The Capitolia

In 86 AD, emperor Domitian organized the first Capitolia, games in honour of Iupiter Capitolinus, the most important Roman god. They were held every four years in May-June, always in the year after the Olympic games, and included athletic contests, horse races and musical contests.

From the beginning, the Capitolian games occupied an important position in the international contest circuit: they were even included in the periodos. Athletes therefore often place a victory in the Capitolia next to victories at Olympia and Delphi, when recording their victories on an inscription. The Capitolia took place in Rome and were presided by the emperor himself. They attracted the international champions. In 94 AD, there were 94 participants for the contest in "Greek poetry" alone. The prizes consisted of a crown of oak leaves and Roman citizenship. The prestige of these games was so great that in the third century AD local Capitolian games were organized in Egypt, after the model of the contest in Rome and similar to is-Olympic games.

The athletic contests were completely followed the traditional Greek style, with several running and combat events and the pentathlon, for competitors in three age-categories. The contests took place in a newly constructed stadion, the form of which is preserved in the modern Piazza Navona.

P271Although the Capitolian games corresponded to Greek examples, the horse races in the Circus Maximus stood under Roman influence.

The musical contests were held in the Odeum, a theater that was built especially for this occasion on the campus Martius. Besides traditional events, like tragedy and comedy, playing the flute, kithara or trumpet, there were contests in eloquence (in Greek as well as in Latin), with subjects from mythology and with panegyrics on the emperor.

© KU Leuven, 2012