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T. I, Vol. 2

Article by E. Babelon in

Daremberg & Saglio,
Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines,
Librairie Hachette et Cie., Paris, 1877‑1919.

translation and © William P. Thayer

Decennalia. — Under the Roman empire, public holidays celebrated every ten years. Games and solemn sacrifices had been instituted in Rome to ask the gods to preserve the emperor's health (pro salute Caesaris): these were the holidays celebrated every year as a public vow [votum]. But such annual vows must be distinguished from those that recurred only after a determinate number of years, which were called quinquennalia, decennalia, quindecennaliam vicennalia, etc., according as they were celebrated every five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. The origin of the decennalia appears to go back to the republican era, since  p34 Livy​1 tells how in the consulate of C. Popillius Laenas, A.U.C. 482 (172 B.C.), the senate decreed games and sacrifices in honor of Jupiter, in order that the republic would continue ten years in the same prosperous condition. Be that as it may, the institution of regular decennalia only goes back to Augustus who instituted them in A.U.C. 727 (27 B.C.), when for the first time his sovereign power was extended for ten years (decennium);​2 and from then on every ten years until his death. Tiberius, although he did not wish to subject himself to the same decennial test, nevertheless continued the celebration of the holidays instituted by Augustus.​3 Ancient historians do not mention decennalia under the immediate successors of Tiberius, but trace of them appears again starting with Antoninus Pius, the first to record them on his coins. The first decennalia of this emperor are marked thus on the coinage: primi decennales (fig. 2294); they date from the emperor's 4th consul­ship, A.D. 148.​4 Antoninus Pius' second decennalia are marked vota sol. dec. II; the third: vota suscepta dec. III. From then on to the fall of the empire decennalia are met with on coins uninterruptedly, concurrently with the other periodic holidays we have mentioned. Sometimes we find vot. X; on the coins of Constantine we have Felicia decennalia. The words suscepta and soluta often found after decennalia relate respectively to the beginning and the end of the decennial period, i.e., to the time when the wishes are formulated (suscepta) and to the time when the vows have been accomplished (soluta). The laurel wreath depicted on the coins struck in commemoration of these holidays is that offered to the emperor.5

[image ALT: A woodcut of a disk bearing the four-line inscription 'PRIMI DECEN NALES COS·IIII'. It is an ancient Roman coin of Antoninus Pius marking his decennalia, discussed in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 2294. — Coin of Antoninus Pius.

The Author's Notes:

1 Liv. LXII.28.

2 Dio Cass. LIII.13.

Thayer's Note: While the passage is not entirely irrelevant, the better and more usual citation is LIII.16; see also the entry Decennalia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek & Roman Antiquities.

3 Dio Cass. LVIII.24.º

4 H. Cohen, Monnaies de l'empire romain, 2nd ed. 1882, t. II, p337, no. 673.

5 Noris, Dissert. de votis decennalibus; Du Cange, Dissert. de imperatorum inferioris aevi numismatibus, § 40; Eckhel, Doctr. num. vet. t. VIII, p473; Rasche, Lexicon rei num. s.v. Decennalia; Eichstaedt, De votis X, XX, XXX imperatorum romanorum, Iena, 1825, ad fin. (Op. acad. p208 f.); Marquardt, J., Römische Staatsverwaltung, III, p257.

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