Etruscan bronze horse and rider

The Taurian Games (June 25-26) were held in honor of Dis and Prosperina, the gods of the underworld, to avert some great calamity from the state. (It is not clear if the games were quinquennial, as has been alleged.) These games and sacrifices took place in the Circus Flaminius to prevent the infernal divinities from entering the city.

According to Festus, they were established in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, in accordance with the ruling of the Books of Fate, because pregnant women had been striken with a plague caused by the piecemeal sale of some beef, possibly meat that had been offered in sacrifice. Games were then instituted to propitate the infernal divinities, and sacrifices of sterile cows (taureae) were offered up to them, whence the games were called Ludi Taurei. It has also been proposed that the name derives from tauru, the Etruscan word for "tomb."

Presumably the games were Etruscan in origin, and the only recorded celebration in Republican times was a two-day event in 186 BC. (During the reign of Antoninus Pius, they were held every five years from 140 to 160 AD, within a period beginning on the day after the Ides of May and continuing through the Kalends of June.) These mysterious games were only held in the Circus Flaminius, suggesting they were symbolically tied to the site itself, and thus could not be moved to a different circus. These were horseback races, not chariot races, with a rider and his horse going around the turning posts. Equestrian events were also associated with underworld deities in other rituals and festivals in the Campus Martius.

For additional information about the Taurian Games, consult these resources.

  • An entry in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines has a translation and footnotes by Bill Thayer which clarify a few mistaken notions about the Taurian Games.
  • An entry at Wikipedia gives information about the origin of the games and their subsequent observances.
  • An entry in Platner's A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome gives information about the Circus Flaminius.
  • An entry at Wikipedia gives additional information about the Circus Flaminius.
  • An entry at Wikipedia gives information about the Roman di inferi and the sacrifices made to them.

  • photo of Etruscan bronze horse and rider courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Some of the preceding information come from Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, written by H. H. Scullard and published in 1981 by the Cornell University Press (Ithaca, New York.)