Ludi plebeii

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The "Plebeian Games."

The Ludi Plebeii were, according to Pseudo-Asconius (ad Verr. i. p. 143 Orelli), founded to commemorate the freedom of the plebeian order after the banishment of the kings, or after the secession of the plebs to the Aventine. However, historic evidence does not support the first theory and it is likely that these games were instituted in commemoration of the reconciliation between the patricians and plebeians after the plebeians removed to either the mons sacer or, according to others, the Aventine.

The Ludi were initially conducted from November 16-18, overseen by the aediles plebis, (Liv. XXVIII. 10, xxxix 7.) The aediles were garbed in the robes of a triumphator, hinting at a link between the games and the ancient triumphal rites. They are almost certainly the oldest games extant, second only to the Ludi Romani held in September. Legend places the Ludi in the early history of Rome, however, the earliest mention by Livy sets the games in 216 BCE. (Livy 23.30) in the Circus Flaminius, built around 220 BCE (Livy Epit.) and the latest record of the games can be found on the Calendar of Philocalus (354 A.D.).

By 207 BCE the Ludi were celebrated over several days, and the Fasti Maffeiani, one of the most important surviving contemporary calendars from the Augustan era, sets the Ludi from 4-17 November.

The central focus of the Ludi was the Epulum Iovis, or feast of Iuppiter, on the Ides of November, this date being sacred to Him. The Senators ate at public expense on the Capitoline, while the Roman public dined in the Forum. The Epulum Iovis were preceded by nine days of theatrical performances and four days of racing in the Circus. On the day of the Games, a great Pompa, or procession, led by statues of the Capitoline Triad, would proceed to the Circus, where Gods and men joined to watch the races.

Titus Maccius Plautus (254-184 BCE) probably sold his first plays at the Ludi, and his play Stichus was first performed at the Ludi Plebeii. Plautus' puns and slapstick humour were greatly valued by the Romans themselves (if not by the likes of Horace and Augustus) and influenced a much later playwright from the 16th Century: William Shakespeare. The modern and beloved musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is inspired by Plautus and contains many of his characters, including Miles Gloriosus, the braggart soldier, Pseudolus, the wily slave, and Senex, the doddering oldster.

For the Ludi plebeii in Nova Roma see Ludi Plebeii (Nova Roma)

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