Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Roman Games

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Rome, home of the famous Gladiator games. Tens of thousands of spectators showed up for these events. But what part of a roman¡¯s life did these games have? Read on and find out¡­

First of all it should be noted that Romans didn¡¯t only watch gladiators, they also enjoyed chariot races and animal hunts. Let¡¯s find out what was done in each of these sports.

Gladiators (which means swordsmen) were first held as a funeral ceremony for dead heroes but later became so popular that they were held almost on a monthly basis. Most were only little competitions with 0 pairs of gladiators but when an emperor was celebrating there would be large competitions. An example would be when Emperor Trajan celebrated his conquest of Dacia, the celebration lasted over 4 months and 441 pairs of gladiators fought. These events were held in the Roman Colosseum, which would have held over 50000 people. At first gladiators were slaves or criminals which had no rights, but later on free men would volunteer themselves to become one. But why would a free man want to become a gladiator? When he took the gladiator¡¯s oath, he agreed to be treated as a slave and suffered the ultimate social disgrace. As unattractive as this may sound to us, there were advantages. The candidates life took on new meaning. He became a member of a cohesive group that was known for its courage, good morale, and absolute fidelity to its master to the point of death. His life became a model of military discipline and through courageous behavior he was also now capable of achieving honor similar to that enjoyed by Roman soldiers on the battlefield. Also, The living conditions of gladiators were harsh but, they perhaps lived better than many commoners in terms of food, housing, and medical attention. New or undisciplined men were chained and unattended only in the bathroom, but trained gladiators were not always bound, imprisoned, or even confined to barracks! It should also be noted that some emperors were swept away by gladiator mania, such as Caligula and Commodus (late second century AD). Both of these emperors actually appeared in the arena as gladiators, no doubt with opponents who were careful to inflict no harm. Both of these emperors were mentally unstable and apparently felt no inhibitions in indulging their gladiatorial fantasies. But gladiator mania affected not only the mentally unbalanced. At least seven other emperors of sound mind (including Titus and Hadrian) either practiced as gladiators or fought in gladiatorial contests.

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Animal Hunts took place before or in between gladiator fights. There would be animals fighting humans or even put up against themselves. Emperors would go out and spare no expense trying to find the rarest and most exotic animals to be put up for fight in the arena. Exotic and fierce wild animals had to be imported to Rome from North Africa or the Near East. The usual method was to have bush beaters and men on horseback chase lions, panthers, leopards, and other large animals into an area surrounded by shields and nets. The Roman¡¯s ¡°Capital Punishment¡± also took place in the colosseum with Animals. Capital punishment was carried out by requiring criminals to face wild animals without the benefit of weapons and armor. This punishment was called ¡°ad bestias¡± (to the beasts) and was ranked alongside crucifixion as the most shameful of all penalties. Because of its shamefulness, it was deemed appropriate for slaves and lower class citizens (convicted upper class citizens were usually beheaded). Christans were usually singled out for the punishment because of their refusal to acknowledge the gods of the state. Ad bestias, however, was not the only manner of execution in the arena. Some condemned criminals were required to fight each other with a sword without the protection of a helmet or shield. The winner of one of these contests then had to fight other criminals until he himself was killed. In this way criminals executed each other. Seneca emphasizes that he did not view the public execution of criminals as entertainment

¡°The purpose of executing criminals in public is that they serve as a warning to all, and because in life they did not wish to be useful citizens, certainly the state benefits by their death.¡±


The Roman Circus Maximus ¡ª or racetrack ¡ª was a rough and raucous place, which seated nearly 00,000 people. The Circus was long and oval shaped, with two long parallel sides and one rounded end, with seating all around. The farthest end of the oval was filled with stables and starting boxes. Down the center of the racecourse ran a low wall called the spina, which contained decorative sculptures that would be tilted to let spectators know how many laps had been completed.

As many as twelve chariots raced at one time in a seven-lap mad dash around the track. The races were extremely dangerous, and often deadly for the drivers; the chariots were by necessity very light vehicles, and drivers thrown from a broken or overturned chariot were frequently trampled and killed by the charging horses, or became caught in the reins and were dragged to their deaths.

There were several popular teams ¡ª Red, White, Blue and Green ¡ª each with its own organization for finding riders and horses. The chariot drivers themselves were usually slaves or freedmen, and their loyal fans often cursed rival teams with ferocious partisanship

Romans on the most part enjoyed these games for all the blood and excitement. They came to these games by the thousands, often betting large sums of money on their favorite team. Romans learned when to be forgiving or bloodthirsty during gladiator fights, they would either plead for one to be spared or would scream for a man to get his head chopped off. They learned to have favorite teams or fighters just as we do today and they cheered for those teams. These games became a very important part of their life, acting as a form of entertainment or way to let off steam. Had these games not been there the Roman civilization may have been dramatically different, the army may not have been so great and the people would not have had the character that they developed while watching these games.

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