiscus is narrowly behind him, maintaining the pace, but slowing slightly, as not to burn himself out immediately. Let us remind running a stadium needs that you keep some forces for the second part of the race!
Lucius Vestigius Quietus and Rapax are closely in pursuit. Now, Rutilus slows and Vopiscus takes the leader's position... Yes, Rutilus moves back into second place. Lucius Vestigius Quietus and Rapax are side-by- side, both vowing for the third position. The contestants are at the middle mark of the 203 meters of the stadium.
Now, Rutilus begins to slow from the overly fast start, and drops back into third, with Rapax speeding ahead. Vopiscus is holding on, throwing a glance over his shoulder when he may still do it with no major risk! The runners are approaching the finish line. The crowd is standing and cheering them on as Vopiscus... or Rapax... Vopiscus... Rapax... no, Vopiscus, at last, crosses the finish line first, but Rapax is close behind, followed by... Lucius Vestigius Quietus and Rutilus. This is incredible... Vopiscus seemed to win easily, by finally the four athletes seem to end in a close time. We have to wait for the time provided by the Helvetian official electronic hourglass, sponsored by Tempus corporation, whose ads you sure have already seen says : "A true Lupus wears a watch Tempus".
The four contestants are jogging around the Circus for a cool down. The three athletes are shaking hands with Vopiscus, the winner. The crowd applauds wildly and throws flowers down, white, blue, green, red ones onto the sand, for their favoured runners.
Race officials are checking the timers, and Scriba Lentulus brings the final times to Quaestor Vitellius, who has now stepped up on the small rostra built at the middle of the track. He asks for silence. As the crowd finally settles to here the results and times, Quaestor Vitellius announces the following:
- Vopiscus - 1st Place (21"66)
- Rapax - 2nd Place (21"83)
- Lucius V.Q. - 3rd Place (21"91)
- Rutilus - 4th Place (21"93)
It is a roaring in Flaminius, both to cheer the winner but also because every athlete could have won this very close race! As the servii rake the track and make preparations for the next race, Quaestor Vitellius, under the applauses, thank each one of the contestants individually.
Woo! We see that Lucius and Rutilus seem much deceived! No doubt that they are re-running this 1st Semi in their mind!
4:15 PM : Semi-Finals Race II
The 1st Semi runners are now in the stands or their rooms, and the contestants for the 2nd Semi are entering the field and lining up, as directed by Scriba Lentulus in the following order: Celera in Lane I, next is Crassus in Lane II, followed by Celer in Lane III and Marcus Vestigius Quietus in Lane IV. Scriba Lentulus again reviews the line. Now he signals that all is ready to begin.
Quaestor Vitellius stands and receives the nodded approval signal from the Aediles. Once again, the magic time of the falling mappa has come. Out of the starting position, Crassus leaps a good 2 metres ahead of everyone else! The Russata fans in the stands go wild! Celera quickly closes in behind Crassus within a few inches, holding the secondary lead. Celer is advancing at a modern pace in third, followed by Marcus Vestigius Quietus. But wait... now Marcus Vestigius takes the third position over Celer. Crassus is pulling ahead of Celera, and he seems to be in a different league from the other runners. His father, Consul Sabinus, is standing on his seat with anticipation, gripping Aed. Lucilius's arm who, happily, is a strong man.
Everyone is standing on their seats! The Reds are all but insane with excitement! Some spectators from Albatus attempt to start a fight with some of the Russata fans, but they cannot gain the attention of the Reds, whose team member is taking the lead to even greater heights. Now we have passed the fatal middle mark. What will happen ?
OOOOH! There seems to be a problem!! Crassus is slowing down! Celera passes him easily, followed by Marcus Vestigius and Celer. Crassus has now slowed his pace, and is grimacing. What is it ? A cramping ? The Circus medicus and staff stand by, but maybe that young Crassus has not simply measured his efforts. Ah, if ever young people had knowlegde, and elder the force! Marcus Vestigius and Celera are approaching the finish line, they are side-by-side in the lead followed by Celer, closely behind. It's anybody's race now with only a few metres to go! This Semi seems as close as the first one! Fantastic! Marcus Vestigius gets his second wind! He pulls a good foot ahead of Celera, crossing the finish line first. Celera second, Celer third, and Crassus half a pace in 4th.
The crowds stand and applaude the four runners. Quaestor Vitellius is now back upon his rostra with Scriba Lentulus, going over the official finish and announces the following to the crowd:
- Marcus Vestigius Quietus – 1st Place (21"53)
- Celera – 2nd Place (21"73)
- Celer – 3rd Place (21"83)
- Crassus – 4th Place (21"98)
Quaestor Vitellius greets each contestant and thanks them for their participation, then makes a reminder announcement to the crowd about the Finals and Minor Finals races to be held here in the Circus Flaminius tomorrow.
So, wonderful Lupercales Athletics first day, indeed, here in Circus Flaminius! Romans in the crowd, that I have just interviewed, seem enthusiastic about these kinds of race. Most of our citizens did not know it. Just a few of us, the richer ones, who have had the opportunity travelling to the Olympic Games or to the Isthmic ones, in Greece, knew that there were not on Roman earth just Venationes and Circus chariots or horses contests.
So this is a first success, and no doubt it is thanks to our Gods! We hope that all the athletes will be able to defend their Factio's color this Su. 17th, and I think specially to young Crassus. The crowd is now dispersing from the Circus to attend the evening's celebrations and prepare for the main event tomorrow. I can see smiles on the faces, and even Lanistae, who show ordinary frowning faces, seem satisfied. It was M' Verus Paenula on Feb. 16th, speaking from Circus Flaminius, for C.L.C., Catena Ludorum Curulium, the aedilitas network!