Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - The iovis epulum on the Ides of September in Ancient Rome

13 September - on the Ides of September, at the height of the Ludi Romani, the Roman Games, the Capitoline Triad Jupiter, Juno and Minerva were asked to dinner during the iovis epulum.

“..three couches being laid out with the greatest magnificence that was then possible. The same solemn rite was observed also by private individuals. The doors lying open throughout the entire city, and the use of everything lying out in common, they say that all passengers, both those known and those unknown indiscriminately, were invited to lodgings, and that conversation was adopted between persons at variance with complaisance and kindness, and that they refrained from disputes and quarrels” (Livy, “The History of Rome”)

One of the very few surviving groups of statues showing the Capitoline Triad* 

On some occasions, the Romans had a very intimate relationship with their deities. It might be that the ages old ancestor cult was shining through into historical times, a remembrance of the days, when food and drink and sometimes flowers were offered on the graves of the ancients to soothe them and ask their guidance and help in this world. Not that Rome had not already enough feast days and remembrances already – on the Ides of September, the uber-parents in form of the Triad that had relieved the Archaic Triad of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus or Janus, the God of Passages, around the time when the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill on September 13th in 509 BCE.

The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus enthroned on Capitoline Hill in Republican days

The Ludi Romani had their roots in a victory celebration over the quenching of some unfortunate Latin neighbour and were initially a two-day’s affair that began with a procession to the Capitoline Hill and some chariot racing. The festivities ended with the feast for the gods on the next day. 200 years later in mid-4th century BCE, the programme was expanded with more culturally-aligned events, summarised as Ludi Scaenici with theatrical performances along the lines of Greek theatre play as well as stand-up acts of improvisational Theatre, extending the festivities for two more days and giving us the first written source of a Roman text, 
a translated play, and Rome leaving its preliteracy age. When the days of the Civil Wars and the end of the Republic came, the Ludi Romani already had a duration of 14 days, with nine days of Ludi Circencsis, the circus games.

The Ludi Romani first introduced drama to Rome:
Actors and an aulos player from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii

The feast for the Capitoline Triad during the Ides of September actually was a banquet for the upper social strata. Hoi polloi usually received the visit during the Ides of November. The Epulum Iovis was held in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol as a lectisternium – portable figures of the three deities were placed on a couch and wined and dined, their priests standing in as proxies for the actual consumption of the delicacies while the senators of Rome joined the regale, lying side by side at the table with the gods. The lectisternium was not reserved for the regular festivities, though. When Rome felt in need to get even more intimate with her gods, they were invited for dinner as well – a lectisternium was held after the disastrous defeat at Lake Trasimene and the idea caught on, like the village parson getting invited to the customary funeral meals, a lectisternium often was celebrated during private funerals for the gods and their priests.

* Exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum, Palestrina, picture found on

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