Hooliganism in Ancient Rome

By Cornelius, Steve | The International Sports Law Journal, January-April 2009 | Go to article overview

Hooliganism in Ancient Rome


Cornelius, Steve, The International Sports Law Journal


1. Introduction

The biggest threat to professional football in modern times is not doping, nor is it the extravagent lifestyles and excesses of football players or the exhorbitant fees paid to secure the services of individual players. It is also not the economic crisis that plays havoc with economies the world over, nor is it gambling or match-fixing. The biggest threat to football today is the unruly behaviour of fans. Events where fans have verbally abused players, chanted racist slogans and pelted the pitch with all kinds of missiles are legion. and then there is hooliganism. Some fans seem to revel in bloody battles with rival fans and police forces. Hooliganism in particular remains an ungly blemish on the face of the beautiful game.

Ironically, fan behaviour is also the one variable over which football authorities have the least amount of control. Indirect measures of dealing with troublesome fans have to be employed, such as playing matches in empty stadiums or penalising clubs for their fans' unruly behaviour. Football authorities must also rely on state authorities to intervene and maintain some measure of control.

When South Africa entered a bid to host the World Cup, at first unsuccessfully for 2006 and then with success in respect of 2010, the one question on many people's minds were: "What about the hooligans?" and with the Confederations Cup and World Cup approaching rapidly, it is a question which deserves some further attention.

Hooliganism may seem to be a modern phenomenon which is closely associated with the modern sport of football. However, a glance through history shows that it is also a problem faced by the ancient Romans. and since the Romans shaped the world's modern legal order, perhaps the football and state authorities can take some guidance from the the way in which the Romans dealt with the problem.

2. Background

In Western legal tradition, in particular continental civil law systems based on Roman law, the Roman emperor Justinian I is held in high esteem. It was he who commissioned a series of works which would eventually come to be known as the Corpus Iuris Civilis. and if it was not for this monumental work, Roman law would probably not have survived and exerted the vital influence which it eventually did have on our modern civilisation.

However, there is also a dark side to Justinian. Procopius, the Greek historian who lived in the times of Justinian and actually served as legal counsel to Belisarius, one of the leading generals in Justinian's army, tells a tale of corruption, fraud, deceit, oppression, genocide and lawlessness which portrays Justinian in a less than favourable light.

3. The Rise of Hooliganism

One aspect of the general lawlessness in the times of Justinian which has significant parallels in modern times, relates to the conduct of spectators at the chariot races. Procopius explains that there were four groups involved in the chariot races, the Blues, Greens, Reds and Whites. The Blues and Greens enjoyed massive support among the people and even Justinian himself was a supporter of the Blues.

Initially, these groupings merely determined where the various supporters would be seated in the hippodrome during the chariot races, but in time the rivalry between the Blues and the Greens became very intense. …

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