Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome

By Donald G. Kyle | Go to book overview

2

THE PHENOMENON: THE DEVELOPMENT AND DIVERSITY OF ROMAN SPECTACLES OF DEATH

One of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death.

(E. Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon, 1960 (1932) 2)

Rome violently and publicly killed human and animal victims in a variety of 'games' or 'shows'. 1 These entertainments became more elaborate and complex over time but danger and death were not stylized and reduced, as in modern violent sports, but intensified and actualized. Even after Olympics, Superbowls, and World Cups, moderns are still amazed not just by the brutality but by the extent and the diversity of the Roman spectacles. For example, Caesar's triumphal games in 46 BC were a truly spectacular combination of theatrical, equestrian, athletic, and gladiatorial events held on several sites in front of large crowds:

He gave entertainments of diverse kinds: a combat of gladiators and also stage-plays in every ward of the city...as well as races in the circus, athletic contests, and a sham sea-fight...[military dances, theatrical events, equestrian contests, and the Game of Troy (an equestrian performance) also were held]...Combats with wild beasts were presented on five successive days, and last of all [in the Circus Maximus] there was a battle between two opposing armies, in which five hundred foot-soldiers, twenty elephants, and thirty horsemen engaged on each side...[three days of athletic competitions took place in the Campus Martius]...For the naval battle a pool was dug in the lesser Codeta and there was a contest of ships...Such a throng flocked to all these shows from every quarter, that...the press was often such that many were crushed to death, including two senators. 2

To open the Flavian Amphitheater in AD 80 Titus gave extravagant spectacles lasting for a hundred days:

-34-

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