Tarentum (Campus Martius)

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In the topography of ancient Rome, the Tarentum or Terentum was a religious precinct north of the Trigarium, a field for equestrian exercise, in the Campus Martius.[1] The archaeological survey of the site shows that it had no buildings.[2]

The Tarentum gave its name to the ludi tarentini ("Tarentine Games"), the archaic ludi that became the Secular Games; the name is perhaps less likely to have come from the place Tarentum in Apulia.[3] The location of the Tarentum is indicated primarily by the discovery in 1930 of the inscribed record of the Saecular Games (acta) held in 17 BC, which traditionally took place there.[4] It was the precinct within which the underground Altar of Dis and Proserpina was located.[5]

Myth and the ludi[edit]

The Tarentine Games were presented most notably in 249 BC, as a "crisis ritual"[6] during the First Punic War, in accordance with the Sibylline Books. The ludi took the form of three-night rites[7] and horse races to honor Dis and Proserpina, the divine couple who had an underground altar at the site.[8] In a common version of the myth, Proserpina (Greek Persephone) was abducted by the ruler of the underworld and driven underground in his chariot to become his bride and queen.[9] Some scholars think that the Roman Dis pater ("Rich Father") is a Latin translation of the Greek Plouton (Pluto) and that his cult was established among the Romans with the celebration of the games in 249 BC.[10] Varro regarded the nocturnal theatrical performances that took place during the games as a seminal event in the history of Roman drama.[11]

Hendrik Wagenvoort argued that these ceremonies had originated with the cult of Maris, an Etruscan daimon of death later identified with Mars in a chthonic form, along with Ferona as the consort of Maris.[12] According to Calvert Watkins, the word tarentum in reference to the Roman site most likely means "tomb" or "sepulcher,"[13] or more fundamentally, "a place for crossing," that is, a liminal place.[14]


  1. ^ John H. Humphrey, Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing (University of California Press, 1986), pp. 544, 558; Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, Manuel des Institutions Romaines (Hachette, 1886), pp. 558, 560; Marcel Le Glay, "Remarques sur la notion de Salus dans la religion romaine," La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell' imperio romano: Études préliminaires au religions orientales dans l'empire romain, Colloquio internazionale Roma, 1979 (Brill, 1982), p. 442 online.
  2. ^ Robert E. A. Palmer, Studies of the Northern Campus Martius in Ancient Rome (American Philosophical Society, 1990), p. 34.
  3. ^ Erich S. Gruen, "Poetry and Politics: The Beginnings of Latin Literature," in Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy (Brill, 1990), p. 83, note 17 online. Calvert Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (Oxford University Press, 1995), devotes a chapter to the meaning of tarentum.
  4. ^ Palmer, Studies of the Northern Campus Martius, p. 20, is more skeptical than many scholars about establishing the exact location and limits of the Tarentum.
  5. ^ Robert E.A. Palmer, "Silvanus, Sylvester, and the Chair of St. Peter," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 122 (1978), p. 239.
  6. ^ Jörg Rüpke, "Communicating with the Gods," in A Companion to the Roman Republic (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, 2010), p. 225.
  7. ^ Tribus noctibus, Censorinus 17.8 (Latin). Three-night rites were also characteristic of the Gallic religious calendar, as evidenced by notations of the Gaulish word trinoχtion (equivalent to Latin trinoctium), "fête des Trois Nuits," in the Coligny calendar; Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise: Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental (Paris: Éditions Errance, 2003, 2nd ed.), pp. 302–303.
  8. ^ See Platner's entry on the Ara Ditis et Proserpina at LacusCurtius online; Livy, Periocha 49: Ludi Diti patri ad Tarentum ex praecepto librorum facti ("games for Father Dis took place at the Tarentum, in accordance with the books," presumably the Sibylline Books).
  9. ^ Humphrey, Roman Circuses, pp. 558, 577.
  10. ^ H. D. Jocelyn, The Tragedies of Ennius (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 331, with reference to Kurt Latte, Römische Religionsgeschichte (C.H. Beck, 1967, 1992), p. 246ff.
  11. ^ Censorinus 17.8; Rupke, "Communicating with the Gods," p. 225.
  12. ^ Hendrik Wagenvoort, "The Origin of the Ludi Saeculares," in Studies in Roman Literature, Culture and Religion (Brill, 1956), p. 219 et passim; see also John F. Hall III, "The Saeculum Novum of Augustus and its Etruscan Antecedents," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.16.3 (1986), p. 2574.
  13. ^ Watkins notes (p. 348) that the Oxford Latin Dictionary omits the tarentum of Acca in the Velabrum, where based on a reconstructed passage of Varro (De lingua latina 6.23–24) the meaning "tomb" is required; Varro glosses tarentum Accas (an archaic form of the genitive singular feminine) with sepulchrum Accae.
  14. ^ Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon, p. 351.