[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

 p179  (also: Augustalia)

Unsigned article on pp179‑180 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AUGUSTA′LES (sc. ludi, also called Augustalia, sc. certamina, ludicra, and by the Greek writers and in Greek inscriptions, Σέβαστα, Σεβάσιμα, Αὐγουστάλια), were games celebrated in honour of Augustus, at Rome and in other parts of the Roman empire. After the battle of Actium, a quinquennial​a festival (πανήγυρις πεντετηρίς) was instituted; and the birthday (γενέθλια) of Augustus, as well as that on which the victory was announced at Rome, were regarded as festival days (Dion Cass. LI.19). In the provinces, also, in addition to temples and altars, quinquennial games were instituted in almost every town (Suet. Aug. 59). The Roman equites were accustomed of their own accord to celebrate the birthday of Augustus in every alternate year (Suet. Aug. 57); and the praetors, before any decree had been passed for the purpose, were also in the habit of exhibiting games every year in honour of Augustus (Dion Cass. LIV.26, 30). It was not, however, till B.C. 11, that the festival on the birth-day of Augustus was formally established by a decree of the senate (Dion Cass. LIV.34), and it is this festival which is usually meant when the Augustales or Augustalia are mentioned. It was celebrated IV Id. Octobr.​b At the death of Augustus, this festival assumed a more solemn character, was added to the Fasti, and celebrated to his honour as a god (Tac. Ann. I.13; Dion Cass. LVI.46).​c Hence, Tacitus speaks of it as first established in the reign of Tiberius (Ann. I.54). It was henceforth exhibited annually in the circus, at first by the tribunes of the plebs, at the commencement of the reign of Tiberius, but afterwards by the praetor peregrinus (Tac. Ann. I.15; Dion Cass. LVI.46). These games continued to be exhibited in the time of Dion Cassius, that is, about A.D. 230 (LIV.34).

The augustales, or augustalia, at Neapolis (Naples), were celebrated with great splendour. They were instituted in the lifetime of Augustus (Suet. Aug. 98), and were celebrated every five years. According to Strabo (V. p246), who speaks of these games without mentioning their name, they rivalled the most magnificent of the Grecian festivals. They consisted of gymnastic and musical contests, and lasted for several days. At these games the Emperor Claudius brought forward a Greek comedy, and received the prize (Suet. Claud. 11; compare Dion Cass. LX.6).

Augustalia (Σέβαστα) were also celebrated at Alexandria, as appears from an inscription in  p180 Grüter (316.2); and in this city there was a magnificent temple to Augustus (Σεβαστεῖον, Augustale). We find mention of augustalia in numerous other places, as Pergamus, Nicomedia, &c.

Thayer's Notes:

a quinquennial festival: A reminder that, despite appearances, this means that the festival was held every four years. The Romans counted everything inclusively, so that the festival cycle, to them, looked like this:

. . . 1 • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5 . . .

b the festival on the birth-day of Augustus . . . was celebrated IV Id. Octobr. (Oct. 12): There is, as often, far more to this than meets the eye. Suetonius (Augustus, 5) states that Augustus was born on Sept. 23; there was a calendar reform after his birth, but it involved a difference not of 19 days, but over 60.

Other evidence as to the actual date of his birthday includes the location of the Ara Pacis in relation to the Obelisk of Augustus (see this article) and some of the emperor's coinage, depicting Capricorn, said to be the sign under which he was born (or, according to others — seeking to get around the calendrical difficulties, I think — conceived). A page on this whole question will probably show up on this site in the fullness of time; this is one of the pages slated to receive a link to it when it does.

c this festival assumed a more solemn character and was celebrated to his honour as a god: The solemn aspect was not absent during Augustus's lifetime, since he himself writes (Res Gestae, 11) that the commemoration of his safe return from Syria was celebrated annually by the pontifices and Vestals. See Platner's article on the Altar of Fortuna Redux for further details.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 23 Dec 08