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Valerian Tradition and the Ludi Saeculares of 17 BCE

Susan Dunning

In this paper, I argue that the Valerian gens had a significant influence on the history of the Ludi Saeculares at Rome, particularly in the development of the Augustan games of 17 BCE. It is well known that Augustus worked with the jurist Ateius Capito to plan his Ludi Saeculares (cf. Zosimus 2.4), but modern scholarship has neglected evidence for a close association between Augustus and Valerii that shaped both the chronology and performances of the games.

It has been commonly suggested that the Ludi Saeculares were in origin a Valerian gentilician cult (Bernstein [1998], Coarelli [1993], Beck/Walter [2005]), but no work, including Schnegg-Köhler's new edition of and commentary on the Augustan Acta (2002), has investigated the full implications of this claim on the history of the games in the Republic or in the Imperial period. Valerius Antias in the first century BCE associated celebrations of the Ludi Saeculares with Valerian consuls, including Valerius Publicola, and later authors (Valerius Maximus, Plutarch, and Zosimus) describe the founding of sacrifices at the Tarentum, a key ritual of the Ludi Saeculares, to either Publicola or a mythical Valesius. Most scholarship associates the Ludi Saeculares with the Valerii based on this material. I argue that more information on the relationship between the Valerii and the games can be found in the membership lists of the college of quindecimuiri, who oversaw the games, the Augustan chronology of the Ludi Saeculares, and the role of Augustus and his family in the performances of the games themselves.

Much evidence survives that points to connections between Augustus and individual Valerii, particularly in the college of quindecimuri. Potitus Valerius Messalla had joined the college of quindecimuiri c. 39 and served as a member until 11 BCE. M. Valerius Messalla was added in 35, even though a member of his gens was already in his college, and continued to serve until his death shortly before 19. Augustus, who had been appointed to all major religious positions in Rome, chose M. Valerius Messalla Messallinus to replace Valerius Messalla, intentionally maintaining the number of Valerii in the college, a clear indicated of favour toward the clan. (See Rüpke [2005]). What is more, for all future celebrations of Ludi Saeculares in the Empire, Valerii are found as quindecimuiri in the years the games are held, although Valerii do not hold positions on this college continually (Rüpke [2005]). With Augustus heading the list of the college of the quindecimuiri, as well as other colleges of which Valerii were members, there would have been ample time for him to interact with Valerii and gain information about religious rituals they claimed as apart of the history of their gens.

The Augustan chronology of the Ludi Saeculares also indicates an attempt to tie the history of the games to the Valerii. Valerius Antias (cited in Censorinus) records games celebrated in 509, 348, 249, and 149; Valerii were consuls in 509 and 348. The “official” (but entirely fabricated) Augustan sequence appearing in the records of the quindecimuiri were 456, 346, 236, 126, and 17, with the first games in 456 supposedly held during the consulate of a Valerius. Augustus

Lastly, by holding the Ludi Saeculares in 17, Augustus was able to draw parallels between his family and the family of Valesius, who founded the sacrifices at the Tarentum in the accounts of Valerius Maximus and Zosimus. These sacrifices were later repeated by Valerius Publicola in a time of distress at Rome. Valesius sacrificed to Dis and Proserpina at Tarentum after the cure of his three sick children, two boys and a girl; in 17, Julia bore Agrippa his third child. Augustus offered the main nocturnal sacrifices at Tarentum, but he performed the daytime sacrifice with his heir Agrippa, who now had two sons and one daughter. Thus, Augustus and his family had quitely appropriated sacrificial roles in a cult associated with founders of the Valerian gens.

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Roman Imperial Interactions

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