Carmen Saeculare
by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace)


   The Carmen Saeculare is a choral hymn in the sapphic metre written by Horace in 17 B.C. at the command of the emperor Augustus, to be performed at the ludi saeculares ('secular games') by a choir of twenty-seven boys and twenty-seven girls. A marble inscription recording the ceremony and the part played by Horace still survives. The ode is in the form of a prayer addressed to Apollo and Diana, and the achievements of Augustus are commemorated.

   The ludi saeculares, though strictly speaking of republican origin, came into prominence only in imperial times. They were originally introduced at an unknown but early time as games and sacrifices performed in order to end some national danger or distress from plague or for some other cause (the stories vary widely), and were supposedly held at intervals of a hundred years (saeculum). Soon after the emperor Augustus had established himself as the supreme power in the state it was announced by the quindecemviri that, according to their books, ludi saeculares ought to be held; the celebrated jurist and antiquary Ateius Capito was asked by the emperor to determine what the ceremony should be, and the poet Horace was requested to compose a festival hymn (Carmen Saeculare), which survives. These games were celebrated from 31 May to 2 June 17 B.C., and the ceremonies and performances of plays and of the hymn are recorded in detail in an inscription which survives, the acta sacrorum saecularium of 17 B.C. The ludi saeculares were celebrated again by the emperor Claudius in A.D. 47 (on the eight hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Rome) and by the emperor Domitian in A.D. 87 (as being roughly a century after the celebration by Augustus). On the latter occasion Tacitus the historian was one of the quindecimviri in charge of the ceremonies; the celebration is referred to by the poets Martial and Statius. They were celebrated for the last time with unprecedented magnificence on 21 April A.D. 248 by the emperor Philip the Arab, for the thousandth anniversary of the founding of Rome.

-- "Carmen Saeculare" and "ludi saeculares", respectively. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. M.C. Howatson, Oxford UP: Oxford, 1989.

Carmen Saeculare: Latin Text The source of the Latin text is Horatius Carmina, ed. Fr. Vollmer, Teubner: Leipzig, 1917.
English Text
Translation Notes
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