Lusus Troiae

Lusus Troiae

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The Lusus Troiae or Ludus Troiae ("Troy Game" or "Game of Troy") was an equestrian event held in ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

. It was among the ludi
Ludi were public games held for the benefit and entertainment of the Roman people . Ludi were held in conjunction with, or sometimes as the major feature of, Roman religious festivals, and were also presented as part of the cult of state.The earliest ludi were horse races in the circus...

, or games, celebrated at imperial
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

Roman funerals and burial
Ancient Roman funerary practices were part of the mos maiorum, "tradition," that is, "the way of the ancestors," and drew on the beliefs embodied in Roman public and domestic religion....

, temple foundings, or in honor of a military victory. The lusus was occasionally presented at the Saecular Games, but was not attached regularly to a particular religious festival
Roman festivals
In ancient Roman religion, holidays were celebrated to worship and celebrate a certain god or divine event, and consisted of religious observances and festival traditions, usually with a large feast, and often featuring games . The most important festivals were the Saturnalia, the Consualia, the...


Participation was a privilege for boys of the nobility (nobiles
During the Roman Republic, nobilis was a descriptive term of social rank, usually indicating that a member of the family had achieved the consulship. Those who belonged to the hereditary patrician families were noble, but plebeians whose ancestors were consuls were also considered nobiles...

). It was a display of communal skill, not a contest.


The fullest description of the exercise is given by Vergil, Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

5.545–603, as the final event in the games held to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Aeneas
Aeneas , in Greco-Roman mythology, was a Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. His father was the second cousin of King Priam of Troy, making Aeneas Priam's second cousin, once removed. The journey of Aeneas from Troy , which led to the founding a hamlet south of...

's father, Anchises
In Greek mythology, Anchises was the son of Capys and Themiste . His major claim to fame in Greek mythology is that he was a mortal lover of the goddess Aphrodite . One version is that Aphrodite pretended to be a Phrygian princess and seduced him for nearly two weeks of lovemaking...

. The drill features three troops (turmae
A turma was a cavalry squadron in the Roman army of the Republic and Empire. In the Byzantine Empire, it became applied to the larger, regiment-sized military-cum-administrative divisions of a thema....

— each made up of twelve riders, a leader, and two armor-bearers — who perform intricate drills on horseback:
… The column split apart
As files in the three squadrons all in line
Turned away, cantering left and right; recalled
They wheeled and dipped their lances for a charge.
They entered then on parades and counter-parades,
The two detachments, matched in the arena,
Winding in and out of one another,
And whipped into sham cavalry skirmishes
By baring backs in flight, then whirling round
With leveled points, then patching up a truce
And riding side by side. So intricate
In ancient times on mountainous Crete they say
The Labyrinth, between walls in the dark,
Ran criss-cross a bewildering thousand ways
Devised by guile, a maze insoluable,
Breaking down every clue to the way out.
So intricate the drill of Trojan boys
Who wove the patterns of their prancing horses,
Figured, in sport, retreats and skirmishes …

Complex intertwining manoeuvres as a display of horsemanship were characteristic of Roman cavalry
Roman cavalry
Roman cavalry refers to the horse mounted forces of the Roman army through the many centuries of its existence.- Early cavalry Roman cavalry (Latin: equites Romani) refers to the horse mounted forces of the Roman army through the many centuries of its existence.- Early cavalry Roman cavalry...

 reviews on the parade ground. The Greek military writer Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

 describes these in his book The Art of Military Tactics (Technē Taktikē), and says they originated among the non-Roman cavalry units provided by the allies (auxilia), particularly the Gauls
The Gauls were a Celtic people living in Gaul, the region roughly corresponding to what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy, from the Iron Age through the Roman period. They mostly spoke the Continental Celtic language called Gaulish....

 (that is, the continental Celts) and Iberians
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

. The Troy Game, however, was purely ceremonial and involved youths too young for military service.

History and origin

The lusus Troiae was "revived" by Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 in 45 or 46 BC, perhaps in connection with his family claim to have descended from Iulus
Ascanius is the son of the Trojan hero Aeneas and a legendary king of Alba Longa. He is a character of Roman mythology, and has a divine lineage, being the son of Aeneas, who is son of Venus and the hero Anchises, a relative of Priam; thus Ascanius has divine ascendents by both parents, being...

, the son of Aeneas who in the game of the Aeneid rides a horse that was a gift from the Carthaginian queen Dido. Given the mythological setting, the description of the lusus Troiae in the Aeneid is likely to have been the Augustan
Augustan literature (ancient Rome)
Augustan literature is the period of Latin literature written during the reign of Augustus , the first Roman emperor. In literary histories of the first part of the 20th century and earlier, Augustan literature was regarded along with that of the Late Republic as constituting the Golden Age of...

 poet's fictional aetiology
Founding myth
A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation's past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic...

. Historically, the event cannot be shown to have been held before the time of Sulla, and it has been doubted that the lusus presented under Sulla was the Troy Game. A similar-sounding event during the ludi Romani
Ludi Romani
The Ludi Romani were a religious festival in ancient Rome. They were held annually starting in 366 BC from September 12 to September 14, later extended to September 5 to September 19. In the last 1st century BC, an extra day was added in honor of the deified Julius Caesar on 4 September...

at the time of the Second Punic War
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

 is also uncertain as evidence for an earlier staging.

The claim that the event "extends back at least to the sixth century B.C." is based in part on a late 7th-century Etruscan wine-server (oinochoë
An oenochoe, also spelled oinochoe, is a wine jug and a key form of Greek pottery. There are many different forms of Oenochoe. The earliest is the olpe and has an S-shaped profile from head to foot.Oenochoe may be decorated or undecorated...

) from Tragliatella (near Caere
Caere is the Latin name given by the Romans to one of the larger cities of Southern Etruria, the modern Cerveteri, approximately 50-60 kilometres north-northwest of Rome. To the Etruscans it was known as Cisra and to the Greeks as Agylla...

) which depicts mounted youths emerging from a labyrinth
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos...

 with the legend TRUIA, one possible meaning of which is Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

. Vergil explicitly compares the patterns of the drill to the Cretan Labyrinth, which was associated with the geranos ("crane dance") taught by Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

 to the Athenian youth he rescued from the Minotaur
In Greek mythology, the Minotaur , as the Greeks imagined him, was a creature with the head of a bull on the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, "part man and part bull"...

 there. In myth and ritual, the labyrinth, and hence the lusus, has been interpreted as "a return from danger, a triumph of life over death," or more specifically as an initiation
Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components...

 ritual. The geranos of Theseus serves as a "mythic prototype for the escape of initiates from the rigors of initiation"; the feet of the shield-bearers on the Truia wine-server may suggest dance steps. Initiation iconography similar to that of the Etruscan oinochoë is found on a panel of the Gundestrup Cauldron
Gundestrup cauldron
The Gundestrup cauldron is a richly-decorated silver vessel, thought to date to the 1st century BC, placing it into the late La Tène period. It was found in 1891 in a peat bog near the hamlet of Gundestrup, in the Aars parish in Himmerland, Denmark...

, generally regarded as presenting Celtic subject matter with a Thracian influence in workmanship
Thracian treasure
The Thracians were skillful craftsmen. They made beautifully ornate golden and silver objects such as various kinds of vessels, rhytons, facial masks, pectorals, jewelry, weapons, etc. They used to bury rich hoards of precious objects both to hide them in times of enemy invasions and unrest as...

. At least one of the Celtic polities of central Gaul, the Aedui
Aedui, Haedui or Hedui , were a Gallic people of Gallia Lugdunensis, who inhabited the country between the Arar and Liger , in today's France. Their territory thus included the greater part of the modern departments of Saône-et-Loire, Côte-d'Or and Nièvre.-Geography:The country of the Aedui is...

, claimed like the Romans to be of Trojan descent and were formally recognized by the Roman senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 as the "brothers" as well as the allies of Rome long before they were incorporated into the empire.

The Etruscan designation of the game as "Truia", if that is what the vase depicts, may be a play on words, as truare means "to move," with a specialized sense in the vocabulary of weaving: it has been argued that the lusus Troiae is the "running thread game," intended to repair the "social fabric" of Rome after the recent civil wars
Caesar's civil war
The Great Roman Civil War , also known as Caesar's Civil War, was one of the last politico-military conflicts in the Roman Republic before the establishment of the Roman Empire...

. Vergil uses two forms of the verb "to weave" to describe the equestrian movements, and in some versions of the Theseus myth, the hero's return from the labyrinth is made possible by following a daedalean
In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skillful craftsman and artisan.-Family:...

 thread provided by Ariadne
Ariadne , in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Minos of Crete, and his queen Pasiphaë, daughter of Helios, the Sun-titan. She aided Theseus in overcoming the Minotaur and was the bride of the god Dionysus.-Minos and Theseus:...


Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 established the lusus Troiae as a regular event. Its performance was part of a general interest in Trojan origins reflected also in the creation of the Tabulae Iliacae or "Trojan Tablets," low reliefs
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

 that illustrate scenes from the Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

and often present text in the form of acrostics or palindrome
A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of units that can be read the same way in either direction, with general allowances for adjustments to punctuation and word dividers....

s, suggesting patterned movement or literary mazes.

The young Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

 led a turma
A turma was a cavalry squadron in the Roman army of the Republic and Empire. In the Byzantine Empire, it became applied to the larger, regiment-sized military-cum-administrative divisions of a thema....

at the games celebrating the dedication of the Temple of the Divine Julius
Temple of Caesar
The Temple of Caesar or Temple of Divus Iulius also known as Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar, delubrum, heroon or Temple of the Comet Star, is an ancient structure in the Roman Forum of Rome, Italy, located near the Regia and the Temple of Vesta.-History:It was begun by...

, 18 August 29 BC. The lusus was also performed at the dedication of the Theater of Marcellus in 13 BC, and of the Temple of Mars Ultor, 1 August 2 BC. The children in eastern dress on the Ara Pacis
Ara Pacis
The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess...

 have sometimes been interpreted as Gaius
Gaius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar , most commonly known as Gaius Caesar or Caius Caesar, was the oldest son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder...

 and Lucius Caesar
Lucius Caesar
Lucius Julius Caesar , most commonly known as Lucius Caesar, was the second son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder. He was born between 14 of June and 15 July 17 BC with the name Lucius Vipsanius Agrippa, but when he was adopted by his maternal grandfather Roman Emperor Caesar...

 in "Trojan" garb for the game in 13 BC. The Troy Game continued to be staged under other emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty
Julio-Claudian Dynasty
The Julio-Claudian dynasty normally refers to the first five Roman Emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula , Claudius, and Nero, or the family to which they belonged; they ruled the Roman Empire from its formation, in the second half of the 1st century BC, until AD 68, when the last of the line,...

. Seneca
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

 mentions the event in his Troades (line 778), and Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

participated in 47 A.D, at the age of nine.