Sign In or Create Account

Knowledge Center

Let the Games Begin!

Ancient Roman coin celebrating the secular games.

The year is 248 AD. The Colosseum is extremely crowded with all the citizens of Rome. From the patrician members of the Roman Senate to the plebian workmen – everyone wanted to enjoy the spectacle that was the Secular Games.  

The Secular Games were celebrated every 100-110 years, which would represent the longest amount of a lifetime that a human could enjoy. The Secular Games were quite a spectacle. Lasting 6 days and nights, they included plays and poetry during the day, singing choirs, displays of exotic animals, sharing of harvests of food, to nightly animal sacrifices to various Roman gods. The most thrilling events were, of course, the gladiator battles to the death. The Secular Games united Rome’s citizens and bonded them to their Emperor.

(The Roman Colosseum circa 200 A.D.) 

Marcus Julius Philippus Augustus ascended the throne of Imperial Rome in February of 244 A. D. He was known as Philip I, and by his nickname Philip the Arab, having been born in the Roman Province of Arabia. His predecessor, Gordian III, made him Praetorian prefect – the commander of the Praetorian Guards, the elite Roman soldiers who also served as bodyguards for Roman emperors and Senators.  Upon Gordian’s death, Philip I was able to consolidate power and seize the throne. 

(Bust of Emperor Philip I) 

Philip inherited a Rome that was short on money, after paying tribute to northern Germanic tribes. He raised taxes and ceased paying these tribes any tribute money to keep the peace. This forced Philip to leave Rome with his legions and restore order to the empire. Besides beating back these Germanic warriors, he then had to fight a short war with the King of Persia. 

But by August of 247, Phil was back in Rome and preparing for the most important event of his reign. In 248, Rome would observe the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Rome in 753 B.C. This was an historic event and all of Rome was captivated by the multiple events over those six days. 

More than 1,000 gladiators gave their lives during this spectacular event. Hundreds of exotic animals also battled the gladiators, including hippos, leopards, giraffes, lions and one rhinoceros. The crowds were not happy until either the gladiators or the animals were dead. It was a grotesque spectacle such as Rome had never seen before in such quantity.

(Gladiators versus wild animals in the Colosseum.) 

But in order to honor the Emperor and the Secular Games with which he honored the Roman people, many coins were issued. Some coins had a column on the reverse to represent the Colosseum; some had different animals like lions, tigers, or a hippo. These Roman coins were valued as remembrances of a great Emperor as well as an historic event in Rome’s history.  The coin pictured here is a Double Denarius of Philip I with an advancing lion on the reverse of the coin, like the lions killed in the Colosseum.

For nearly 1,800 years this coin has been a treasured souvenir of one of the most important celebrations in all of Roman history – the 1,000th Anniversary of the Founding of Rome.  

Explore More On APMEX



Rare Coins