Today is the day we celebrate the traditional founding of Rome in 753 B.C. That’s not to say that Romulus actually drove his ox team around the boundaries of what would become the capital of the world in 753 B.C., but it’s been the traditionally accepted the date since it was first calculated by historian and all-around erudite man of letters Marcus Terentius Varro (116 B.C. – 27 B.C.).
He figured it out by counting back through the list of counsuls — there were two elected each year since the overthrow of the kings — then adding 244 years for the time between the founding and the last king. He probably took that number whole cloth from Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
The Emperor Claudius was the first to throw huge anniversary festivities in honor of Rome’s 800th birthday in 47 A.D. Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus, aka Philip the Arab, threw the rager to end all ragers in 248 A.D. to celebrate the first millennium of Rome’s founding. He cast a special coin commemorating the Saeculum Novum, held the ludi saeculares (century games), commissioned books and plays. Over 1,000 gladiators and hundreds of animals were killed in the ludi.
That same year would-be usurper Pacatianus cast a coin of his own celebrating himself as undefeated on one side and the 1001st birthday of Rome on the other.
Once the Empire went Christian and the A.D. system kicked in, Roman birthdays no longer got the attention they deserved. But Romans still celebrate, of course, only with considerably less bloodshed. These days it’s more like mayoral ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, masses, musical recitals, lectures, museum events, sounds and lights shows and a re-enactment of the battle between the Horatii and the Curiatii at the Circus Maximus.