HST353 16

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Cruel Sports: Gladiatorial Games: 

Cruel Sports: Gladiatorial Games On the Purpose and Function of the Amphitheater in the Roman World


Tomb Wall Painting at Pompeii

Reconstruction of Gladiatorial Contest at Pompeii: 

Reconstruction of Gladiatorial Contest at Pompeii

Phenomenon of the Roman Amphitheater: 

Phenomenon of the Roman Amphitheater “All societies witness natural death and all societies kill, whether directly in war, state executions, blood sacrifice, hunting, or the butchering of animals for meat, or indirectly via oppressive poverty, insidious pollution, or various ‘combat’ or ‘blood sports’ wherein abuse and death of humans and animals are either intentional or probable. Rome, however, remains extraordinary for the scale and the method of its violence, and for applauding skill, artistry, and diligence in the punishment and destruction of creatures.” ~Donald G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (1998) 1

Modern Parallels?: 

Modern Parallels? Contact Sports football and rugby boxing Danger Sports downhill skiing bobsled and auto racing ski-jumping ‘Blood’ Sports bullfighting illegal dog and cock fighting boxing (where is Evander Holyfield’s ear?)

Games: Ludi and Munera: 

Games: Ludi and Munera Ludi: chariot races and theatrical performances performed in Circus Maximus or Circus Flaminius in Campus Martius (“Field of Mars”) ludi date from sixth century BCE, at least Munera: gladiatorial combat first attested gladiatorial combat in 264 BCE upon death of Junius Brutus Pera (sources: Valerius Maximus 2.4.7; Livy, Epitome 16; Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid at 6.862) Origin: obligatory offerings to dead? Republic: ludi are public expenditures by a magistrate; munera are private expenditures Empire: emperors blur this distinction


Ludi: Aerial View of Circus Maximus


Reconstructed View of Circus Maximus

Some Modern Theories: 

Some Modern Theories Sacrifice to Dead (Junius Brutus Pera) Scapegoat (Bloodthirsty Gods?) Inspiration of Martial Confidence Hydraulic Theory (outlet for violent impulses) Fertility Ritual: Death and Rebirth (combats clustered at beginning and end of year) Romanization

Larger Contexts: ‘Romanization’ of Empire: 

Larger Contexts: ‘Romanization’ of Empire Forces for forging of a common, empire-wide ‘Roman’ culture--Latin (never ‘conquers’ Greek east); roads; common currency; cities Logistical problems of mass propaganda (here, cultural signifiers of Romanitas) in a pre-industrial, pre-technological society

Amphitheater as Force for Romanization: 

Amphitheater as Force for Romanization "The rituals in the arena represent a common culture uniting Italy, Africa, and the Celtic provinces in their Romanness."(Wiedemann, 94) “The amphitheater encouraged a large number of participants to join in the celebration of the central authority; thereby confirming the divine status of the emperor and legitimizing his rule. The establishment of this sort of corporate identity in the provinces was a more important goal in the early Principate, when a new series of social relationships was being established, running vertically and horizontally, between center and periphery, on many levels and involving many social groups. The amphitheater accommodated and fostered the formation of such communal bonds.” (A. Futrell, Blood in the Arena [1997] 5-6)

Amphitheaters in Gaul: 

Amphitheaters in Gaul


Amphitheaters in Britain


Mosaic, Bad Kreuznach, Germany


Mosaics ad bestias (Zliten mosaic)

Amphitheater Integral for Urbanization: Romanization: 

Amphitheater Integral for Urbanization: Romanization “The act of founding a city was essentially the imposition of cosmic structure on the landscape; the ritual of inauguration, key to the formal establishment of a Roman town, was intended to transfer the divinely ordered pattern of the universe into the physical setting of the new settlement. Not only the building of civic structures but also the alignment of roads, the placement of sanctuaries, and the division of cultivable fields were determined according to the Roman understanding of the pattern of creation. The adoption of the urban model, therefore, was more than simply the adoption of Roman technical standards and style of ornamentation; it demanded a fundamental acceptance of, quite literally, a new world order, based on the Roman ability to control and manipulate the environment.” ~ A. Futrell, Blood in the Arena (1997) 53-54


Amphitheater at El-Djem, Tunisia


Amphitheater at Capua Vetere, Campania

Amphitheater as Reflection of Roman Social Hierarchy: 

Amphitheater as Reflection of Roman Social Hierarchy “As ritualized versions of actions originally taken to ensure the survival and safety of the group, Roman blood sports legitimized, dramatically communicated, and reinforced the social and political order of the community.” “Permeating Roman society and its view of the human and animal worlds, inequality and hierarchy extended in the arena to death and even beyond. Animal as well as human victims were classified in various hierarchical categories according to talent, performance potential, and potential longevity.” “As in law, society, and burial at large, there was a hierarchy of status even in the arena. Such hierarchies were socially embedded, but they could adapt and reformulate over time, as in the elevation of gladiators over noxii.” ~ Donald G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (1998) 265, 267-68

Emperors and Gladiators: 

Emperors and Gladiators Augustus, Res Gestae 22-3: “I gave a gladiatorial show three times in my own name, and five times in the names of my sons and grandsons; at these shows about 10,000 people fought....Twenty-six times I provided for the people, in my own name or the names of my sons or grandsons, hunting spectacles of wild beasts in the circus or in the forum or in the amphitheaters; in these exhibitions about 3,500 animals were killed. I presented to the people an exhibition of a naval battle across the Tiber...there were about 3,000 combatants.” After Augustus: morning--animal killings; midday--execution of criminals (ad bestias, “to the beasts”); evening--gladiators.


Colosseum from South-East

Cult of the Gladiator: 

Cult of the Gladiator Epitome of Bravery and Virtuosity (“We salute you who are about to die”) Roman Aristocracy and Arena: “The contrast between the fame of individual gladiators and the infamia with which gladiators as a group were stigmatised is striking.” (Wiedemann, 28) “As civilized beast man consciously resists but still emotionally attends to violence, and so the position of gladiators in Roman society became increasingly paradoxical over time. Although universally loathed for their lowly social origins or heinous crimes, gladiators were also associated with glory, discipline, and eroticism.” (D.G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome [1998] 80) Perversion of Amphitheater as Mirror of Roman Social Hierarchy--Emperors as Gladiators (Caligula, Commodus, Macrinus)-- “bad emperor” stereotype?

Mundane Sphere: Logistical Problem of Disposal: 

Mundane Sphere: Logistical Problem of Disposal Donald Kyle’s Proposed Solutions: Consumption of Carcasses “The issue of disposal extends beyond pits, fire, and other usual answers. Another possibility to be considered, another way to dispose of human and animal flesh, is consumption or ingestion by humans or animals. Was any significant portion of the tons of human and animal flesh produced by the Roman spectacles disposed of by being eaten by men or animals before or after removal from the arenas?” Human Remains and the Tiber River “We have not…accounted for large quantities of human arena victims….the disposal of human victims via the Tiber River as a traditional and pragmatic custom.” Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (1998) 184 and 213

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