The Secular Games were a religious celebratory event held in Ancient Rome for 3 days and nights. The games were held at the end of a saeculum – a period of time that roughly equalled the maximum human lifespan. In other words, each Secular Games would be celebrated by an entirely new generation, with everyone who had been present at the previous one now being deceased. Romans marked a saeculum between 100-110 years.
The Secular Games were celebrated by an array of different activities, including theatrical performances, songs, sporting events and sacrifices.
The origins of the Secular games are unclear, in Roman myth they were allegedly started when a man called Valesius sought a cure for his sick children. Eventually he turned to the Gods, praying to them for a cure and offering his own life in return. Valesius was commanded by unknown voices to take his children to the Tiber and have them drink the water, which had to be first heated on an altar in the Campus Martius in Rome. Valesius did as he was told and his children were miraculously healed. The unknown voices was revealed to be Dis Pater and Proserpina, underworld deities in Roman mythology. Valesius then made sacrifices to both in thanks for saving his children's lives.
The first ever Secular Games is thought to have been held in 249 BC, although some ancient sources suggest they may have been held earlier than this. Another Secular Games was likely held in 149 BC, at the start of the third and final Punic War. They should have been held again in 49 BC, and may have been planned to – had it not for the Roman Republic being engulfed in Caesar's Civil War. Instead they were postponed indefinitely, and would only be revived decades later by the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, in 17 BC.
The Secular Games of the Roman Empire period are much better documented. Augustus rewrote history to fit in with the current date, claiming that the Sibylline oracles had stated the games should be held every 110 years, and that the first Secular Games had been held in 456 BC.
The Secular Games held under Augustus were the most grand ever seen. Augustus himself played a key role in the celebrations, officiating a number of sacrifices and events personally. Amongst the Gods who were venerated included Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, and Diana. There was music performed at the Palatine Hill and even chariot and hunting competitions.
Following the Secular Games of Augustus they were held more frequently, not adhering to the 110 year rule. The emperors Claudius, Antoninus Pius and Philip the Arab held them in the years 47, 148 and 248 respectively in order to celebrate the 800th, 900th, and 1,000th year anniversary of the founding of Rome. In addition games were held in 88 by Domitian and 204 by Septimius Severus, falling more in line with traditional gaps since Augustus. However, there would have been Romans who lived long enough to attend more than one Secular Games during these centuries.
Due to the Crisis of the Third Century and the decline of the Roman Empire in general, there would be no more games held. Another was scheduled to be held during the reign of Constantine the Great – Rome's first Christian Emperor who reigned from 306-337. Due to Christianity now becoming the dominant religion of the Roman Empire it is likely emperors wanted to move away from celebrations that involved the traditional Roman gods, and thus the Secular Games came to an end.