The Ludi and the Munera: Public and Private Games

Political Uses of the Games in the Republic

Social Classes and Political Institutions of the Roman Republic

Class Struggle and the Empowerment of the Plebeians

Efforts, by the Patricians, to Curb the Growing Power of the Plebeians

Rome’s New Social Crisis and the Gracchi

Marius, Sulla, and the Triumph of Personality over Institutions

Julius Caesar and the End of Roman Democracy

Augustus Caesar: The First Emperor and His Solution to the War Between the Classes, Including the Role of the Games

List of Principal Sources





Types of Games, and Featured Entertainment

Venues of the Games

Chariot Races

Gladiatorial Games (and the Naumachia)

The Use of Animals in the Games

Public Executions as a Feature of the Roman Games


The Psychology of Participants and Spectators

Bread and Circuses, and the Fall of Rome

Lessons for Today?


List of Principal Sources




Types of Games, and Featured Entertainment

As mentioned at the beginning of this article (see Part One), the Roman Games were divided into publicly-organized festivals known as the ludi, which featured spectacles of various types; and privately-sponsored games, often presented in honor of the recently deceased, which were known as munera. It was in the munera that gladiatorial combats were first introduced, only later working their way into some of the ludi, as well.

The principal forms of entertainment offered at the festivals and games were chariot races; theatrical productions (including plays, mime, pantomime, and displays of oratory, singing, dancing and music); venationes (animal hunts), protagonized by specially-trained hunters and fighters known as bestiarii [105]; gladiatorial combats, featuring various classes of warriors, scales of production, and settings; and later, spectacular naval engagements known as naumachiae, which pitted "fleets" of opposing ships against one another. [106] Public, and often imaginatively conducted executions, were also a prominent feature of the games. [107]

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Venues of the Games

When one thinks of the Roman Games, one’s imagination usually leaps to the world-famous Colosseum as the setting in which to envision the spectacle. However, the Colosseum was not actually completed and opened for business until 80 AD, during the reign of Titus. [108] Where, until then, did the Games take place?

Far and away, the most important site for presenting games was the Circus Maximus, a huge stadium built around 530 BC, which was, most notably, the domain of the frenetically popular chariot races. The stadium, which could accommodate 150,000 spectators, was 680 yards long and 150 yards wide; it enclosed a giant racetrack, which circled an elevated central island, or "spine", 1,000 feet in length, which was graced by statues, columns, fountains, and altars. [109] In pre-Roman days, the site appears to have been sacred to the sun and moon. [110] The track, itself, was elliptical in shape and one circuit was equal to about .7 miles in length, which is somewhat less than the track at Churchill Downs, where the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby is run. [111] (However, the usual distance of the chariot race was seven laps, not just one.) In addition to chariot races, the Circus was frequently used to host footraces, boxing and wrestling matches, and animal hunts. It was, much less frequently, used to stage gladiatorial contests, or theatrical events, which would tend to be diminished by such a massive venue. [112] The Circus structure, which was originally built of wood, suffered numerous catastrophes throughout its history - collapses induced by the weight of boisterous crowds, and fires which burned it to the ground, at least one of these set by angry fans who rioted after their favorite charioteer lost. [113] On account of this, the Circus was finally rebuilt in stone, and decorated with marble. [114] Spectators sat in seats positioned along the two lengths and one end of the Circus (the other end was where the horses and chariots made their entrance, and where the starting gates were located). [115] Originally, all of the seats were made of wood, but the Emperor Trajan (98 - 117 AD) eventually replaced them with seats of marble. [116] Although there was individual seating, the spectators were most often crowded together in narrow rows of hard seats which, during a long day at the races, could come to be quite uncomfortable. Many racing fans, to try to improve their experience, therefore bought cushions from vendors on the way to the races, or else brought their own cushions with them. [117] In the Circus, men and women were allowed to sit together, and social classes were permitted to mix. This led to a more exciting and emotional atmosphere. Special seating, closer to the track, was reserved for Senators and nobles, although these figures were allowed to mingle with the other fans, if they preferred. [118] Like the city, itself, the Circus Maximus underwent a long history of growth and change. Julius Caesar made a special effort to protect spectators from the effects of the sun by utilizing huge awnings (vela) to provide shade, and he also dug a canal, ten feet in width, in front of the lower seats to neutralize the danger of wild beasts leaping into the crowd during the venationes. [119] Later, during the conflict between Octavian and Mark Antony, Octavian’s friend and favored military commander, Marcus Agrippa, helped to court the favor of the masses by embellishing the Circus Maximus with seven large silver dolphins, prominently displayed atop the spine, one of which was removed upon the completion of each lap. [120] This simple yet attractive feature was especially popular with spectators.

While chariot racing and animal fights were almost exclusively staged in the Circus Maximus during the days of the Roman Republic, other forms of entertainment took place in settings that were far less impressive. Although amphitheaters similar to those of ancient Greece existed, from early days, in the more heavily Greek-influenced south of Italy, and in Sicily, Rome, itself, for many years lacked a permanent theater for the presentation of plays, exhibitions of music and dance, acrobatics, and mime. [121] It seems that there was some resentment of Greek influence, which might dilute Rome’s deliberate cultivation of a simpler and harsher culture, as well as some fear regarding the social dangers of creating a permanent space where large crowds of people might gather together, masking revolutionary motives, or else becoming susceptible to political agitation. [122] For these and other reasons, theater presentations and related forms of entertainment were generally performed on temporary stages, which were assembled for the ludi and afterwards dismantled. [123] Large-scale gathering places were materialized for their intended purpose, then taken away before they could acquire any other. Although stages were occasionally erected in the Circus for the performance of theater events, the venue was too large and debilitating: it would tend to swallow up and defuse the impact of all but the grandest spectacles. A much more common setting for the construction of these temporary stages was in the Roman Forum, a large open space surrounded by hills, temples, and other edifices, where the Roman assemblies were accustomed to meeting. [124] The rostra, or platform which speakers used to address the people when an assembly was convened, was one excellent location for the staging of theatrical events. Spectators would utilize the naturally conducive topography of the Forum to find a place to watch; later, numerous porticoes and balconies attached to the surrounding buildings were made available for spectators, and temporary stands were also erected. These special viewing posts seem to have required tickets that must be paid for, and led to turmoil in 122 BC, when Gaius Gracchus and his followers forcibly removed stands that had been erected in the Forum, in an effort to democratize the spectacles which were becoming increasingly taken over by the elites. [125] Accessibility to entertainment was a major political issue in Roman times. Admission to the major festivals was expected to be free, and most forms of popular entertainment, including the chariot races, gladiatorial games, animal hunts, and theater events were generally accessible to the public, free of charge, although certain choice seats were sometimes paid for by those who could afford them. [126] Entertainment was considered to be the inalienable right of the Roman citizen, and whenever anyone tampered with, or degraded, that right, trouble was bound to occur. Later, the Forum’s capacity to serve as a center of entertainment was enhanced by the provision of awnings to shelter spectators during performances, and by the construction of various underground galleries and shafts which enabled theatrical entrances and exits to be better managed. [127]

Sooner or later, it seems inevitable that, in spite of patrician prejudices, the force of the people’s need for entertainment would overpower pride and fear, and lead to the construction of permanent theaters. In 154 BC, Rome came close: a large theater was begun and possibly near completion, when the political winds suddenly shifted, and the theater was ordered torn down before it was ever used. Attempts were made to recoup financially from this debacle by auctioning off the stone, and other materials that had been poured into the ill-fated project. [128] Still, the losses must have been severe, and the fact that they were accepted could only be an indication of the ferocity of resistance to the idea that still existed in influential quarters. It was up to Pompey, in 55 BC, to finally drag the concept of a permanent theater past its detractors and enemies into the heart of Roman life. As a powerful general, a Triumvir, and man of tremendous wealth accrued from the spoils of war, Pompey was in a strong position to finally materialize what had long been envisioned by the open-minded, and desired by the masses. He seemed motivated by the hope of better connecting himself to the people by means of providing a gigantic gift to their pleasure, at the same time that he hoped to permanently glorify himself, and to diminish the impact of the generosity of others, by enclosing the spectacles which they brought to the people within an enduring reminder of himself. [129] In both aims, Pompey most likely fell short, for although the masses fell in love with the edifice which he constructed, his aloofness and lack of rapport with the plebeians limited the political gain he was able to secure from it. As Beacham writes, quoting Yavetz’s contrast of Caesar and Pompey, who were both vying for the adoration of the masses in those days: "It is apparent that concern for the physical well-being of the masses was only one factor. All Roman rulers bribed the people with bread and circuses, and yet the one [Caesar] was popular and the other [Pompey] hated. Seneca provided the answer: the giving is not the decisive factor but the manner of its giving. The people were more easily swayed by how a ruler did than by what he did, and respected the one who at least took the trouble to appear popular." [130] Nonetheless, Pompey’s achievement, whatever its political shortcomings, was substantial as both an architectural achievement and cultural breakthrough. The principal auditorium (cavea) of his new theater had a diameter of 500 feet, and a stage that was the length of a football field (100 yards). Seats rising to a height of three stories sloped upwards from the "orchestra pit" and stage, and could accommodate up to 40,000 spectators. The stage, which was roofed, was backed by a huge scaenae frons, a painted and decorated facade also three stories in height, which contained three doors through which the actors and performers could enter. An awning, or vela, covered the seats in the cavea to protect the spectators from the elements, and during the summer time, Pompey arranged for streams of cool water to be sent flowing through channels running down the aisles, as a kind of primitive air-conditioning system. Well-planned stairways and corridors conducted spectators to their seats with a minimum of confusion and delay. Behind the seated spectators, but still within the limits of the vast theater structure, was a temple dedicated to Venus Victrix, Pompey’s favored goddess; while outside of the theater lay a gigantic park, the Porticus Pompeii, filled with trees, gardens, walkways, fountains, colonnades, and impressive displays of art. It rapidly became a favorite hangout for Romans, and gained a special and cherished reputation as the place where one went to smooch with one’s sweetheart. [131] With the success of Pompey’s theater, the construction of other permanent theaters was assured.

As theatrical events in ancient Rome were initially bereft of a stable home, so gladiatorial contests presented at munera originally lacked permanent sites and structures to showcase them. Some early combats may have been staged near the Circus Maximus at the Forum Boarium in a large open square, site of Rome’s cattle market. As Beacham writes: "… it is likely that the immediate occasion of the gladiatorial display transformed urban space from its normal function and associations into something extraordinary - just as an act of street theater or other out-of-the-ordinary events can temporarily ‘theatricalize’ a public space today." [132] More frequently, the central Forum was utilized to present these fights. In the beginning, spectators would merely assemble and seek out the spots which presented the best vantage points for viewing the violence. As one analyst has stated: "The lack of distance [between spectator and participant] conferred a violent and strongly emotional character on the bloodshed." [133] Later, as previously mentioned, the Forum’s ability to handle shows of this type was expanded by the introduction of viewing balconies on adjacent buildings, the construction of temporary stands, and the creation of underground passageways to facilitate the introduction (and removal) of participants. In any case, the audience was perhaps too exposed to the spectacle in this venue compared to the stadiums used in later days, which better protected the audience from the potential wrath and rebellion of the warriors they had assigned to kill each other. There must have been a sense of danger, at times, with these desperate armed men so closely linked to them in space. Although the hope of being spared, as the victor, may have acted as a kind of psychological wall preventing the gladiator from turning on those who had come to watch him die, it was a wall that must have been, in many ways, frighteningly intangible - a wall of faith, surely less calming to the senses of the viewer than a wall of stone. In these days, the number of fighters permitted to engage in gladiatorial combats at any one time was limited, for obvious security reasons. A large armed band of slaves and war captives assembled in the heart of the city was hardly a good idea, even if guards or soldiers were available to try to contain the spectacle. It was a logical development, then, that, as the desire to compete for the favor of the masses by presenting bigger and more exciting spectacles impelled Roman politicians, ways would be found to safely stage grander gladiatorial events - events which would require larger, more secure venues, as well as more space to accommodate the rising enthusiasm of the populace.

One step in this direction was achieved by C. Scribonius Curio, who between 53 and 52 BC built two large "revolving" wooden theaters, back to back. When facing away from each other, they were used to present plays (two shows could go on at once). However, when desired, they could be pivoted around to face each other (fit together), creating a single, large amphitheater suitable for the presentation of gladiatorial combats. In addition to the thrill of the shows, themselves, it seems that many Romans derived pleasure from remaining in their seats as the theaters, used to present plays in the morning, were slowly revolved around to face each other for gladiatorial displays in the afternoon. [134] Later, in 29 BC, Statilius Taurus completed another permanent amphitheater in Rome, which was especially geared towards the presentation of gladiatorial fights and animal hunts. [135] Then, in 11 BC, Augustus opened up a theater begun much earlier (and left unfinished) by Julius Caesar, which the Emperor named after his own deceased nephew, Marcus Claudius Marcellus. This so-called "Theater of Marcellus" doubled as a venue for theatrical performances, and - after its removable scaenae frons was taken down and its spatial contours changed - a center for gladiatorial contests and animal hunts. Its seating capacity was around 13,000. [136] The theater incorporated some of the most highly functional features of Pompey’s theater (well-designed stairs and corridors to manage the flow of spectators in and out of their seats) [137], and also set into place a very defined code of seating based upon class and sex, which in some ways symbolized the entire social agenda of Augustus. As a provider of entertainment, he was committed to ameliorating the pain of the poor, but without upsetting the class structure or disparities of wealth which were at the root of their poverty. The segregation of the classes, each confined to its own section of the theater, each standing out for the different coloring of the togas which they permitted to wear, was a powerful visual reminder of the social order, and implicitly, of the Emperor’s defense of the social order. [138] As the people enjoyed the games which the Emperor provided, the limits to his generosity and the system’s ability to change were, simultaneously, subliminally reinforced in their minds. The subtext of distraction was submission to authority, power, and money: old dynamics, unchanged by "revolution."

Finally, in 80 AD, twelve years after the death of Nero, the Colosseum was finally completed and ready to open its doors to a new generation of spectacle-loving Romans. What the Circus Maximus was, and would remain, to chariot-racing, the Colosseum would now become to gladiatorial combats and animal hunts: a powerful and enduring symbol, still standing, half-broken, in the streets of modern Rome, of a civilization’s addiction to entertainment, and indifference to the price of its pleasure.

With a capacity of about 50,000 spectators (some estimates place it as high as 100,000), the Colosseum, once again, integrated many of the successful features of previous theaters into its architecture. [139] Stairways and corridors, as well as seating plans posted in strategic areas, guided spectators efficiently to their seats. (Ivory tickets with seating designations were given to viewers either before or as they entered the stadium.) The seats were actually bits of space marked off on long marble benches. Giant awnings were provided to shelter spectators from the heat of the sun, and the interruption of rainstorms. Between the sand of the arena, where the bloodshed occurred, and the seats of the populace, were an inner barrier of wood, a moat, and finally, a fifteen-foot-high wall of marble topped with elephant tusks from which a system of nets was suspended, in order to turn back animals who might otherwise threaten the crowd, including elephants who were known to smash their way through all but the most formidable of barriers, and big cats, such as lions, leopards, and panthers, whose jumping abilities were not to be taken lightly. Two main doors led into the arena, itself: the Door of Life, through which the combatants frequently entered, and the Door of Death, through which the fallen fighters and the dead animals were removed. A system of special drains and sewers was constructed to carry off the blood from the carnage, but, additionally, a huge crew of slaves must have been employed to help "clean up" in the aftermath of the various battles, hunts, and executions, and to "prepare the stage" for subsequent events. Underneath the arena lay a complex system of passageways, rooms, cages, and cells, used to hold the combatants, prisoners, and animals until they were needed. In the case of the animals, they were sometimes lifted by elevators, which were operated by pulleys, up to arena level, and then released through trap doors into the arena itself; or, on the other hand, they might be pushed up ramps by movable wooden barriers into cages located in the arena wall, which were then mechanically opened. [140] Sometimes, slaves used flaming straw to drive the often intimidated animals out into the midst of the spectacle.

Although temporary stages and venues continued to exist, and to complement the new slew of permanent sites which was proliferating in Rome, more and more these splendid new buildings came to be the focus of the Roman Games. Not only did they provide vastly improved settings for the enjoyment of the spectacles, but their magnificence provided an illusion of opulence, a kind of part-time wealth, for the poor, the out-of-work, the compressed, the overcrowded, the miserable and the powerless. This was particularly important, because while Romans of wealth lived in spectacular homes with courtyards, gardens and fountains, staffed by slaves, and often had villas in the countryside to complement their city homes, the poor urban Roman lived in the midst of dehumanizing slums, in miserable apartment buildings known as insulae ("islands"). These insulae commonly took up an entire city block, and consisted of numerous private apartments, piled four to six stories high. They were very often flimsily constructed, and frequently collapsed due to structural defects, crushing the occupants within and burying passers-by in the street; they were also frequently ravaged by fire. In such cases, they were little more than death-traps. Upper-story apartments were reached by climbing rickety flights of stairs or even by ascending ladders. There was no heating, except for charcoal braziers, and no plumbing, either. Residents used public latrines which served the neighborhood, or else chamber pots, which were supposed to be emptied in special receptacles provided in each building, or in nearby garbage dumps, located outside. However, tenants often flung the contents directly out of their windows, into the street below: a frequent cause of violent quarrels and legal prosecution. Water for drinking and other household needs was gathered from neighborhood fountains, and brought home in jugs, to be dispensed as needed. These inhospitable apartments did boast windows, but rarely were they fitted with glass panes; they were mostly covered by curtains or by wooden shutters which could be opened and closed as desired. In the summertime, the heat was nearly unbearable, while in the wintertime, the insulae were often inhumanly cold. Rodent infestation, as might be expected under such circumstances, was rampant. In spite of the frequently wretched living conditions, tenants had to pay rent in order to dwell in the insulae, though it seems likely that in many cases, apartments must have been available for next to nothing, or else provided by charity or the State, since many Romans did not have the means to support themselves otherwise; nonetheless, evictions seem to have been common, and whole families were often thrown out into the street, and driven into desperate lives of homelessness. [141]

Given these circumstances, access to glorious public venues such as the theaters, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, the Porticus Pompeii, and the public baths [142] was indispensable to pacifying the poor. In some ways, it could be said that these sites "souped up" their pitiful living conditions, and that the public glory of Rome was grafted onto their poverty and powerlessness to create a strange, hybrid environment in which they might live below the threshold of open revolt: a fusion of public and personal space, of magnificence and squalor, which diluted the insult of the insulae with the intoxicating allure of spectacular edifices and parks that, wisely, did not deny them. Depressed and discarded at night, the poor were reborn each day, saved by their right to wander through what they did not own. Piri Thomas, the renowned Puerto Rican writer who began his life in the poverty of one of New York City’s toughest slums, once wrote of the city, as he surveyed it from a rooftop: "…when I look down at the streets below, I can’t help thinking it’s like a great big dirty Christmas tree with lights but no xxxxxxx presents." [143]. This feeling of alienation - of living amidst, and being tormented by, untouchable wealth, and possibilities of another kind of life which one cannot reach - is common in our big cities today. In ancient Rome, the poor also lived on the outside, but it is probable that they felt less like outsiders than the poor do nowadays, for their exclusion was disarmed by impressive pockets of inclusion: by extravagant monuments, theaters, and arenas that they were free to enter, and to wear like borrowed clothes; and by the great, if terrible, spectacles that took place within: the most amazing shows that ancient technology and the human imagination could materialize from the pillaged wealth of the world. Did the poor Roman, in some ways, possess all of this, as a man may be said to possess a flower that he admires growing in a neighbor’s garden? Or was he only mesmerized and deluded, paralyzed from action by his ability to temporarily inhabit a deceptive architecture of empowerment, created for the specific purpose of defusing the anger he should have felt for being a victim of social injustice- for being landless, jobless, and despised beneath the veneer of charity? What was reality? What was illusion? What was his life? What was only an emasculating masquerade? What was his city, and what was only a disguise for his de facto homelessness? What was his ruler’s generosity, and what was his ruler’s shield? Whatever the true significance of the theater-studded, arena-studded city in which he lived, it is now a city of ruins, crumbling between the flow of life after death, rivers of the modern world washing away its answers, leaving behind its questions…

And now, at last, it is finally time to delve deeper into the actual substance of the spectacular entertainments which both pacified and destroyed Rome. It is time to go from the house, to the life inside the house. And where better to begin than with the turbulent chariot races, the passion of Rome’s rich and poor?

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Chariot Races

Just how much the chariot races of the Circus Maximus were loved leaps through time at one from a thousand different sources: the words of ancient scholars, letters exchanged between friends, graffiti left behind on walls, inscriptions on tombstones. The races were a national passion not exclusively linked to any class or gender.

The ludi (public games) in which the chariot races were featured were customarily introduced with tremendous pomp and ceremony, in much the manner of the Olympic Games, or, as some scholars have noted, of a military triumph. A huge procession through the streets of Rome (pompa circensis) would precede the opening of the games, led by the presiding official riding in a chariot. Following were youths of the Roman nobility, riding on horseback, and then, on foot, youths slated to join the infantry, both lending prestige and a sense of Roman military power to the games. Next came the contestants themselves, charioteers riding in two-horse or four-horse chariots, followed by other athletes who were scheduled to compete in complementary exhibitions - boxers, wrestlers, and runners who all marched on foot, and were simply garbed in loincloths. Dancers in helmets, armed with spears and swords, followed these, moving rhythmically to the sound of flutes and lyres. Behind these came bands of men dressed as satyrs, the half-man, half-goat creatures of ancient legend, renowned for their love of wine, their sexual excesses, and their fealty to Bacchus, the God of Mysteries and the Vine. Their lewd dances both mirrored and mocked the martial movements of the warrior-dancers who preceded them. After the "satyrs" came more musicians, then bearers of incense and treasures of gold and silver to impress onlookers with the wealth of the State. Finally, most importantly of all, came the images of the Gods, transported in chariots or else carried on platforms borne upon the shoulders of devoted attendants. This whole procession would march through the streets of Rome until it reached the Circus, whereupon it would enter the stadium and do one lap around the track as spectators cheered and waved handkerchiefs, or held up signs praising the public official who was in charge of putting on the games. The images of the Gods were then placed in a special viewing area reserved for them, the pulvinar, as though they, themselves, were guests of honor at the games, and given the best seats in the house. [144]

To be assured of getting a good seat, or a seat at all, large crowds of people often gathered outside of the Circus the night before the games. This custom was clearly very much imbedded into Roman culture by the time of Caligula, for he was so disturbed by the noise of one late-night pre-games gathering that he sent a group of guards armed with cudgels to disperse the mob, wounding and killing many. This fierce overreaction to the expected behavior of racing fans was, in fact, the beginning of Caligula’s loss of popular support. For his intolerance towards the apolitical passion of the poor momentarily politicized it, removing the obstacle of the masses from the plans of the wealthy, who sought to destroy Caligula and no longer needed to fear opposition by the plebeians. [145]

As the crowds outside of the Circus swelled to massive dimensions on the day of the races, nearby shops and brothels, some situated in the outer walls of the stadium, did a thriving business. [145] Meanwhile, beyond the area of the Circus itself, much of the city remained deserted. It was a field day for burglars and thieves. [146] So much of Rome attended the games, and was vocal and passionate about the games, that many travelers swore they could hear the din of the crowds cheering at the chariot races before they could even see the city. [147]

In early days, Roman racing fans might expect to see only one chariot race per day, while the games were on. But by the time of Augustus, the average number of races held on any given day during the ludi was up to twelve; Caligula increased the number of races to twenty-four. [148] And as the number of festival days and public games increased, in general, Rome’s obsession with the races grew proportionately, until a famous Roman philosopher was finally prompted to exclaim: "The art of conversation is dead. Can no one talk of anything except the skill of various charioteers and the quality of their teams?" [149]

The classic chariot race which mesmerized Roman sports fans for many centuries was a contest featuring four chariots (sometimes more), each one drawn by a team of four horses. These chariots, known as quadrigae [150], were light and fast, mainly constructed of wood with some bronze parts. They ran closer to the ground than the common chariot, and also had wider wheels. The central two horses, one positioned on either side of the protruding chariot shaft, were yoked together, while the two outside horses were generally attached to the chariot only by traces, allowing them greater maneuverability. While the central horses were hooked up to the chariot mainly for pulling power, the two outer horses had specialized roles: the left-hand horse, who was closest to the inside of the track, was pivotal in taking the turns, providing the speed, balance, and sense of timing needed to guide the team around the dangerous curves of the Spine into the following straight-aways; while the right-hand horse needed strength and stamina, and a great sense of what was going on with the whole team, in order to work the chariot entirely around as the left-hand horse set up the turn. Needless to say, these horses were specially bred and trained; the best of them were revered by fans, just as great racehorses like Man o’War, Seabiscuit, and Secretariat have been widely loved in our own times. [151] Although the skill of the charioteer was instrumental in bringing about victory, the raw talent, racing experience and intelligence of the horses they directed was also a critical factor. Indeed, there is one recorded instance of a driver falling out of his chariot at the very beginning of a race, and his team going on to win the very complicated seven-lap contest on its own, dragging his empty chariot across the finish line in first place. The officials and spectators were so impressed with this performance that the team of horses was awarded the victory. [152]

The charioteers, who were mainly slaves, guided their teams, to some extent, with the reins (as one would expect), which they tied about their waists in order not to risk losing control during the confusion of the contest, and the struggle to keep four powerful horses working together. However, they also guided their horses with the whip, which was not merely used to goad on the team, but also, more subtly and more importantly, to signal the horses (by means of touching or tapping), when to begin the turns or to execute particular racing maneuvers. [153] These charioteers were equipped with leather crash helmets and armed with knives. In the event that their chariot broke apart, or they somehow fell out of their vehicle, they were likely to be dragged behind their horses to their death, unless they could manage to cut themselves free of the reins which they had tied about themselves. [154] In fact, chariot crashes were a common, and for many spectators, exciting part of the games. Then, as now, capturing the inside position on the track was highly desirable, as it cut down the overall distance one had to cover in the race, and conserved the strength of one’s horses for the final sprint. In the initial dash out of the starting gates to try to reach the rail and capture this coveted position, many wrecks occurred: so many, in fact, that a special gate had to be constructed near the starting line so that slaves could rush out to drag away the wreckage and the wounded men and horses before the chariots that were still running had had time to come around for a second lap. [155] Sometimes, also, chariots spilled when the clean-start rope that barred their path, not far from the starting line, was not dropped in time. This rope, known as the Alba Linea, was used by officials to stop races whose beginning was marred by fouls, such as excessive bumping among the horses, or the premature start of some chariots. If the official detected a foul and wanted to call the racers back, the rope, which came up a little above the ankles of the horses, was left up, so that the teams could not pass over it. If the start was clean, on the other hand, the rope was dropped, freeing the race to continue. The trouble was, in the wild rush to get to the inside first, the charioteers would often not slow down as they approached the Alba Linea. This is because, many times, the rope was only dropped at the last possible moment, as the official struggled to decide whether a violation was significant enough to start the whole race over for. The driver who slowed down prematurely, because the rope had not yet fallen, would lose the rush to the inside lane; so the bolder charioteer would often "go for it", gambling that the start was clean enough for the race to continue, and pushing his horses forwards at full speed towards the rope. Whenever the charioteer miscalculated, and the rope stayed up, it would, of course, lead to a deadly disaster, tripping up his galloping horses and sending both man and animals crashing head-over-heels across the track. There are cases when entire races were wiped out at the very beginning. [156] After the perilous start, spills were most common on the turns, as charioteers sometimes misplayed the curves, turning too sharply, and losing control of their vehicles, which might overturn, collide with other chariots, or break apart under the strain of the physical forces at work. Wrecks also occurred as the results of collisions produced by aggressive driving, as chariots in the lead swerved wide or cut in to try to block rivals from passing, or as chariots behind tried to muscle their way through spaces that could not accommodate them; or made rash, even suicidal, moves that failed to intimidate their opponents into letting them by. Some drivers even mastered the art of tangling one of their wheels up with an opposing driver’s, then pulling away in such a manner that their own wheel stayed on, while their opponent’s came off, naturally trashing their rival’s chariot and hurling their opponent onto the track The maneuver does not seem to have been treated as a foul. Whether it was actually approved of (as a kind of gladiatorial embellishment of racing), or simply difficult to detect or prove in the chaos of close-quarters charioteering, is hard to say. [157] In all events, the life of the charioteer was exceedingly dangerous, and many of the crowd’s favorite racers died young. In one famous instance, a charioteer was so badly bruised and crushed by the fall from his chariot and by the trampling hooves of the horses that came up from behind him, that it was said his best friend could not have identified him. [158] Besides the knives that they carried to cut themselves loose from the reins in the case of a spill, many drivers also smeared themselves with boar dung before the race. The smell was said to have an instinctual effect upon horses, who would always try to avoid this dangerous and aggressive creature in the wild. Therefore, it was believed that they would swerve away from the fallen charioteer who had thought to protect himself in this way, rather than disregarding him in their thunderous advance and trampling him underfoot. [159] Probably, the boar dung was more of a psychological boon to the charioteer than an actual defense, as many spills happened so quickly that there was little time for the other chariots and horses to react.

While the life of the charioteer was dangerous, and often short, it was also glorious and frequently extremely lucrative. Originally horses and stables of horse were operated by private breeders. Later on, they were run by major racing corporations. In imperial days, these were known as the Whites, Reds, Greens, and Blues. [160] Charioteers wore tunics which were the color of the company they raced for, and fans of certain companies (which were something like the teams modern sports fans root for) also identified themselves by means of the color of the scarves, ribbons, or other items of clothing that they wore. The slave-charioteers who were their heroes - and men of the nobility frequently lamented this "unjust bestowal of prestige upon the unworthy" - were usually given half of the winnings that came from their races. [161] Over time, they were able to accumulate enough money to buy their freedom, whereupon they might retire from the races, or else continue competing in the races as freedmen: the adulation and fortune attainable through victory in the Circus Maximus were temptations not easy to overcome. Of all the ancient charioteers, a Spaniard by the name of Diocles was probably the most famous. During his long and illustrious career, he won over one thousand races, many in dramatic come-from-behind victories which were a magnificent blend of patience and daring. Between the age of eighteen, when he began his career as an unknown slave, and forty-two, when he ended it as a fabulously wealthy and famous freedman, he earned 36,000,000 sesterces in prize money - an average take of 1.5 million sesterces per year. Considering that the average yearly income of the Roman legionnaire of his times - the soldier who was the bulwark of the Roman Empire - was 1,200 sesterces, this was a phenomenal sum, indeed. [162] Not only was Diocles revered, in Rome, as a nearly superhuman embodiment of skill and confidence, so, too, were his horses, especially the Centenarius (hundred-race winner) Passerinus, who was his left-hand horse and leader on the turns. [163] Statues of famous charioteers were built and erected throughout the city [164]; while fans bonded in passionate and sometimes incredible ways with their racing heroes and their favorite teams. It was not infrequent for Romans to refer to their favorite team on their tombstones, in inscriptions such as: "Here lies XXXXX, who was a good man, devoted husband and staunch supporter of the Reds." [165] In one instance, a fan is reported to have jumped onto the funeral pyre of his favorite charioteer, convinced that life was not worth living without him. [166] Perhaps the ultimate proof of the allure of the races, however, was an incident which occurred not in Rome itself, but in another city fallen prey to the same obsession. In this case, the city was attacked in the midst of the chariot races. Not surprisingly, the distraction proved fatal: too many spectators and not enough defenders led to the capture and destruction of the sports-loving metropolis. [167] Could this, in some ways, be considered a metaphor for the fall of Rome itself?

While the excitement on the track, alight with skill, drama, and danger - with the brilliance of daring drivers and the calculated avalanche of powerful, beautiful horses - was clearly mesmerizing to the masses, some observers reported that, "The great spectacle at the circus is not the games but the spectators." [168] Certainly, the games were filled with life: intense, passion-filled, characterized by survivable levels of anarchy that provided a collective ritual of stress reduction which depoliticized the energy of the masses, and drew their minds to chariots and horses, and away from failed social policies and the harsh realities of power. Life not able to be lived outside the Circus could be lived inside of it. Emotions no longer possible to feel for governments and bureaucracies could be given to horses and men made simple by a track: creatures of pure struggle, unblemished by stolen histories, bearers of hope not thwarted by reality. At the races, men and women, and classes interacted in sometimes barely restrained ways, and at the very least were on display for each other’s curiosity or disdain. The poor could envy or admire the rich, as the rich could feel benevolent towards, or contemptuous of, the poor. At times, the games were capable of promoting a feeling of false solidarity, creating the illusion that Rome really was a shared experience. The growth of the four great racing teams - the Whites, the Reds, the Blues, and the Greens - although it sometimes led to bloodshed and even full-scale riots between fans [169] - contributed to this sense of union between the classes, for team loyalty had nothing to do with class. On racing day, a Green patrician might feel closer to a Green plebeian than to a Blue patrician - though without horses running in front of their eyes, the bond was sure to disappear. At other times, however, discord broke out and hints of class conflict appeared, as when patricians who had traditionally gone home for lunch or eaten food brought for them by slaves, began to intercept food packages given away to the poor. [170] These packages, which also sometimes contained tickets redeemable for expensive gifts (much as raffles do today), were known as sportulae - the customary name for presents given to clients by a patron. (From these packages, offered to spectators at major sporting events, comes our modern-day word of "sports.") [171] At the games, it was the State, embodied by the Emperor, which was the patron, and the common people who were the rightful recipients of its generosity. The interference of the wealthy, when it took place, was a bitter reminder of the greed that had ruined Rome, of the land and rights that had been robbed by law and by force of arms. When charity was mocked, old wounds bled again. Tension escalated, but usually did not explode without the excuse of a chariot, horse, or team; and was never socially useful when it did.

Men and women, and women and men was another great attraction of the chariot races. The excitement of the contests made spectators’ blood hot, their hearts pounded, their passions soared, people screamed, cried, embraced each other, broke through normal social barriers and inhibitions. A carnival-like atmosphere may have come and gone at some moments. Certainly, horrified Romans of the old school noted the unguarded responses of some women fans to the ups and downs of the races: the signs of emotional distress, joy, and despair which made them seem especially beautiful and vulnerable to some men, who had come with the hope of picking them up. [172] These men ranged from ostensibly well-intentioned comforters and instant confidantes, seeking to latch onto the excitement created by horses to further their own libidinous ambitions, to outright gropers and molesters. The presence of these pseudo-rapists, in turn, provided yet another chance for flirtation and dating, as protective companions or concerned bystanders, by assuming the role of defenders and warding off the unwanted advances of other men, could then capitalize on the trust and gratitude of the women they had just "saved" to make more subtle advances of their own. Sometimes, in fact, this phenomenon of defending the honor of woman fans may have gone too far, as perfectly innocent touching and jostling produced by the cramped conditions of the seating may have been conveniently interpreted as "improper conduct" by males eager to generate conflict for the purpose of impressing, and then seducing, the women they appeared to champion. [173]

While all of this interclass and man-woman/woman-man excitement was going on, the stands were also the scene of a huge economic melodrama being played out: a melodrama involving many thousands of lives, dreams, hopes, and futures. Then, as now, the races were a fierce, euphoric and desperate venue of gambling. The rich wanted more, or perhaps only relief from the boredom of being invulnerable. The poor sought to escape from their debts, from the heat and misery and cage-like feel of the insulae, the inhospitable tenements where they lived and died like rats; they wanted the "good things" in life, to be something more than what they were, something which they thought money could buy. And so, betting was rampant. Spectators studied and learned the strengths and weaknesses of the different horses and charioteers, but the races remained unpredictable, especially for those who bet with their heart, as so many gamblers do today. Besides the difficulty of picking a winner, unless an absolutely stellar driver (such as Diocles) and super team of horses were involved, rumors of fixed races and foul play abounded. On some occasions, concerned fans forced their way to the stables of the horses demanding to see the dung of the major protagonists, just in case any of them had been doped, or showed signs of sickness or improper feeding. [174] To add to their chances of success, many bettors and fans resorted to witchcraft and magic. One ancient curse tablet that has been found reads: "I conjure you up, holy beings and holy names: join in aiding this spell, and bind, enchant, thwart, strike, overturn, conspire against, destroy, kill, break Eucherius, the charioteer, and all his horses tomorrow in the circus at Rome." [175] For those less magically inclined, other forms of intervention prevailed. Malevolent fans would sometimes hurl wine jugs onto the track, hoping to trip up or startle the horses of rival chariots, and it is reported that some mothers would even send their children running in front of the chariots of other teams, hoping to disrupt them and force them to lose valuable time swerving to avoid an accident. It is said that if their children were run over by any of these chariots, the women would then file a lawsuit against the offending stable. [176] While some fans surely bet within their limits, and won money at the races, or at least did not lose more than the pleasure of gambling was worth, others seem to have bet themselves into ruin, as still happens today. There are even reports of some men, having nothing left to back up their bets, borrowing one last sum of money from a slave dealer, and wagering their freedom on a horse race. [177]

Part madness, part escape, part substitute for life, the chariot races of ancient Rome were, for many, the true hearth of the city, the center of public life, if not the center of life itself. But for many, the races, audacious and dramatic though they were, were not enough - not enough to compensate for the lack of a real life - not enough to carry away the anger, or to reflect the true dynamics of life and death, conquest and subjugation, which trapped them beneath a horizon of hopelessness which they did not dare risk changing. For these, who dull red could no longer revive, there was the bright red of the gladiatorial games…

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Gladiatorial Games (and the Naumachia)

The word "gladiator" is derived from the name of the classic Roman short sword, the gladius, which was the basic weapon of the Roman legionnaire who conquered the world. "Gladiator", literally, meant "swordsman." [178] As previously stated, gladiatorial contests were originally associated not with the ludi (or public games), but with munera (or privately-sponsored games), put on to honor the deceased relatives of prominent men. In time, their popularity insured them a place in the public games, as well, as politicians struggling to win the favor of the masses injected them into the ludi.

Typically drawn from the ranks of slaves, war captives, and criminals, gladiators underwent a rigorous program of training in one of several specialized schools to help facilitate quality performances. [179] If there was anything the Roman spectator hated, it was an unskilled fight, or one in which cowardly or reluctant fighters had to be prodded into action by trainers armed with hot irons or whips. [180] Besides this, the private owners, promoters, and suppliers of gladiators to the games earned money for contracting their fighters out to the spectacles, and it was in their economic interest to have winners who could continue performing and making money for them. This was another reason for the intense training. [181]

As the gladiatorial fights originated from ancient funerary customs of non-Roman Italians, most likely as a form of human sacrifice accompanying the burial of an important man [182], the death of losing contestants was an expected result. However, training and maintaining gladiators also represented a significant investment on the part of owners, and they were not eager to lose their money by unnecessarily suffering the demise of their precious fighters. It seems, for this reason, that many gladiatorial combats were semi-staged, or "fixed", with warriors putting on an exciting show for the crowd, and even feigning injury or death, without actually maiming or killing each other. [183] At the end of the fight, the "defeated" warrior would hopefully be supported by the spectators, who could demand that he be spared if he had fought well and displayed courage, by signaling "thumbs down" to the presiding officials and the triumphant gladiator. (Contrary to the conventional interpretation of these hand signals, "thumbs up", representing the exposed blade of a drawn sword, seems to have meant "finish him off", while "thumbs down", representing a sheathed sword, seems to have meant "put your weapon away, and let him live.") [184]  [184 TXT]  Even if the crowd signaled for the death of the fallen gladiator, his opponent might well choose to spare him, only pretending to kill him. The charade would be kept up as the "corpse" would then be hauled away by a hook. Afterwards, the saved gladiator would be sent "out of town" to continue fighting, under another identity, in some distant provincial venue. [185] The money he made there would be less, but still better than nothing.

By no means, however, were the gladiatorial combats mainly a sham. Although some fights were fixed - especially those in which a "hero" and a "villain" were carefully cultivated and a theatrical-type melodrama crafted around their "personalities" [186] - the majority of fights were quite lethal, especially as time went on. Sponsors of the games sought to please the crowd by cutting back on fake fights, and raising the battles to new levels of desperation. While the crowd remained as a final court of appeal, which the vanquished gladiator might turn to for mercy, no escape from death outside of its will was tolerated. Attendants dressed as Charon, the mythological ferryman of the dead who grimly transported spirits across the River Styx into the realm of Hades, would wander among the fallen after a major gladiatorial battle, and poke the bodies with sharp rods, striking anyone who still showed signs of life with a deadly mallet blow to the head. [187] In games such as these, those who were dragged away as "corpses" really were.

Initially, gladiatorial contests revolved around pairs of fighters, each urged on by his lanista (trainer), who was allowed to stand nearby as his warrior fought, and to shout out words of encouragement and advice. [188] Certain classes of fighter became common in these events, and warriors gained fame by perfecting their skills in one. Among these basic classes were the Samnis, who was outfitted in the manner of the typical Samnite warrior, and therefore armed with short sword (gladius), oblong shield and visored helmet; the Myrmillo (or "swordfish"), dressed in the typical Gallic manner, with a helmet crested with a fish ornament, an oblong shield and a sword; the Retiarius, garbed as a warrior-fisherman, with a net, sharpened trident, and dagger; and the Thrax (or Thracian), armed with a curved sword and a round shield. Other less basic classes of fighter included the laqueatores, who fought with slings and stones; the dimachae, who fought with two short swords, one in either hand; and the essedarii, who fought from chariots. Besides these, there existed a class of fighters who could best be described as "boxers", armed only with the caestus, a kind of leather glove studded with brass knuckles or even nails which could easily disfigure or kill an opponent. [189] Just as youths who today play video games enjoy pitting one type of fighter against another, so Roman audiences loved to see the strengths and weaknesses of different styles of armament and forms of combat matched against one another. (Boxers, however, only fought boxers.) In the most classic match-up, a Retiarius would face a Myrmillo, who was also known, from his usual role, as a secutor, or "pursuer." Although the swordsman would seem to have had a tremendous advantage, in actuality the "fisherman" usually won by casting his net, balanced with lead weights on the edges, over the approaching fighter, and then dispatching him with either his trident or his dagger. If the swordsman succeeded in evading the net, the Retiarius could quickly draw it back to himself by means of a string. Oftentimes, if the swordsman gave ground, even if it was only for the purpose of maneuver, the "fisherman" would taunt him with a stock insult, calling out to him: "Why are you running from me, Gaul? I’m not coming after you, I’m coming after the fish!" [190]

Although many gladiators came and went without a name, living and dying without sympathy or fame, some rose, by means of their consistent victories and conspicuous courage or skill, to occupy a central place in the public’s eye. Statues were erected in their honor. Graffiti glorified their exploits, and also represented them as sex symbols, as revealed by love notes scrawled onto ancient walls by their adoring admirers. "Celadus, suspirum puellarum: Celadus, the sigh of the maidens," reads one. [191] Ludiae, or "groupies" of the gladiators, blossomed around their glory and their prowess, and even some highborn ladies seem to have caught the fever, fleeing from their mundane lives to fling themselves as lovers into the path of these desperate, worshipped men. [192] Young boys played gladiator, imagining themselves to be heroes of the arena, and women, too, were known to don the garments of gladiators and take up the practice of swordsmanship, so influenced were they by the spectacle. [193] And the imitation did not end with practice or with play. Free Romans, poor and in debt, or else craving glory, began to appear in the arena in the role of gladiator, then Romans of the upper class, and finally even a few highborn women, who were admitted as novelty acts. [194] This trend reached its zenith with the appearance of the Emperor Commodus in the arena as a gladiator. Not surprisingly, he won all of the matches he ever entered, and there were over a thousand of them. (None of his opponents was killed, however, as his "fights" seem to have been charades meant to glorify his "superior skill", without pushing any of his rivals to desperation.) [195] [195 TXT]  But far and away, the majority of the fighters were slaves, prisoners, and captives, whose despised state was quickly inverted if they were successful in combat. It became customary for them to be awarded significant prizes after each victory, usually gold coins handed to them upon a silver platter by the presiding official, who was guided by the enthusiasm of the crowd. [196] With this reward, the poor man who could fight found it possible to grow rich through his willingness to kill and to risk death; while the slave who could win with style, and avoid death along the way, found himself headed towards a wealthy retirement. Typically, the gladiator-slave was compelled to fight for a total of three years, before being allowed to retire from the arena, whereupon he must serve his master for an additional two to five years, often helping to train other gladiators, before attaining his final freedom. [197] He could also be liberated instantly, in the event of an extraordinarily brilliant or courageous performance, in which case the presiding official of the games, usually swept along by the audience reaction, would offer the triumphant warrior a rudis, or wooden sword, symbolizing the end of his days of mortal combat. [198] Even a notorious sociopath, who had been condemned to fight as a gladiator as a punishment for his heinous crimes, could be saved in this way from the sentence of death that he had been given through the games: as it were, put "back on the streets" by a wooden sword. For the Romans, courage had a redemptive power that could wash away all sins. Not all warriors, however, accepted this way out of the arena. Some had become addicted to the lifestyle, filled, as it was, with women, riches, and adulation; and so, they insisted on continuing to fight, pushing their luck to its outer limits. One gladiator, Flamma, is reputed to have turned down the wooden sword four times. [199]  [199TXT]

As gladiatorial combats grew in popularity, the scale of the shows increased. From the presentation of three matches, involving three pairs of gladiators, which were staged during one of the games in 264 BC, the number of matches offered increased to twenty-two in 216 BC; to sixty in 183 BC; and to ninety in 145 BC. In one gladiatorial show, staged in the days of the Emperors, a total of five-thousand pairs of gladiators was pitted against each other in contests which spanned a total of many days. [200]

In the days of the Republic, this dynamic of expanding gladiatorial productions was fueled by the ambitions of politicians competing for votes. What thrilled the audience yesterday wasn’t good enough for today; what one’s rival could offer to the masses had to be topped. Later, in imperial days, the escalation of the combats was not needed to win elections, which, in essence, did not exist anymore, but to impress the populace, which was not awed by the spectacles or dimensions of former days. Just as the effects of a drug may wear off with use, requiring higher doses or new drugs to get the same high, so the carnage became routine, requiring new breakthroughs of the imagination or feats of scale to keep the people excited and loyal to the giver of the spectacle. Increasing the number of gladiatorial matches during any given festival was one way of maintaining the entertainment value of the ordinary, after indifference had set in. Breaking out of the box of one-gladiator-versus-one-gladiator fights, to stage actual battles between large groups of armed men, was another. Julius Caesar was a master of this technique, bringing in warriors from many different lands to fight against each other, and against men trained and equipped to fight as Roman legionnaires. (In cases, actual Roman military units condemned for mutiny or for cowardice, were utilized.) In this way, in Caesar’s time and later, Roman audiences got firsthand looks at British warriors riding in their war chariots, accompanied by the fierce dogs which they had trained to fight beside them; "barbarians" from Germany, clad in bearskins and armed with javelins and swords; Greek hoplites, armored and brandishing fearsome pikes; African infantry and horsemen; and many other types of soldiers. At times, appropriate scenery would be erected in the arena, as when a mock forest was planted to create the setting for a German attack against a band of "Roman legionnaires." On another occasion, a Roman military camp was reproduced, to be assaulted by wild tribesmen, while on still another, a fortification occupied by Persians was constructed, to be besieged by "Roman troops" using the latest in siege machinery. Fights between units of elephants, manned by their drivers and archers, and units of Roman-style cavalry, were also staged. [201] These events were not only brilliant innovations in entertainment, and huge crowd-pleasers, they also turned segments of the games into a kind of laboratory for war planners, who could observe the strengths and weaknesses of potential enemies in carefully crafted experimental battles. In the case of the conflict between elephants and cavalry, an important training objective was also being materialized, under cover of the games: Roman horses, which were often frightened by the smell of elephants and therefore effectively blocked from attacking enemy formations which were accompanied by them, were being accustomed to their odor and behavior, and trained to overcome their aversion to them. [202]

Perhaps the most striking innovation of all in the realm of staged combat was the creation of the naumachia, or naval engagement, featuring full-scale battles between warships. Julius Caesar, a genius of both reality and fantasy - of war and entertainment - put on the first major spectacle of this kind by excavating a basin on the outskirts of the city, and filling it with water, then introducing sixteen galleys from the Middle East into it, and commanding them to fight. [203] The spectacle created such a memorable impression that Augustus Caesar, once the business of civil war had been taken care of, constructed a permanent lake beside the Tiber, which he surrounded with marble stands, and used to stage a naumachia of his own: in this case, a battle between thirty Greek and Persian ships (and some three-thousand men) replicating the famous battle of Salamis. [204] Claudius outdid him in 52 AD, staging a huge naval battle on the Fucine Lake in central Italy, which featured fifty ships on either side and a total of 19,000 combatants, nearly all of them condemned men conscripted into the fight. Large numbers of Roman troops were positioned around the lake to prevent the prisoners’ escape, and soldiers were also positioned on rafts armed with catapults to help control the event. Nearby hilltops and slopes served as a gigantic natural amphitheater for the spectacle, and it is possible that as many as 500,000 people may have gathered to witness this unprecedented entertainment. The commencement of the battle was signaled by a huge, silver figure of Triton (Neptune’s son) which rose mechanically from beneath the surface of the lake, blowing loudly on a trumpet: a feat of engineering which both amazed and delighted the audience. The two fleets of gladiators then set upon each other, utilizing the tactics of the day, which were ramming (to sink enemy ships), oar-shearing (to cripple their mobility), and/or boarding by means of the corvus, a spiked drawbridge which could be dropped down onto the deck of an enemy ship, allowing troops to storm across and slaughter the opposing crew in hand-to-hand combat. The battle was bloody, and a huge success. Claudius was so pleased that he freed all of the survivors (except for those who had survived by avoiding combat), and attempted to put on another show of lesser dimensions soon afterwards. This time, however, something went wrong with an engineering project that was taking place at the lake: a kind of levee broke, resulting in a sudden flood which produced mass panic and nearly drowned Claudius and his retinue. [205] To viewers safely out of the way of the flood, however, it could only have improved the spectacle, adding a new level of excitement and surprise. While specially-constructed or adapted lakes may have been the best setting for the flamboyant naumachiae, many important stadiums, including the Colosseum, were built in such a way that they could be flooded and used as venues for naval battles, when so desired. [206]

In the same way that ancient observers claimed that there were really two shows going on at any given time in the Circus Maximus - the intended show of the chariot races and the unintended show of the crowd - so the gladiatorial contests in the arena were complemented by the antics of the spectators, who came to watch the fights, and to watch each other. The leaders of society, including the Emperor, were frequently in attendance, and by coming to the games, commoners could get a look at them, and even, sometimes, make their wishes known to them. In much the same way that people today love to line up by the legendary red carpet and catch a glimpse of famous movie stars going in to the Academy Awards, so ancient Romans in the stands loved to catch a glimpse of their own "rich and famous." Besides this, the ecstatic camaraderie of shared "sports watching" united many in a passionate and powerful way that, although it lasted only for a moment, was far more rewarding than the lackluster bond of being citizens of an increasingly impersonal and disheartening society, filled with laws and handouts, and devoid of any real brotherhood. In the early days, there was also the sexual sideshow of men and women driven beyond the confines of propriety by the erotic charge of death. The dying, at times, seemed almost sexual, as exposed bodies fell and lay down in the sand in helpless vulnerability; as domination, conquest, submission, and surrender mirrored the fiercer, darker side of sex. How could loyalty to the moral order, to the proper relations between man and woman, remain intact in the presence of such a blatant and massive violation of basic human principles; in the face of a moral meltdown of such egregious dimensions? How could one surrender so completely to one’s primal urges in one dimension, while rigorously resisting them in another, especially as the passion of some spectators smacked of sexual ecstasy, triggering Dionysian responses in those who sat beside them? A kind of sexual contagion may have swept through the crowd at times, not affecting all, of course - probably, in fact, affecting only a relatively small minority - still leading, however, to many incidents of both wanted and unwanted sexual contact, and sexual acts of varying degrees. [207] For those not directly involved, these incidents may have proved a source of voyeuristic pleasure; or else of righteous indignation, helping to relieve them of the guilt associated with watching human beings be killed for their amusement, by giving them an opportunity to feel moral in the midst of their crime. In all events, Augustus seems to have taken measures to end this affront to Roman "family values" by instituting and enforcing new rules segregating women from men at all theatrical and gladiatorial shows. [208] Lewd public behavior at spectacles was brought under control, while the violence and destruction taking place in the arena was left untouched.

Although the chariot races seem to have been Rome’s outstanding excuse for gambling, the gladiatorial games were also accompanied by massive betting, as fans put their money on various fighters and staked their fortunes on possible outcomes. Some gladiators made big money selling tips and inside information to bettors before the bouts. [209] In addition to the thrill of the spectacles, and the chance of making good money by betting on the right gladiators, many spectators were attracted to the games for the baskets of free food that were frequently distributed to the crowd at lunch-time, and by the Lottery tickets that were also handed out - although "handed out" is not exactly an accurate term. These tickets were often hurled into the midst of the crowd via catapults, or even dropped among the seats by means of "arrows" fired by little Cupids - children outfitted with wings, who were suspended above the crowd on wires, and made to "fly about." [210] The tickets, if one was lucky enough to get a hold of one, were redeemable for various kinds of prizes, including furniture, clothing, jewelry, gold coins, even a ship, a house, or an estate if one was especially lucky. Others, however, were for "white elephants", such as wild bears, which no sane man would want to take home with him; while on other occasions, they turned out to be only jokes, as in the case of a man who, upon opening up a finely carved box that seemed fit for some expensive and worthwhile prize, was greeted by an exiting swarm of angry bees, and unwillingly forced to relive the legend of Pandora. Some spectators, not trusting the value of the prizes that their tickets might redeem, sold the tickets to others who were willing to gamble that the still-unknown prize corresponding to the ticket would be worth the money that they paid for it. Without a doubt, the buzz of excitement created by gambling and by the distribution of Lottery tickets, added greatly to the attraction of the games.

Although the gladiatorial games were, in and of themselves, diverse, featuring individual fights between well-known and well-loved gladiators who were armed in different styles, battles between small armies of warriors from near and far, and impressive naumachiae which pushed the limits of ancient technology, there was still a need for even greater diversity. For the "extraordinary" of one generation almost always becomes the "ordinary" of the next; what was wild seems tame, what was on the edge becomes mainstream, what was entertaining becomes depressing, proof that one is no longer capable of being entertained, and that the world is empty. Although the venationes, or animal hunts, were as old as the gladiatorial games, their use as a complement to the battles of human warriors was a crucial tool in keeping the games interesting to the Roman masses. As in the modern circus, timing, pacing, a fluid and diverse mix of events, was cultivated to keep the old from becoming old, to preempt satiation, to prevent the spell from being broken, and the mobs from waking up to the bottomless of their despair. [211]

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The Use of Animals in the Games

The animal hunts, which were later to evolve into spectacular displays of exotic beasts, began humbly enough, utilizing local and easily attainable animals, such as foxes, hares, and wild goats. The creatures were introduced into the Circus Maximus during games such as the ludi Ceriales and the ludi Florales, which were held in honor of the Goddess of Agriculture (Ceres, the Roman "Demeter"), and Fertility (Flora). No doubt, the hunting of these creatures originally constituted a form of sacrifice meant to placate and win over the support of the Earth powers which the human world needs in order to survive. As time went on, other local Italian creatures including boars, bulls, stags and bears were brought into the Circus, either to be displayed or hunted by specially-trained animal fighters known as bestiarii. Finally, in the late Republican period, as Rome expanded territorially and as the games became an increasingly important means by which politicians hoped to impress the masses, exotic foreign animals began to appear consistently, and in large numbers, at the Circus and in other venues, as protagonists in the venationes. Eventually, lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, apes, giraffes, ostriches, and many other alien species were to become familiar sights in the Roman arena. [212] As with other types of spectacles, the aim of the sponsor became to outdo what his predecessors had done and what his rivals might do. On a less personal note, there was also the civic function of impressing the Roman audience with the power of Rome. As Beacham writes: "The trend thus established encouraged the spectators to associate military prowess and the geographic expansion of Roman influence with various animals from the distant realms subject to Roman might. Through the display of such exotic booty, power was rendered both graphic and entertaining." [213] Venationes and other forms of animal displays and shows were frequently used as preludes to, or change-of-pace acts between, chariot races in the Circus Maximus, or gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum. [214] Many times, however, the spectacular qualities of the animals displayed, and the engaging situations invented for them and their human antagonists by the architects of the games, turned them into the premier event.

As the shows became grander and began to showcase more exotic creatures, a gigantic network of animal catchers, trainers, attendants, and specially-trained animal fighters had to be developed in order to make the phenomenon possible. Daniel P. Mannix, in Those About To Die, provides an interesting comparison between Victorian and ancient times which yields valuable insight into the scale and efficiency of the Roman operation, which was accomplished without the benefits of modern technology. Describing the appearance of hippos in the games as "fairly common", he goes on to write: "After the Roman Empire fell, the next hippo to reach Europe was in 1850. A whole army division had to be used to capture the animal. Getting the hippo from the White Nile to Cairo took five months. The hippo spent the winter in Cairo and then went on to England in a tank containing four hundred gallons of water to keep it cool. Yet the Romans imported hippos wholesale for their games." [215]

Animals of various types, it seems, were captured either by client kings eager to win favor with the leaders of Rome, or else by Roman politicians and entrepreneurs, who employed professional trappers to ensnare their prey. These trappers, in turn, might call upon the support of local Roman garrisons to participate in their animal-catching drives, or even resort to the conscription of local residents in order to mobilize the manpower needed to conduct large-scale sweeps through the wilderness. Then, as now, one favorite technique for capturing elusive animals was to send huge formations of "drivers", pounding on drums or blaring trumpets, through the habitat of the intended prey, driving them towards hunters with nets, and often taking advantage of local terrain such as canyons, or manmade obstacles such as fences, to compress the frightened, fleeing animals into a well-defined "capture area." Elephants might be driven into a gully, penned in, and starved into submission, or else babies might be separated from their mothers. Lions might be lured into jumping over fences they could not see through into a pit where the smell of a tied-up deer had attracted them; or else they might be ensnared in nets after a massive sweep of drivers had flushed them out of the bush. Antelopes might be driven into rivers by horsemen, then lassoed once their mobility had been cut down in the water. Exotic snakes such as pythons were threatened and tricked into slithering away into capture bags that they mistook for holes in the earth, while apes such as chimpanzees and baboons were lured to drink wine that was left out for them in bowls, then captured after they were inebriated. [216] The ecological impact of all this animal-catching was significant. On the bright side, many wild areas were cleared of "dangerous predators" and thereby made safe for the introduction of farming. On the down side, the wildlife in large swaths of territory under Roman rule was decimated, as many creatures vanished from their former habitats or were even driven to extinction due to the overwhelming demand for animals created by the games. The European lion, the aurochs (the wild ox of Europe), the Libyan elephant, and the African bear were all victims of Rome’s insatiable appetite to acquire exciting beasts for the games; while the interesting record of a correspondence between Cicero, then serving as a Roman governor in Asia Minor, and his friend Caelius Rufus, an ambitious politician back in Rome who was eager to stage impressive games which would advance his career, sheds light both on the desperation of the politician to acquire exotic animals (in this case he wanted leopards), and on the destruction of wild species produced by the massive Roman animal hunts (Cicero could not find any remaining leopards in his province, although they had once been abundant). [217] In addition to precipitating a fierce decline in local wildlife populations, the Roman hunts, by forcibly drafting large numbers of civilians from the provinces to participate in the capture of animals sought for the Roman games, frequently disorganized local economies, as these operations could last for weeks at a time. Human energy was kidnapped from the realm of productivity in the "periphery", and reassigned to the realm of entertainment in the "core." [218]

Once the animals were captured, of course, the problem of transporting them back to Rome had to be confronted. This was no small task, given the technology of the day and the gigantic scale of the operation. Large numbers of men were involved, both skilled and unskilled. Captive creatures might be moved about in cages, which could either be carried by men or transported in wagons - or else they might be restrained by harnesses and ropes, and prodded along by their captors - until they reached a port with ships bound for Rome, or else a river, where they could be loaded onto a boat bound for such a port. During the overland phase of the journey, before a port was reached, holding stations with spacious enclosures were sometimes provided, which would allow the animals time to rest and recover in between the stages of their trip so that they would not be as likely to die en route. Once the animals were brought to the boats that would take them across the sea, it seems that they were moved up gangplanks in their cages, or else pulled and pushed by men, who dragged and manhandled them aboard with ropes, and sometimes used specially-trained dogs to snap at their heels from behind. Having the animals aboard, however, was no guarantee that they would survive the grueling voyage back to Rome, nor that the human ordeal associated with their procurement was over. As one ancient Roman wrote of the sea journey back to Rome: "The sailors were afraid of their own cargo." In one instance, in Rome, itself, a sculptor had set up shop on the docks to make models of the lions who were due to arrive from abroad, when a cage transporting a leopard accidentally broke during unloading. Only by the narrowest of margins did the sculptor escape with his life. His story gives a small glimpse of what must have been a most dangerous business from start to finish. [219]

Finally, once the animals had been brought to Rome and introduced into their cages or into the yards which were maintained in the vicinity of the arenas (there was also space underneath some venues, such as the Colosseum), the all-important work of training them for the games began: for the animals, in their natural state, were not necessarily ready to participate yet. Many came from the wild with a natural fear of humans, or else did not associate humans with prey; while many others were easily disturbed and intimidated by the alien terrain of the arena, and by the roaring din of the human spectators, which provoked them into flight and withdrawal rather than combat and audacity. Whereas fear and evasion were totally expected in the case of antelope and deer, these responses were utterly unacceptable in the case of creatures billed as ferocious predators: creatures such as wolves or lions, who the audience had come to witness at their very fiercest. Expert trainers were therefore required to help overcome the natural instincts of these "savage beasts", and to get their demeanor in line with their public image.

Very quickly, trainers discovered that pure starvation was not the answer. Hunger, overutilized as a strategy for provoking aggression, often only weakened big predators such as lions to the point of completely shutting them down. In cases, animals let loose into the arena to kill, collapsed and died from exhaustion without hurting anyone. [220] Complicated procedures were therefore often necessary to mold the animal captives into convincing beasts of prey. Trainers preferred to start with young animals who had less experience in the wild, and to accustom them to attacking humans. They would feed them human meat (from the dead of the arena), and train them to be fearless hunters of men, by a variety of means. Heavily padded men would provoke them to attack and pretend to be bested (even by cubs who they could have beaten away), increasing the confidence of the animals; later, the predators would be incited to attack slaves whose arms had been broken and teeth knocked out so that they could not harm the beasts set against them or in any way create a mental deterrent for future attacks against humans. Finally, the animals might be unleashed against healthy slaves, and thereby accustomed to some degree of genuine resistance, which was usually futile, however. If the victim did manage to put up a good fight, the trainer would quickly end the struggle with a spear thrust, to prevent his animal from getting hurt or developing any inhibitions against attacking humans. Whereas the animal was trained to be confident and aggressive towards humans, the aggression he learned was specifically associated with a training area resembling the arena in which he would perform, an open space covered with sand, outside of which he would most often not act out; besides this, he was usually respectful of his master trainer, or handler. [221] There was, thus, a long process of preparation required before the deadly animals of the Roman circus could be counted on to give an optimum performance in the arena. In many cases, though, they must have been sent into the arena with little training, due to constraints of time and the finite number of individuals competent to train them. In cases such as these, the unprepared beasts sometimes had to be driven to fight by trainers armed with whips, flails with lead balls, hot irons and burning firebrands; or else pursued, cornered, and provoked to fight by determined and well-trained bestiarii. [222] After the show, many but not all of the animals would be dragged, dead, out of the arena. Sometimes still living animals which had no further use to the promoters or spectators of the games would be slaughtered by archers, then removed. But trouble would often be taken to lure or drive especially valuable animals who had survived their day in the arena back into their cages, which could be reached through gates in the sides of the arena walls. Often, a pan of water placed inside a cage by a slave would be sufficient to draw an animal in from the heat of the sun, and away from the exhaustion and confusion of the games. If an animal was reluctant to return, lines of men armed with spears could be deployed to drive him towards an open cage, which he would usually enter as a refuge once he had located it and been sufficiently impressed by his lack of an alternative. [223]

Just as there were many types of gladiators to match styles and add variety to the gladiatorial combats - fighters such as the Retiarius, the Myrmillo, and the Thrax - so there were many types of bestiarii to match the wide variety of animals presented in the games. Some bestiarii were outfitted like gladiators, with shields, helmets, light body armor, and swords. They might fight lions or other large cats, or even bulls. Other bestiarii, who specialized in fighting bears, came into the arena equipped with a dagger or sword, and a veil with which to distract or temporarily obscure the vision of their prey. Some warriors came armed with spears to fight the ever-dangerous wild boars; some came with bows and arrows, to destroy their prey from afar (but they were at great risk if their intended victims chose to charge); other venatores rode on horseback and brought down deer with spears, or battled bulls with lances. [224] And so on. These animal-fighters never acquired the same level of adoration from the public which the most successful of the gladiators achieved, perhaps because they were somewhat upstaged by the animals they fought; and yet, some did seem to capture the popular imagination, just like the greatest bullfighters of today, as in the case of one bestiarius known as Carpophorus, of whom the poet Martial wrote: "Carpophorus could have handled the hydra, the chimera and the fire-eating bulls at the same time." [225]

Obviously, some of the animal spectacles were more in the nature of hunts which displayed the skill of the huntsman as he dispatched relatively harmless but elusive prey; while some were more in the nature of combats, in which the bestiarius went up against animals quite capable of killing him. In these combats, the animal-fighter might go head to head against a single beast; or, on the other hand, he might be confronted with several at one time, or else placed in an environment in which multiple bestiarii and multiple animals were thrown together in a chaotic and dangerous melee of unpredictable and simultaneous threats. Besides these basic formats, fights between animals which did not involve humans, except in the role of provocateurs, were also staged. People wondered what would happen if a lion fought a tiger, if wolves fought a lion, if a leopard fought a bear, if a crocodile fought a hippo, if an African elephant was matched against an Indian elephant. In venues such as the Colosseum, they could find out. In one spectacular show put on in the days of Nero, four hundred tigers were pitted against bulls and elephants. [226]

In addition to these mainstay events, a wide variety of circus-type acts and idiosyncratic performances was laced throughout the animal shows. There were snake-charmers and exhibitions of pythons. [227] There were crocodile-wrestlers from Egypt. [228] There were bull-jumpers from Crete, replicating the dangerous acrobatics known to us from the frescoes of the Palace of Knossos (men and women would participate, seizing the charging bulls by the horns, and somersaulting over them). [229] Thessalian horsemen would ride up alongside bulls, and leaping onto them, wrestle them to the ground. [230] One man named Ursus Togatus perfected an act in which he would pole vault over a charging bear. Another performer thrilled the crowd by walking on stilts through a pack of ravenous hyenas, while yet another rolled around the arena inside a metal mesh ball as ferocious lions attacked it and tried to reach him. In concept, this mesh ball was something of a land-based shark cage; but one day, something went terribly wrong, a lion managed to catch the man inside, most likely with its paw, dragging him out of his protective apparatus just enough to get a better grip with its jaws, and rip off his arm. While this calamity put an end to his performances, it seems that the act had become so popular by then that other entertainers stepped forward to take his place. [231] Another common form of entertainment during the animal shows was the staging of races between chariots pulled by exotic creatures, which might be ostriches, camels, antelopes, or some other unexpected beast. [232] In cases, apes were taught to drive chariots pulled by horses [233], and there is also a recorded instance of a chariot pulled by bears, which was also driven by a bear! [234] One particularly beloved act featured a lion who was incited to kill a bull in order to prove its ferocity, after which, its trainer sent it to catch a hare. The lion did so, carrying the hare back to its master in its teeth, unharmed. [235] A rather unkind novelty filler act which demonstrated the cruelty which lurked in the Roman sense of humor, featured naked boys who were sent into the arena to try to catch porcupines. [236] On a more interesting, if still not very ethical note, Roman showmen displayed captured "unicorns" to the crowd, which were really oryxes or gemsboks (a kind of African antelope), whose horns had been bound together when young. As a result of this engineered deformity, they were each left with one straight horn protruding from their head, which gave them a striking resemblance to the public’s expectation of what a unicorn should look like. [237] At least while this deception was in progress, several moments of possible violence were deterred…

These, then, were some of the main uses of animals in the Roman games. They came from all over the world, by means of an enormous and effective, yet devastatingly costly network of procurement, to numb and amaze the Roman masses with their beauty, their ferocity, or their helplessness. They came as prey, as combatants, as entertainers, as oddities. They killed, and were killed, in massive numbers. [238] Clearly, they did not share in the guilt of the Roman games. They were forcibly uprooted from their homes and brought to a strange circle of sand in the middle of a strange land. Their instincts were used by humans as weapons against other humans, and when their instincts did not serve the purpose designed for them, their instincts were beaten and twisted until they did. And yet, when we think of animals and the Roman games today, we cannot help but think of ferocious beasts turned upon helpless men, women, and children. We cannot help but think of one-sided slaughter, and forget the ruthless hunts by well-armed men, and the evenly-matched battles against the bestiarii. This, of course, is because there was one other use of animals in the Roman games, not yet mentioned: the use of animals as executioners, which was an appendage of the frequent use of the games as a venue for the public execution of criminals.

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Public Executions as a Feature of the Games

Capital punishment is currently practiced by our own society (2005 AD). Not long ago, even into the 20th Century, there were public executions in our land. Hangings were major attractions, spectacles which were outwardly fueled by indignation and a desire to see the guilty pay for their crimes, yet inwardly, perhaps, propelled by a fascination with death and by a frustrated reservoir of aggression seeking to see its cruelest desires inflicted upon others. Romans were no different in this regard. Living, however, in a more openly barbaric world than we do today, perhaps because of their military technology which demanded harshness and ferocity in order to be used effectively (whereas we can kill without ever directly confronting our victims), Rome’s public executions acquired a particularly ruthless quality. With time, they evolved from being mere reminders of the value of morality (as Romans saw morality) into exciting new opportunities for entertainment. They became testing grounds for the morbidity of the human imagination and the artistry of revenge, the raw material of new distractions, and, more subtly, a reminder of the deadliness of opposition. Soon, they were fully integrated into the games. Why kill a prisoner unseen in the darkness of an underground cell, when you could bring him up into the light of the arena, and turn his demise into another day of catharsis and stability?

Animals, of course, became major players in the destruction of the condemned, probably because death by wild beasts seemed especially savage and terrifying to the Roman audience, as well as more unpredictable, and therefore interesting, than death by the hand of human executioners. At times, prisoners were tied to stakes and left to the mercy of bears, lions, wolves, or other predators who were trained or incited to attack them. At other times, unrestrained but also unarmed, the captives might be let loose to wander about the arena, as wild beasts were introduced. Since, as previously stated, predators such as lions were not always naturally inclined to attack human beings, their intended human victims were often coached into provoking the attacks that would end their lives. This strategy was most often employed with groups of what we might call "political prisoners", such as captive Jews from Palestine, imprisoned for their rebellious activities, or Christians, erratically but virulently persecuted for their "otherness", for their "un-Roman" ways and refusal to submit to the expected rituals of "patriotism." As leverage to convince the doomed to cooperate, the Romans would typically hold onto a portion of the prisoners as "hostages", promising those who were being sent to die that this portion would be spared as long as everyone else collaborated in their own destruction. With no escape from death - for if the lions did not kill them, they would be killed by men - and with the lives of some of their friends and loved ones, usually children, at stake - the captives would most often accept the terms of their captors, and participate in the precipitation of their slaughter. As one example: when lions were to be the executioner, the prisoners would be convinced to don the skins of zebras, antelopes, and other creatures familiar to their intended destroyers; they would, furthermore, be instructed not to shout, yell, or make any sudden movements which might startle or frighten the beasts, but rather, to move their hands about slowly, and sway their bodies gently, giving signs of life without radiating any hint of danger. As much as possible, they were to mimic the natural prey of the lion: to appear herd-like, vulnerable, familiar, and unthreatening, until one or more of the lions became interested enough, and brave enough, to charge. Usually, once the first blow was struck, and the killing had begun, the hunting instinct of the other lions would be triggered, and a general massacre of man by beast would ensue. When more "talented", well-trained or experienced man-eaters were "in stock", negotiations with prisoners could, naturally, be dispensed with. [239]

Of course, given the Roman imagination, which excelled in the fusion of cruelty and entertainment, other forms of execution-by-beast were invented to add variety to the bound-prisoner-torn-to-pieces scenario, and the mass-slaughter-by-wild-animals scenario. In one case, pairs of condemned prisoners were placed upon giant seesaws erected in the middle of the arena. Then, hordes of wild beasts were let into the arena, including large numbers of lions, wild boars, bears, and leopards. As the creatures moved towards the criminals, the men on the bottom end of the seesaws, exposed to attack, desperately pushed themselves high into the air, which lowered the end their partners were sitting on. These men, in turn, descending into range of the ravenous beasts on the arena floor, sought to bounce themselves back up into the air as soon as their feet had touched the ground. [240] The desperate effort of the criminals to "out-seesaw" each other, and get as high into the air as possible at the expense of their partners, was considered to be a wonderful piece of dark comedy by the audience, as it simultaneously delivered an important "lesson in morality", which went far beyond the mere fact that "crime does not pay." By vividly constructing a satire on the contemptibility of ruthless ambition, wherein one man tries to rise at the expense of others, it exposed the absurdity of such behavior once it is viewed from a higher plane (physically embodied, in this case, by the tiers of seats rising high above the arena). It was an invaluable lesson, unfortunately betrayed by its very medium of communication, and ignored by those who needed to absorb it most.

Another important and popular variation on the execution-by-animals theme was the rape-by-animals scenario. In no other type of event were the abilities of the animal trainers utilized by the Roman games in greater evidence. Whether donkeys, lions, bulls, chimpanzees, or baboons were slated to be the "rapists", very tame animals who had already been around people and crowds were needed, since, otherwise, the intimidating environment of the boisterous, exposed arena would deter them from the role assigned them. Besides this, it was obviously not within the animals’ normal range of behavior to have sex with humans. To produce the aberrant behavior required for such a spectacle, the animals being groomed to "perform" with humans had, first, to be isolated and denied sex with their own kind; they were then trained to mount slaves, who might be wrapped in cloths smeared with the scent of female animals in heat. Doubtless, the animals were generously rewarded for successfully learning to master their new "circus trick." Once trained, they were then put to use to humiliate, and/or kill criminals or slaves for the amusement of the masses. In one instance, a woman accused of poisoning several men in order to acquire their property, was tied, spread-eagled, in a bed which was placed in the middle of the arena; she was then mounted by a trained donkey and raped, as a ritual of humiliation and degradation, before other wild beasts were released to finish her off. [241] Whereas the use of animals to have sex with humans strikes us, today, as utterly perverse, it was consistent with the mythological traditions of ancient Greece and Rome, in which half-human satyrs and centaurs, drunk on wine, lustily pursued maidens through the hills, valleys, and forests of their land; and in which Gods, such as Zeus, frequently metamorphosed into animals, such as swans or bulls, to pursue and mate with the women they desired. Even so, the public staging of rapes could hardly be justified, even in a culture accustomed to the idea of rapist-Gods, and conquests of women by beasts. Most certainly, events of this nature struck a dark sexual chord within the hearts of many Roman men, the poor enjoying the symbolic degradation of all that was denied to them, the breaking down of closed doors through the medium of a woman’s violated body; while the wealthy, perhaps, could enjoy the spectacle, not as a black fantasy, but merely as another offering laid upon the altar of their endless sense of entitlement.

Mythology, historical tradition, and theater were often combined, by the Romans, to stage elaborate, and what they conceived of as, socially meaningful executions. In some ways, it could be said that the Romans became masters of "cultural enrichment via execution", feeding the lowest instincts of the masses at the same time as they reminded them of important episodes in Roman history, or kept the art of old legends alive in their minds. Carlin Barton, in her excellent book, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, refers to these death-producing reenactments of mythology and history as "snuff plays." [242] Whereas she regrets the lack of a better term, the phrase she’s utilized is actually perfect! In presentations of this sort, condemned criminals would be forced to play the roles of mythological and real personages who had lost their lives or suffered terrible injuries. Unlike in the plays and movies of today, however, the "actors" of these parts would not merely mimic the disasters associated with their characters; they would actually experience them. In this way, "Prometheus" might be chained to the ground while wild animals ate him alive (according to mythology, he was bound, and condemned by the Gods to have his liver eaten by an eagle, for the crime of stealing fire from Olympus); "Hercules" might be burned alive upon a funeral pyre (according to legend, he had thrown himself upon the flames in order to end his earthly life); "Glauce", the "Princess of Corinth and bride of Jason", might be immolated (according to mythology, she had been given a magical wedding dress by the jealous Medea, which burst into flames and burned her alive when she put it on); "Pasiphae" might be mounted by a bull (according to the story, she had been cursed by Poseidon to fall in love with a bull, and by him, sired the Minotaur); "Atys" might be castrated (he was an unfortunate king linked to the myth of Hercules and Omphale); while "Icarus" might be sent flying above the arena or the theater on a high-wire, then suddenly dropped to his death (according to the myth, he flew too high with the mechanical wings his father had built for him out of wax and feathers, so that he could escape from Crete. The sun ended up melting the wax, and Icarus, no longer empowered with wings, plunged to his death.) [243] How the criminals were induced to play such horrible roles is not clear, but it is possible that they clung to the hope that they might be spared if they cooperated; that more horrible fates (if such were possible), or reprisals against the still living, were threatened; that their wills were paralyzed by terror, and that they were simply swept along towards their doom like automatons; or that the hopelessness of their situation triggered a kind of pride, and a desire to die courageously, allowing them to transcend the pitiful and powerless conditions of their death by fusing into the role of a great hero or heroine at the very moment of their destruction. Suddenly, from being an unsympathetic "nobody" headed towards death as a "nobody" - from being lost in the crowd of the thousands of dying and dead - they could become a great and tragic figure, to themselves and to the audience. From being despised, they could be revered (at that moment when the audience "suspended its disbelief", and finally allowed them to become the person they were playing). For a man or woman doomed to die, this was, perhaps, a welcome opportunity for one last chance to give life meaning - to end a miserable existence with one final gesture encapsulating everything that had been missing from their life. For illusions lived with conviction are surely as real as life lived without hope.

Of all the characters who stood out in the "snuff plays", probably the most famous was Mucius Scaevola, an actual historical personage whose actions embodied the courage and spirit of self-sacrifice which had made Rome great. As the Empire slowly degenerated into a mire of self-seeking, brownnosing, and cowardice, reconstituting its power on the basis of money and inertia rather than on the ancient attributes of bravery and will which had built it, a kind of nostalgia for the past set in, a longing to remember the kind of men who no longer existed in Rome. As Livy, writing at the time of Augustus, expressed it at the beginning of his history of Rome: "I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men, and what the means both in politics and war by which Rome’s power was first acquired and subsequently expanded; I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them. The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid." [244] For Romans of the late Republican and Imperial times, the story of Mucius Scaevola was one of those "fine things to take as models." To briefly relate the story, a brave Roman citizen named Mucius Scaevola sneaked into the camp of the Etruscan King, Porsena, who was besieging Rome at a very early stage of its history, and threatening it with destruction. Scaevola’s plan to save Rome was to infiltrate the enemy camp, a feat which he successfully managed; to approach the king, which he likewise accomplished; and finally to assassinate Porsena with a concealed dagger. However, at the critical moment, Scaevola mistook the king’s secretary for the king, and fatefully stabbed the wrong man. In an instant, before he could strike again, the brave Roman hero was overpowered by the king’s guards, captured, and placed in desperate circumstances, with death seemingly the only possible outcome. Here, it is best to let Livy continue:

Help there was none, and his situation was desperate indeed: but he never flinched and, when he spoke, his proud words were those of a man who inspires fear, but feels none. ‘I am Roman,’ he said to the king; ‘my name is Caius Mucius. I came here to kill you - my enemy. I have as much courage to die as to kill. It is our Roman way to do and to suffer bravely. Nor am I alone in my resolve against your life; behind me is a long line of men eager for the same honour. Gird yourself, if you will, for the struggle - a struggle for your life from hour to hour, with an armed enemy always at your door. That is the war we declare against you: you need fear no action in the field, army against army; it will be fought against you alone, by one of us at a time.’

Porsena in rage and alarm ordered the prisoner to be burnt alive unless he at once divulged the plot thus obscurely hinted at, whereupon Mucius, crying: ‘See how cheap men hold their bodies when they care only for honour!’ thrust his right hand into the fire which had been kindled for his sacrifice, and let it burn there as if he were unconscious of the pain. Porsena was so astonished by the young man’s almost superhuman endurance that he leapt to his feet and ordered his guards to drag him from the altar. ‘Go free,’ he said; ‘you have dared to be a worse enemy to yourself than to me. I should bless your courage, if it lay with my country to dispose of it. But, as that cannot be, I, as an honourable enemy, grant you pardon, life and liberty.’

‘Since you respect courage,’ Mucius replied, as if he were thanking him for his generosity, ‘I will tell you in gratitude what you could not force from me by threats. There are three hundred of us in Rome, all young like myself, and all of noble blood, who have sworn an attempt upon your life in this fashion. It was I who drew the first lot; the rest will follow, each in his turn and time, until fortune favour us and we have got you.’

The release of Mucius (who was afterwards known as Scaevola, or the Left-Handed Man, from the loss of his right hand) was quickly followed by the arrival in Rome of envoys from Porsena. The first attempt upon his life, foiled only by a lucky mistake, and the prospect of having to face the same thing again from every one of the remaining conspirators, had so shaken the king that he was coming forward with proposals for peace. [245]

Scaevola’s incredible courage and willpower, allied to his brilliant bluff - for there were no others waiting to duplicate his fearless assassination attempt against the Etruscan king - rescued Rome from one of its darkest moments, and set it free to conquer the world. In the case of this "snuff play", the role did not call for death; and it is likely that the criminal, if he played his part well, and bore the burning of his right hand with the courage of Scaevola, would be spared or even pardoned, much as the gladiator who had impressed the crowd with something it wanted to be, but could only be through him. Sparing the new Scaevola who had brought back to life, in times of weakness, the inspiration of Rome’s valiant past, was the least that could be done for the criminal-turned-hero-by-the-games.

Other criminals - real or created (by the politics of the day) - were also given the chance to die with a little more dignity than most, and sent into the arena armed as gladiators, where they could defeat death by facing it well; and even mock those who had sent them to die with the insult of their courage. For what executioner could not feel a tinge of shame, sitting in his seat, to know that he would never, could never, be the man he had just sent to die?

Whereas some criminals, doomed to be executed or mutilated, escaped from their degradation by joining in the fantasy that something very different was happening (in the case of the "snuff plays"), or by bravely transmuting their fallen souls through the purifying struggles of the gladiator (which allowed them to experience a kind of rebirth as they died), others were allowed no reprieve from the demeaning nature of their deaths. One of the worst forms of slaughter reserved for them was the "chain fight", a long drawn-out spectacle in which one criminal would be given a weapon, and sent out into the arena to fight another criminal who was unarmed. After the unarmed man was killed, the weapon would be taken from the man who had just killed him, and given to another criminal. Roles would be reversed: the armed man of the last fight would now be the unarmed man of this fight. And on and on it would go, until huge numbers of the condemned had been destroyed by their own hand. [246] Once again, the ritual seemed to drive home a moral theme: in this case, the idea that he who was merciless and cowardly in his subjugation of others could expect no better treatment when his own luck ran out; or, to put it more succinctly, that "what goes around comes around." The fact that this lesson did not always prevail in the real world made its triumph in the arena all the more attractive. Old-style connoisseurs of the games, men who had come to see gladiators’ feats of skill and daring, were repulsed by these artless scenes of carnage, however, just as the inane battles of the andabates, prisoners given swords and forced to fight against each other blindfolded, disgusted them. [247] As the philosopher Seneca said: "[This] is pure murder." [248] And he bitterly concluded that the majority of spectators had only come to watch people die.

Long ago in school, I remember being mistaught that the gladiatorial games in Rome were primarily focused on the killing of Christians. As this article has by now clearly demonstrated, that is a misrepresentation of shameful proportions, for the Roman games had a gigantic and complex existence completely independent of Christians, and their constantly-shifting status in Roman society. Nonetheless, a terrible reality did, indeed, exist, to give rise to this misperception, and allow it to pass by unchallenged in an American classroom, 1700 years later. The main trouble with Christians, from the Roman point of view, was their stubborn refusal to participate in public rituals of group belonging, which had been put into place in order to confirm the loyalty of citizens to the State. The rituals actually centered on the practice of "Emperor worship", but they were not particularly religious or spiritual in nature. "Emperor worship" was, in fact, something more of a civil "religion", a kind of adoration that did not imply godhood, only respect, and recognition of the divine forces that (hopefully) supported Rome through the Emperor’s mind and will. By burning incense before an altar dedicated to the genius (life force/spirit) of the man who was in charge of guiding Rome, the Roman citizen was expressing his hopes for Rome, and his desire and willingness to participate constructively in the collective journey of his society. In other words, he was being asked to verify his patriotism. No one ever asked the Christians to disown Jesus, or to stop believing in God as they perceived Him, or to worship Jupiter or Mars in His place, or to truly believe the Emperor was a God. However, for many Christians, the concept of "Emperor worship" was incompatible with their sense of loyalty to God. Influenced by the Stoics, but possessed of a more mystical bent, they elevated the will and conscience of the Individual above the demands of the State, and refused to undergo any rites of submission which might possibly undermine their connection to God, or seem to place any other man or God above Him, or on His level. For them, God was demanding, and their young faith was vivid. On this issue, they preferred death to compromise. When, at various times in her later history, Rome suffered from a lack of soldiers combined with the threat of dangerous foreign invaders, these Christians also refused and spoke against military service; for in those days, Christianity was still a citadel of pacifism. This apparent disinterest in the survival of Rome; this openly confrontational refusal to undergo seemingly harmless, yet crucial, rites of group belonging (burning incense before an altar dedicated to the Emperor); this strange veneer of "otherness" produced by their worship of an "insignificant" Jewish martyr, and their "superstitious" belief in miracles; as well as the low social status of many of the early Christians (who often came from the ranks of slaves or freedmen) isolated them from the Roman mainstream, and made them stand out as potential targets for any surge of social discomfiture, for any pent-up wave of frustration that needed to be vented. Nero (54 - 68 AD) exploited this vulnerability, as Hitler later exploited the vulnerability of the Jews, to satiate the enraged masses’ desire for revenge after the great fire of 64 AD, which ruined much of Rome. In this case, Christians were blamed for setting the fire which many suspected Nero, himself, had set in order to clear the way for his grandiose plan of rebuilding Rome as a perfect city. In the wake of the devastating conflagration, vast numbers of Christians were rounded up and executed in the arena, dressed in animal skins and ripped to pieces by dogs, crucified, and even bound to crosses after being coated with pitch, then set on fire as "human torches" to illuminate the spectacles by night. In later waves of persecution, Christian victims were thrown to the lions, gored to death by bulls, flogged to death, cut down by swordsmen, suspended in chains above fires, and in many other horrible ways, destroyed.

These persecutions were by no means constant nor consistent. They were cyclical, and periods of relative safety for Christians alternated with moments of sheer terror and ruthless massacre. The outlet for aggression and venting that was represented by the Christian community in Rome was not always needed by the rest of society, and for a time, the Christians might be ignored by those who distrusted or despised them; but whenever the rage and insecurity of the masses grew to the point that society was threatened by it - whenever the need for an outlet for aggression returned - so, too, did the dark attention of persecution. In many cases, the Romans were willing to forgive Christians who would give up their "obstinate disloyalty." Unlike Hitler, for whom "once a Jew was always a Jew", Christians frequently had the option of affirming their loyalty to Rome via the ritual of "Emperor worship", and thereby escaping persecution. Sometimes, in the very arena in which they were being killed, an altar with a flame burning on it was maintained for the benefit of condemned Christians, who for the seemingly small gesture of throwing a bit of incense onto it, would be spared the ordeal awaiting them, and let go. For many Christians, however, meeting even this small demand smacked of being "broken", and they would not risk losing their God. In the face of this suicidal stubbornness, Roman audiences were alternately baffled, amused, sadistically satisfied, distressed, and thrown into spiritual turmoil. Eventually, the pain of having nothing left to believe in themselves, combined with the spectacle of witnessing people who did have something to believe in, changed the dynamics of power between paganism and Christianity in the city, and in the empire. The old beliefs were by now half-hearted and hollow. The new ones were passionate and alive; in some ways rigid, but not yet strangled by rigidity. More and more Romans came to embrace Christianity, downsizing its vulnerability with their numbers and their influence. Finally, men in high places offered the outcast religion legal protection; and not long afterwards, it became the "official religion" of the State. Much purity was to be lost in the attainment of stature and security, but that is another story. For the purposes of this article, it is enough to state that huge numbers of Christians did die horrible deaths in the arena, falling victim to the culture of public executions which had already become integrated into the games before Jesus was even born; and that the arenas into which they were thrown to die became pulpits of sand from which they launched their religion into the center of the world. [249]

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With all these different facets of the games - chariot races, gladiatorial combats, animal hunts, and executions - there was always room for "improvement", for something new and different to rescue the audience from the freezing of emotions that is sometimes produced by overstimulation. One of the most important and prized means of keeping the audience engaged was the use of an unexpected twist or development in a familiar routine which would result in the surprise of either the victim or the spectator, or both. Many examples of "surprises" are already laced throughout this account, but even so, more explicit cases can, and should be, cited, to drive the point home.


The Surprise of the Fake Orpheus: In one well-received episode, a man dressed as Orpheus, the legendary Greek musician, was sent into the arena with a lyre to present an exhibition of singing. It is possible that he did not know of his impending fate as he was sent out to sing to the audience, which may have believed he was meant to provide an interlude of high-culture between the more exciting and lethal acts which they had come to see. Wandering about on a specially-constructed set, featuring a grove of trees and running brooks reminiscent of a mythological scene from ancient Greece, he is likely to have severely irritated the Roman spectators, in the same way that modern-day boxing fans would most likely be highly annoyed were a scene from "Swan Lake" to be staged in the ring between fights. However, in this case, it seems that a big surprise was awaiting both performer and audience. Suddenly, from among the rocks of the idyllic grove in which the unwanted "Orpheus" was wandering, trapdoors opened allowing the release of various hungry beasts. Whereas the beautiful hypnotic singing of the Orpheus of legend was said to have been able to soothe the wild beasts of the forest, and even to have pacified Cereberus, the three-headed guard-dog of Hell, the singing of this would-be Orpheus, put to the test, failed to appease the panthers, bears, and wolves who had been sent out to destroy him. The audience appears to have enjoyed the singer’s surprise at discovering that his concert was only a front for his destruction, and also to have enjoyed the joke that was played on it, leading to a dramatic shift in its emotions. [250] Most likely, besides providing a major surprise for spectators, the destruction of the artful Greek singer was a vicarious way of punishing Greece for the brilliance of its culture, which had long inflicted an inferiority complex upon the more powerful but less luminous Romans. The scenario may also have satisfied those who felt contemptuous of "impractical people", and angered by the lack of objective standards in the arts (and other walks of life), which allowed "genius" to be assigned to those who had friends and influence, regardless of talent, and men of inferior ability to become inflated with pretensions of grandeur that were sickening to the empty-handed. In this case, the hateful veil of subjectivity and pretending that allowed fools to play the role of giants in the world was ripped away, and a ruthlessly objective test of quality inserted in its place. The "fake Orpheus" was pitted against the ability of the real Orpheus: armed only with a lyre and his voice, which had been enough for the real Orpheus, he was surrounded by wild beasts, and told, "Now see if you can wear these shoes." He couldn’t: the animals tore him to pieces. For the Roman crowd, which seems incomprehensibly monstrous to us today, the death of the "fake Orpheus" was no crime, but rather, the just punishment of all those who give themselves, and are given, a crown which they do not deserve.

The Corrupt Jeweler’s Surprise: A less terrible, if nonetheless very cruel surprise, has come down to us from the days of the Emperor Gallienus (around 250 AD). In this case, a craftsman who had been convicted of selling false jewels for the price of real ones was condemned to appear in the games. After he had been driven out into the arena, in full view of the audience by armed guards, a large cart which appeared to be a lion’s cage was rolled up to him. It seems that the jeweler was distraught with fear, and begging for mercy, when, all of a sudden, the cage door was lifted, and out came a chicken! At this point, the jeweler is reputed to have fainted, while the Emperor told those who could hear him, "As this man practiced deceit, he has now had it practiced on him." This punishment was deemed enough, and the badly-shaken craftsman was released, having provided the audience with both a satisfying moment of surprise and comic relief. [251] Without breaks such as this, the slaughter and destruction of the games, "which sometimes lacked suspense and left spectators dazed rather than thrilled" [252], could become numbly monotonous; and one thing Rome could not afford to do was to allow its distractions to cease distracting.

The "Your Boat Is Sinking" Surprise: One well-liked innovation of the games was the occasional use of collapsible boats. These might be employed on "dry land", as part of the set in a theater, for example, where their sudden collapse after strategically-placed pins were secretly withdrawn, could produce extremely dramatic and unexpected effects; or they might be employed in the water, when the arenas were flooded (as some could be) for the purpose of staging naumachiae, historical reenactments of various kinds, or the display of exotic water-based animals, such as hippos and crocodiles. According to one account, a vessel no doubt meant to remind viewers of the opulence and sensuality of Cleopatra’s "pleasure barge", was launched onto the waters of a flooded arena, as musicians and naked girls aboard the boat sang for the pleasure of the audience. Hippos and crocodiles were then released into the waters, after plugs in the ship’s bottom had been secretly pulled out by slaves, who swam to safety before the trajectory of the spectacle had yet become clear to those who were performing. Naturally, the sinking of the "pleasure barge" - a kind of post-mortem strike against Cleopatra, and reassertion of Roman values over Egyptian ones - was a surprise to both the spectators, and the participants (whose sense of shock and betrayal must have made their deaths seem more interesting to the audience than if they had been forewarned). A strange sexually sadistic spectacle must have been the result, and while many viewers may have relished it, some Romans, at least, must have been sickened by it; especially since this presentation seems not to have preyed upon "deserving" criminals, who the Romans felt little pity towards, but upon sympathetic slaves whose only crime was their powerlessness. Nero is said to have been so enthralled by a collapsible boat which he saw demonstrated in the theater, that he had one designed for the purpose of assassinating his mother, Agrippina, the woman who had taught him how to be a monster. The ship performed admirably in real life, falling apart in the Bay of Naples with his mother aboard. Nero, however, had underestimated his mother’s strong swimming abilities and will to live. She escaped from the shipwreck alive, so that he was finally forced to send an assassin with a sword to dispatch her in a less imaginative and theatrical way. [253]

The Perverts’ Surprise: During the reign of Caligula, a cleverly-engineered and well-received surprise was sprung against members of a notorious subculture which haunted the already ruthless games. There was a group of individuals, in those days, who were accustomed to getting as close as possible, or even infiltrating into, the passageways through which prisoners condemned to die were led out of the innards of the stadium and into the arena. The obsession of these psychopathic individuals was to torment the doomed, to spit at them, curse them, fondle or grope them, or in any other way to get a rise out of those who were vulnerable, powerless, and energetically charged with the imminence of their death. In spite of their addiction to the violence and cruelty inherent in the games, mainstream Roman audiences still considered these tormentors of the soon-to-die as perverts, necrophiliacs to all intents and purposes. Caligula gained favor by one day taking sudden and unexpected action as these vampire-like tormentors swarmed over the prisoners being led into the arena: to their horror, they suddenly found themselves being driven by the Emperor’s guards into the arena along with those whose last moment of life they had come to poison and steal. Now the fate of the dying, and the fate of those who had come to feast on others’ dying, were at last intertwined; the same gate was shut behind them, the same ruthless end prescribed. [254] As some ancient Romans might have said: "Let those who are so fascinated by death not limit themselves to divining its mystery through the eyes of others; let them see it for themselves. Let them not stand upon the shore of others’ misfortune, let them take the dreaded journey."

The Spectator-Turned -Into-Participant Surprise: Caligula’s blow against the "perverts", however, was followed by other less popular surprises. Whereas the "perverts" were easily distinguishable from the bulk of Roman spectators, and, in fact, helped those spectators to feel good about themselves by creating a "low" that raised everyone else by comparison, Caligula, to his serious political detriment, toyed with the "winning formula" and began experimenting with the spontaneous injection of unsuspecting "fans" into the arena. Caligula may have decided that it was time to destroy the distinction which ordinary spectators felt separated them from the "rightfully-punished perverts", and to show these average spectators that they were really not so very different from the "perverts" they despised. Let those who had come to see others die, experience the other side of the coin of their cowardly pleasure. With this in mind (for he was a madman capable of grasping many truths, though unable to morally rise by means of them, or to meet them with his own conduct) - or perhaps only addicted to his own gift for black humor, or possibly motivated by the desire to sow terror and deepen his power - Caligula had a band of spectators rounded up, at random, and flung to the wild beasts of the arena. [255] Ultimately, the action backfired, for it contributed to the disintegration of Caligula’s bond with the masses, which he needed in order to survive the political damage of his vendetta against the Roman aristocracy. [256]

The idea of turning spectators into participants in the games was, in spite of its volatility and potential to drive a wedge between the Emperor and the people, occasionally resorted to in order to spice up the games. As Carlin Barton writes: "It must be understood that, for all classes, a great part of the attraction of the events in the arena, apart from their novelty and the violence directed at others, was exactly the potential for the spectators to be included in the ‘theater of surprise.’ … The Romans increasingly enjoyed the blurring of conventional boundaries between the ‘real’ and ‘unreal,’ the permeability of the barrier between the spectators and the spectacle." [257] In this spirit, Caligula sometimes seized senators and members of the equestrian order and compelled them to fight as gladiators for the amusement of the lower classes. [258] Claudius, whenever the negative surprise of a technological gaffe upset the crowd, stopping a spectacle in its tracks due to the failure of some contraption or invention deemed essential to the proceedings, would counter with the "redeeming surprise" of having the responsible technicians thrown into the arena as gladiators. [259] The famous stage-actor Pylades, playing the role of Hercules in the play Hercules Furens, fired arrows with real points into the audience. [260] At other times, fierce fights and riots which broke out among partisans of different gladiators or different racing teams allowed viewers, dulled by the carnage of the arena, to reawaken, and feel once more the force of life which their fantasies could no longer attain. [261]


As the games became an increasingly important part of the life of many Romans - in fact, their main reason for living - the existential danger that they might cease to be entertaining, grew proportionately greater, and more frightening. When all that stood between a vast chasm of purpose, a gaping hole in the meaning of life, and the collective soul of a city and empire wounded beyond repair, was the anesthetizing presence of the games, it was imperative that those games not be allowed to falter or to wane. To become numb to the games, would be to become alive to the pain that the games were supposed to numb. Since the possibility of healing had already been discarded by the tragic path of Rome’s social history, there remained only the option of managing the pain, which required concealing the cause, and covering up the symptoms. Understood consciously by a few of Rome’s social engineers, and sensed subconsciously by many more, massive efforts were made to prevent the virility of the distractive power of the games from being degraded by time and habit. A constantly shifting blend of entertainments - a constant search for ways to push the envelope, for new acts, for innovations in concept and technology, for increases in scale, for unexpected "twists in the plot" to surprise, and bind audiences anew to what were otherwise repetitive and overused repertoires of escape - was therefore pursued in order to keep the nation that had mastered the world afloat.

As the last several chapters of this article have shown, Rome’s psychological arsenal for appeasing its discarded masses was enormous. But as history has shown, it was not enough. Before going on to chronicle the collapse of a civilization which tried to rescue itself by burrowing its tormented head into the sand of fantasy, we would do well to make a conscientious assessment of the nature of the people of ancient Rome, to see if the long and tragic story of their cruelty and decline has any relevance to us, or if they were essentially of another species, with nothing more to teach us about ourselves than snakes or fish.

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The Psychology of Participants and Spectators

Who were these men who killed, and watched others be killed, at the Roman games? Were they really men, or were they monsters? What is a man, and what is a monster? When does a man become a monster; and once he has become one, can he ever come back? When contemplating the games of Rome, as when contemplating the birth and actions of Nazi Germany, or the sacrificial zeal of Aztec Mexico, one is forced to question whether it is possible that these societies were mainly filled with psychopaths, or whether there is the dark ability in all humans to lose the internal light of morality which seems to have been placed inside of us - to become either weak and impressionable, and easily swept aside or along by the unscrupulous; or else susceptible to forces of rage and violence, either hot or cool, which lurk within our own breasts as weapons of last resort: weapons which may be wielded passionately, for a single moment, or emitted from our minds in the form of institutions and customs which condition us to their continued use. Are we safe from committing the crimes committed by the ancient Romans, or by the Nazis or the Aztecs - were they monsters, and are we men? Or were they, and are we, the possibility of both?

I believe, as so well expounded by German psychologist CG Jung in various of his works, that each of us is a composite of monster and man; and that each of us is endowed with a "shadow side" that, if it is not recognized, brought into the light, and successfully reconciled with the "higher", more morally lucid elements of our psyche, can conquer us from within, dominating and misleading us in the guise of "good intentions." What is monstrous can be disguised as normal or just by means of collective brainwashing or intellectual laziness; what is ruthless within us, when it is denied (which denies us the possibility of controlling it by means of our moral codes) can be "projected" outwards, and used to turn others, outside of us, into false images of our own dark side. This, in turn, allows our dark side to be unleashed and freely wielded, for our illusion of where the darkness is coming from, created by a lack of self-knowledge, has created the perception of a terrible enemy outside of us who must be destroyed. Our violence against that created enemy now seems "good", an act of justifiable self-defense or even altruism; our moral filters against injuring others are deactivated, and we are able to expunge the inner furies produced by the frustrations and wounds of living in our own family and our own society, without destabilizing either one of them. We learn to bear the wounds we must bear, by inflicting wounds where we can; we vent, after reshaping reality to create space for our venting. In truth, there are few people, and no civilizations, which can be considered to be organically "good" or "evil." There are, instead, people and civilizations which have not successfully identified and integrated their "shadow side" into their complete personality, which would have diluted its force by linking it to many counteracting elements, and brought it back under the jurisdiction of their moral will. There are, instead, people and civilizations which have become unbalanced by ignorance, let their "good" be duped by their "evil", let their "good" become a tool of their "evil" by opening doors for it that should have stayed shut. In this way, men and the societies they create frequently act in awful ways, without being innately "evil." This is not to forgive or to preach "rolling over" in the face of aggressive, threatening, or immoral behavior, but to place the discussion of the behavior of men and nations on another plane; to remove the sharp and generally inaccurate contrast of "black" versus "white" from our consideration of history; and most importantly of all, to never exempt ourselves from the possibility that we might one day succumb to the very traits that most repel us in others, that we might become like the Romans, the Nazis, or the Aztecs if we allow a large enough and dark enough pocket of ignorance to grow inside of us, insulating us from the reality of our actions.

Whether or not this theory seems to make sense - whether or not the Romans were alarmingly like us, and we alarmingly like the Romans - or whether they were, after all, safely distant in their cruelty from who we could ever be - I will leave to the reader’s judgment. For now, I hope to offer a brief but fertile analysis of the psychology of both those who witnessed and participated in the Roman games.


In many ways, it is much easier to understand the motives and mindset of the participants than the spectators of the Roman games. In most cases they were slaves or criminals forced to participate: forced to be gladiators, pressured or recruited to drive the chariots, unwillingly flung to the beasts. In the case of gladiators, they were beaten, flogged, and prodded by hot irons if they refused to fight [262], while the possibility of survival and release if they were able to endure three years of combat in the arena, was held out to them as an incentive to keep going. Even so, there are cases of gladiators who refused to "play the game", who refused to satisfy their captors and their tormentors by killing fellow prisoners for their amusement. Suicide was one way out, and despite precautions taken by trainers and guards at the gladiatorial schools, it was sometimes successful. One unwilling fighter managed to insert his head between the spokes of a moving wheel as a wagon rolled by; another broke the ceramic pot in which he was given water, and swallowed the pieces; other disobedient gladiators, successfully delivered to the arena, threw themselves upon their swords, committing a Roman version of "hara-kiri" rather than allow themselves to entertain the masses, who had come to see them die in the context of an exciting fight. [263] For these warriors, not fighting was the only act that could preserve their dignity in the midst of captivity, the only way they could assert their will from the willess position of slavery. Since no one could endure the tortures reserved for the noncompliant, suicide was often the only option. Other warriors, however, managed to escape, and some, like Spartacus and his fellow gladiators, actually launched formidable revolts against the system which had ensnared them. [264] They turned the violence which they were supposed to use against each other against those who sought to make them fight, they looked past the man on the sand with a sword in his hand, up into the stands of the arena, where the true enemy lay. Their ferocity and their deadliness, which were only the ultimate symbols of their powerlessness, were redirected towards the objective of gaining true power. The spectacle which was to be contained by the arena which had been built around it exceeded its intended bounds, spilled into the world at large, and turned society, itself, into the arena of a greater struggle. Spartacus and his warriors died after shaking Rome to its very foundations; but the example of their desperate fight to be free still lives.

For most gladiators, however, participation in the games was the preferred option. Fighting other armed men for the amusement of the Roman masses, terrifying or morally repugnant though it might be, was the only real option for survival, and the human will to live is strong. It is hard to fault the majority of gladiators who chose to fight, and to live by killing.

Given the fact that they allowed themselves to participate, what thoughts, what feelings possessed their hearts and minds? It is not difficult to imagine. For some, the predominant emotion must have been sheer terror; for others, a strong sense of fear alloyed with the fierceness that comes to a man who has no choice but to fight; for others, perhaps, a sense of intensity and confidence, made morally light by knowing "it is him or me"; for others, still, the total high of the unleashed hunting instinct, the fascination and aggressive pleasure of stalking human prey. As many different kinds of men as there are in the world, that numerous and diverse must have been the thoughts and feelings of those who fought in the Roman games.

Clearly, for some, a kind of mental co-optation occurred, as success began to integrate them more fully into the system that had imposed their peril. As victories won them better treatment from their owners, who would provide them with sumptuous pre-fight feasts and arrange to bring "groupies" and other female admirers into their training quarters - as adoration from the public engulfed them, with cheers, attention, and undeniable admiration whenever they went - as the pageantry of marching into the arena in splendid armor, overwhelmed by music and applause like the bullfighters of today, began to get to their heads - they could feel themselves rising up from the degraded status of slaves to the exalted status of idols. [265] The shame of still being slaves was compensated for by the fact that the eyes that beheld them in the arena regarded them as kings; by the fact that those who had total power over them, wished to be them. No longer, under these circumstances, did the gladiator feel oppressed. Many, in fact, felt on top of the world. Not having invented the games, and facing death on the same terms as they dealt it out, their glory was not poisoned with excessive guilt. While some gladiators may have fought and killed the opponents pitted against them as a kind of vicarious vengeance against Rome, allowing the enemies that they faced to embody Rome, to become living effigies of their captors; and while some gladiators must have utterly despised those who sat above them in the stands, using their own courage as a subtle weapon to kill the spectators’ sense of worth with a demonstration of the huge difference that existed between their souls, the one daring, the other pitiful; some gladiators may have grown to crave the love of the crowd, forgotten that the crowd was the reason they must face death, and finally, psychologically fused with the spectators, become full-fledged members of Roman society in their own hearts, simply the bravest and most desperate of Romans, who reaped emotional rewards that the tame could never harvest. "Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you" was the traditional greeting of the gladiators to the Emperor, as they marched into the arena. [266] [266 TXT]  For some, this term was merely a bitter formula said without sincerity to perpetuate their chance to live; while for others, it was a genuine expression of their desire to belong to the society which had marginalized them in the center of its gaze; to accept the role that they had been given, and to use it to shine as brightly as any man could, be it by life or by death.

Strange to say, there came a time in Rome’s cultural development when the glory of the gladiators rose to such a level that free men began to covet the role, and to try to force their way in amongst the ranks of slaves to fight in the arena. As previously stated, the political establishment initially attempted to prevent this from occurring, most particularly where members of the senatorial and equestrian orders were concerned. When social ostracism and contempt directed at them from their peers failed to stop some members of these esteemed classes from becoming gladiators, or performing upon the stage, laws were put into effect to enforce social expectations. However, some nobles were so determined to fight or to perform in spite of the ban, that they deliberately had themselves expelled from their orders so that they might go ahead with their plans. As the laws faltered, and the crusade to preserve the "dignity" of the upper classes from maverick polluters of their class began to fade, new, lesser efforts to control the phenomenon were instituted: for example, the imposition of minimum age requirements to fight as a gladiator, if one came from a respected family. This reminds us of efforts, in our own times, to establish minimum age limits for driving or for drinking, which are set with the hope that a certain level of maturity will be reached before youths inherit either responsibilities or privileges which could harm them, or others. In the case of young, aspiring gladiators of the upper orders, the minimum age limit was set at twenty-five, and it was doubtless hoped by lawmakers that by the time gladiator-obsessed youths reached this age, they would have outgrown their foolish dreams. Sometimes they didn’t. [267] Later - once Nero had given Rome the example of a singing Emperor and Commodus had given it the example of an Emperor-gladiator - the momentum to keep "good men" out of the arena was all but lost.

Why the upper classes sought to keep their peers out of the arena, off of the stage, and off of the chariot track (for many nobles also aspired to become famous chariot drivers) is not so hard to fathom. They understood that these professions had been designed for slaves and prisoners, at the very least for members of the lower classes; and that the glory and fame the gladiator, actor, and chariot driver won were but superficial triumphs, hiding their real lack of power, their degradation, their subjugation and, therefore, according to the laws of conquest, their inferiority. The shrewdest of the upper classes knew that these heroes of the masses were mere illusions: giant shadows cast by small men. How could men of genuine status and power deign to lower themselves to the level of slaves; to compete with them, and to risk being defeated by them; to risk unfreezing history, which was already theirs, with possibilities of new histories should the weak beat the strong? And yet, the fantasy world Rome had created to control the masses was so compelling, that even the powerful were captured by it. The children of brilliant manipulators fell victim to the manipulation of their parents, and were drawn towards the world of gladiators and chariots, as moths to a flame. In a world trained not to look below the surface, they became lost in an illusion. Or was Rome, itself, the illusion now?

In the past, youths of the upper classes had aspired to fill the hollowness of status inherited but not yet earned with glorious accomplishments which would empower Rome and display their talents to the world. They had sought fame through soldiery, through politics, and through administration. But now, as the system of Emperors replaced the competitive democratic system of Republican Rome, and as status became increasingly dependent upon flattery and the arts of the sycophant, important avenues for materializing self-esteem and proving one’s ability were closed. Whole generations of young nobles were left with wealth and a name, but no sense of worth. Unable to rise high via politics, as the world was now dominated by the Emperor and his court, some sought to exercise their competitive instincts and to win glory through the outlet of the games. [268] For others, even more deeply enmeshed in existential despair, it was a world turned upside down: a world in which the morally weakest, the least proud, and the most despicable rose to the top; a world in which submission rather than virility, and cowardice rather than courage, led to power, status, and success. As Carlin Barton writes, paraphrasing Epictetus, "… climbing the social ladder [was] a gradual descent." [269] In such a world, there was no way for a real man to truly earn his pedestal; and so, for those who would not live their lives in the shadows, nor humiliate themselves in order to triumph in a world of mere appearances, life as a gladiator beckoned, as one real test, one real challenge, which could make their life worthwhile, and prove them to themselves. For these desperate men, the disapproval of the critics was powerless. How could men who had lived their lives on their knees look down on anyone? How could men who had groveled to win or keep their positions speak of dignity? There were no longer men fit to judge or guide. The past was dead. By fighting in the arena, the thwarted youths of the nobility, broken by outdated values that they would not relinquish, felt that they could finally rise without falling. They could be admired and loved, by others and by themselves; they could prove their valor by facing death, by facing the disapproval of their decaying class; and they could serve Rome by showing the jaded and the timid who watched, what courage meant, and what Rome must rediscover, if it was not to die upon the pyre of what it had once done and did not seem capable of ever doing again.

While this poignant and noble impulse seems to have driven some, who did not have to, to voluntarily enter the arena as gladiators, other free men joined for blunter reasons. Some were driven to the edge of despair by debt and poverty, and sought to fight their way out, for great wealth lay within the reach of the successful gladiator. [270] Others were probably lured by the sense of adulation, the monetary fortune, and the sexual opportunity which seemed to engulf the greatest of gladiators. While others (especially of the upper classes) may have sought a drastic release from social obligations and pressures, by trashing the dignity which constrained them, and "going primal." The successful gladiator, as a dark kind of Rabelaisian figure in the popular imagination, was free to indulge every appetite, to live by the law of his life force alone, unimpeded by propriety. He could personally enact and embody the breakdown of civilization without repercussions, escape from the social spider’s web, become a kind of mini-Emperor in the artificial world created for him. The fact that the pedestal, the bed, and the coffin were all rolled like dice every time he walked out into the arena did not deter him, his drives were like blinders shutting out his imagination; his lust and greed made him an optimist. [271] Still other volunteers who willingly gave themselves to the games may have unconsciously entered as mystics, plunging into the unknown to find themselves. In a world increasingly unfair and empty, without food for the soul, suicidal impulses may have risen, masked by dreams of glory, or disguising the hunger of seeking. As the samurai warrior of ancient Japan sought to absorb the truths of life, death, and existence through the intensity of his deadly profession, using his sword to become a master of Zen, and the storm of his life to find a deep and quiet place within, so some voluntary gladiators may have come to the arena sensing that only contact with their despair and terror could tear them out of the daze that was eating their purposeless life away. They may have come to grow or die, to understand why they were alive or perish. Clinging to safety is often only a way of killing oneself. Perhaps some came to the games to destroy the fears that had not yet let them live. [272]

Summarizing some of the reasons why men blessed by the possibility of a life of ease and safety might throw themselves into a life of despair and risk, Vladimir Jankelevitch has written: "…driven to despair by such easy terms [of survival and life], the decadent spirit proceeds to create imaginary difficulties and to invent artificial obstacles in order to restore, by veto, that wholesome resistance that alone is capable of protecting life against ennui and atrophy; lacking real problems, the spirit takes refuge in charades, enigmas and rebuses." As an example, Barton cites the "poor man’s huts" that the wealthy sometimes built inside of their palaces and on their estates, so that they might, "when the fancy struck them, experience poverty." [273] In some ways absurd, actions such as this nonetheless emphasize the crucial historical fact that material wealth, alone, does not bring happiness or sanity, and that prosperity which does not allow room for the human spirit to exercise its needs - to in some way meet its ancient challenges and triumph over them - usually becomes degraded or destabilized by psychological reactions. Perhaps a parallel can be drawn to the life of dying stars, some of which, once they have nothing left to give, contract and fade away into nothing; while others seem to violently erupt against their impotence, lashing out at the universe in the form of fiery supernovas. While some souls of ancient Rome grew ever weaker as their civilization’s vitality waned - their energy pointless, dispersed, destructively indulgent and wasted away by fantasy - others used the fantasy world of the games to carve out a small island of reality for themselves, as participants rather than as spectators, and fought back against their emasculation, although in a highly personal way that could not counteract the decline of their civilization. By risking their lives, they turned fantasy into truth. Acting upon the principle that "the pain that kills pain acts as a medicine" [274], they struggled to heal and to find meaning by means of the games, and to cleanse themselves of the crimes of living off of others’ sacrifices, of towering callously above others’ misfortunes, of being respected without any reason, of being loved without being worthy of being loved. Obviously, becoming gladiators was not the highest form that the reaction against decadence and meaninglessness could have taken, nor the most constructive path that the desperate could have chosen. But it was one that was available. It did not have to be invented and it was not as hopeless as revolution seemed. For this reason, many souls which could have spent their lives merely watching the suffering of others, leapt down into the pit of the games, to join in the suffering, to perish or rise in the midst of battles they had never had a chance to fight.

Hard though it is to believe, the despair that permeated Rome as it grew older, combined with the huge social effort that was made to turn the games into a magnet that would transfix the damned, stirred massive numbers of free plebeians and nobles to insert themselves into the games as gladiators. There are some scholars who believe that a point in history was finally reached in which the majority of participants were no longer slaves or prisoners coerced to fight, but volunteers. [275] If so, this fact would not exonerate the games as much as it would condemn Rome; for a society where life has come to hold so little value that many members would rather face and inflict death than safely subsist on what it has to offer must surely be defective.


Sick. Sadistic. Mad. Corrupt. Decadent. Despicable. How shall we judge those who sat in the stands of the arenas of ancient Rome, to watch others die for them? How shall we judge those who thrived on the blood and sweat of gladiators, those who lived for the wild, crash-filled ecstasy of the chariot races, those who voted, by their presence, in favor of the savage mauling and murder of men and women by animals? Was Rome a subhuman country of subhuman people? A country of monsters? Or a country of men and women who let monstrosity, like a terrible genie, escape from the jar of what they could do with what they could not do? No doubt, the audience at the games was not of a single mind, or a single soul. In attendance, there were sure to have been the morally blind and numbed, and the openly sadistic; the ones whose conscience was disconnected by the familiar, and the ones who hated, and reveled in the misery of others; the ones who came to be a part of the city, the ones who came for moments missed by others; the ones who came to be philosophers, to observe the nature of men; the ones who came to despise the frustration-filled cruelty of "the mob", but without any thought of transforming it, and without any historical depth-perception as to how it had come about; the ones who had been conditioned by abuse to abuse, wounded souls who could only survive by feeding others to their despair; the ones who gave up on the human race, and on themselves, letting go of precious things that seemed to be overwhelmed and beyond recovery; the ones who cheered, and shouted, and laughed, and the ones who went home shaken or even crying. The idea of a uniform, drooling audience, mindlessly screaming in the throes of some kind of demonic bloodlust, is simply too simple, and too convenient, a way to portray the spectators of the Roman games. When we dismiss them that easily, we put ourselves at risk: for self-knowledge is the key to wisdom, and when we deny the potential Roman in ourselves, we also lose our ability to control him; we lose the certainty that we will never sit down in arenas of our own to witness new forms of savagery, which we cannot or will not recognize or resist.

For me, the best place to begin is with the cruelty of the ancient world itself, not yet tempered by the Christian ethos of mercy, which had a great humanizing effect on the world (although Christianity, betrayed, has been as great a womb of monstrosities as any other creed or culture). In the ancient world, the slaughter and massacre of intransigent enemies, and the enslavement of whole cities and peoples, was common: Babylonians and Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Parthians, Hebrews (Joshua 6:21), and Romans alike beheld the world as merciless, and acted accordingly, inflicting upon others the fate they expected defeat would bring upon themselves. In the gladiatorial games and animal shows of the arena, the Romans created a terrible world of fantasy from the material of a real world that they accepted too easily. The custom of mayhem, sanctioned by history, was reflected in the savage mirror of their circus.

In the beginning of the games, as I have stated, the average Roman was much closer to the violence of which he was a spectator. Military service was an institution and civic duty, it was before the days of mercenaries and professional soldiers. In this context, the bloodshed of the games reminded the Roman of things he had already experienced, or foretold of things he still might face. The moral distance between gladiator and viewer was less, for the one who watched others die had faced death himself, or was soon to face it. This does not, in any way, justify the games, but it does, I think, render the spectator more recognizably human, less a child delighted with setting fire to insects, and more a fellow warrior, merciless to himself and to others; perhaps a veteran recalling his own battles and brushes with death, or a young recruit envisioning his future pain and preparing himself for the unthinkable.

As time went on, of course, the dynamics changed. The audience became less soldierly, as military service faded from the fabric of society, and became the specialization of insulated, self-contained bodies of men who spent most of their time outside of Rome, guarding distant frontiers. The differential in danger experienced by the spectator and the gladiator grew, and as the gap widened, the spectacle, by definition, became more perverse, for now there was no longer the bond of shared risk, only a unilateral violence inflicted on captives by men who did not know what their victims were going through, and never would. From the brave watching the brave, the games degenerated into events where the cowardly watched the brave; or what is almost the same, where the uninitiated watched the brave. On account of this, the inherent injustice of the games grew as time went on, only partly mitigated by the influx of volunteer gladiators. Additionally, the enormous slaughters of humans by animals came into vogue. The fierce Roman sense of justice, which demanded and derived great satisfaction from the punishment of criminals, seeing in this harshness only the preservation of its most cherished values, was stretched beyond the limits of vindictiveness by the expansion of scale brought about by the ambitions of politicians and showmen, who turned the crimes of others into political assets, and executions into holocausts. This ancient sense of justice was also twisted out of shape by the politics of the day, as patriots who were on the wrong side of power struggles, or men and women who were guilty of nothing but believing in God in their own way, began to appear as "criminals" in the arena, blurring the distinction between victims who "deserved" death and victims who did not, and polluting the sense of righteousness which had previously inured spectators to the brutality of the executions they were witnessing.

The inertia of Rome’s heritage as a warrior nation, and a nation of fiercely enforced laws, propelled the games forward into new times, even as those new times rendered the games more and more morally incomprehensible. What had been cruel but consistent with the experience and culture of an aggressive and self-righteous state, became cruel and broken, like the dreams of a diseased psyche, split open, with all of its darkness and repression spilling out into the arena. Custom was infiltrated by disease, which became custom. Few seemed to notice, as the one-sidedness, the destructiveness grew to unconscionable proportions. Perhaps the powerless, spared the vigors of war and the benefits of peace, eaten away by charity and swallowed up by a world with nothing else to do, knew in their hearts that they were so weak, that a word could blow them over; and for this reason, they must array a vast arsenal of death against the participants in the games, as a bully must tower over the one he plans to beat; amass an army of animals, hundreds strong, prepare a slaughter of grandiose proportions to convince themselves that they were still potent. Or perhaps their rage and desire to kill was so great, and their despair and desire to die vicariously through others so intense, that they could not resist the disfigurement of their already disfigured games. Whatever the reasons, the games slowly evolved from cruel symptoms of their times into aberrations for any time; and Roman spectators were carried along in the arms of these changes without ever waking up. Perhaps they could not, dared not wake up.

And yet, there are signs of life and human values still beating in the hearts of the people in the stands, watching the death and gore below. Signs of life which do not allow the lessons of the Romans to escape from us, into the realm of monsters, into the realm of historical fairy tales where we do not have to look for ourselves…

One of the most important points to note regarding the residue of humanity which persisted in the heart of the, in many ways, inhuman Roman crowd, was that crowd’s reaction to any sign of unwillingness or cowardice on the part of the gladiator. As Carlin Barton very eloquently writes: "If watching the brave gladiator fight and die was a positive askesis for the spectators, watching the gladiator cringe or tremble was a debilitating and shameful experience for them. The absence of cooperation between the actors and the audience turned the witnesses of this uplifting miracle into perpetrators of a sordid spectacle, ugly and nasty for themselves as well as their victims (both clearly and emphatically exposed now as victims). Instead of providing the opportunity, the test, for glory, the games become naked homicides (‘mera homicidia’). The people were turned into executioners, revealed as bloodthirsty beasts." [276] The gladiator who needed to be whipped, or burned with hot irons, to the point of fighting; the gladiator who fled, or begged for mercy, or fought timidly, made the spectator self-conscious. He had, then, to face the unsettling truth: that he was not merely an innocent bystander watching other people’s fights, which had an existence independent of his agency and will; but rather, an active accomplice in the creation and staging of these terrible games, and responsible for the death of fellow human beings, who he had compelled to fight. The fact that the Roman spectator, in order to protect himself from feeling degraded, was dependent upon the maintenance of this all-important fiction - that the spectacle did not really come from himself, but existed outside of him, that he was an observer, not a creator - shows that he had not utterly lost his humanity, only found ways to deceive it and disarm it. In gratitude for not exposing his crime, for not destroying his self-esteem and image of himself as a moral man, the Roman spectator revered the courageous gladiator in the same degree as he despised the cowardly gladiator, who made him despise himself. As Barton writes: "The brave and able gladiator showed that he valued the opinion of the people who witnessed his ordeal. Just as the clamoring fans at a football or basketball game like to feel that their team is playing better for their shouting and that the athlete’s strenuous exertions are an expression of the value they place on this esteem, so the gladiator’s willingness to die in order to put on ‘a good show’ honored the audience in the extreme. Willingness to die for the pleasure of the audience was a high honor paid to the audience, and glory was the reward that the spectators could give in return." [277]

Some analysts have compared the relationship of the Roman audience and the warriors who fought and died on the sand below, to the relationship which typically existed between the community that practices sacrifice, and the victims of that sacrifice. Barton quotes Walter Burkert as saying: "Either the victim must be termed subhuman, particularly guilty… or else he is raised to a superhuman level, to be honored forever. The extremes may even be seen to meet, deepest abasement turning into divinity." [278] It must be recalled that, in the beginning, the gladiatorial fights in Rome were based upon ancient Italian practices of staging human sacrifices at funerals. Surely, the psychology attendant to this practice must have persisted to the degree necessary to insulate the typical Roman fan from the moral impact of his support for the games, enabling him to either dehumanize and vilify the men who were sent to die for him, or else to worship them in the manner of Christ, Dionysus, or Osiris, any of the destroyed then reborn Gods, whose Godhood blossomed from their extermination. The community as a whole profited spiritually from this sacrifice (in theory) - as its collective guilt was projected onto a scapegoat, then expunged by the destruction of that scapegoat - or as one of its finest members voluntarily offered himself to be destroyed for the good of the whole, a practice which Barton compares to the tradition of the devotio, a kind of heroic self-sacrifice very much a part of Roman history, in which a man would offer his life to the Gods in exchange for the well-being of his countrymen, then hurl himself into a situation implying certain death, usually by charging into the midst of his enemies in battle. [279] In the case of members of the upper classes who voluntarily became gladiators, the legacy of the devotio persisted, and the spectator felt more a witness of a powerful collective force of renewal than of a cruel and decadent show staged for his sadistic amusement. While some spectators may have especially reveled in the appearance of nobles as gladiators, seeing in their struggle "an inversion of the traditional social hierarchy" [280], which enabled a kind of vicarious and fantasy revenge to be had against all those who had formerly crushed them, others were mesmerized by the personality of those who had stepped out of the world of their privileges to face death in the arena. The hugeness of what they had given up astonished and impressed these spectators, much as the greatest examples of the devotio had astonished Romans in the past. When such dynamics were in play, the crowd did not feel itself to be in the presence of murder, but rather, in the presence of an inspiring affirmation of the human spirit, which nourished it with a force beyond its reach, but not beyond its understanding. The fact that the greatness of ideals such as this, even in such a sequestered form, could still affect it, imply that the soul of the Roman audience was not yet dead. It was simply lost in a hall of mirrors reflecting its past and present, its truth and imitations of its truth, living dreams and the ghosts of dreams.

In addition to exploring these nuances of Roman spectatorship, Barton also introduces a fascinating take on the games as a potential remedy to the oppressive atmosphere of tyranny which frequently characterized Rome in the days of the Emperors. Persecutions, executions, censorship, suspicion and paranoia coming from high places, often clamped a lid of fear and silence down over much of Rome, sealing the lips of the proud. The intelligent covered their minds as a lamp is covered with a shade, the passionate held themselves back like horses which might betray them, people hid their souls as though living among thieves who might kill them for a coin. As Barton writes, "The proximity of the tyrant requires one to exercise deliberate and theatrical self-control." [281] In a world where one word, one facial expression, might doom one to a terrible death, a stagnant spirit of survival, of dissimulation and impassivity, or worse, of false enthusiasm, permeated the most powerful city in the world - a city of powerless people. The masquerade of compliance, frightened to slip up, was often maintained where it did not need to be maintained, even among friends, who no longer dared to trust each other. As one Roman, exasperated with this dearth of spirit, exclaimed: "Contradict me, that there may be two of us!" [282] Given the scope of the external repression and the even greater scope of the self-repression which afflicted Rome at such moments, Barton writes: "As a result, the expression of passion, of emotion, of anger, of suffering [at the games] could be seen as liberation from the constraint of [hypocritical] rejoicing [at the existing order] - and thus from the arbitrary and tyrannical license of the more powerful… The abandonment to passion [became] a form of resistance to tyranny." [283]

Not only did the games provide an outlet to break free of the masquerade, and to vent gigantic bursts of emotion that could not be made socially transformative (the odds were too much in the favor of the Emperors); the games also gave the "little man" a chance to rise in his own eyes, if only for the crucial moment needed to prevent his self-hate from becoming dangerous to the system (for once self-hate exceeds a man’s capacity to bear it, death becomes suddenly attractive, bringing with it all the possible side-effects of fearlessness, including revolution). As the ancient Romans used to say: "In the circus alone are the people rulers." [284] With their thumbs up, or thumbs down, they could doom the powerful, and save the vanquished. The Emperor, who actually had the last say in the matter, would rarely defy the crowd; this was the one place where he must, by tradition, give way to them, and prove himself to them as a ruler who "served them" rather than "dominated them." The fact that the Emperor - who now took the place of the ambitious politicians of the Republic as the sponsor of the games - continued to seek to please the people by means of them, even though his power and his office were no longer dependent upon elections, was highly flattering to the masses. By this act of public generosity - and by means of his deference to the will of the people in many matters concerning the games - he maintained the face-saving illusion that his dictatorship was, in essence, still democratic. As Beacham writes, describing important differences between the Republic and the days of the Emperors: "Increasingly, the assemblies had become irrelevant as the people took advantage of the opportunity provided by the games to address their grievances directly to the one most effectively able to satisfy them. In effect the games ‘performed the safety-valve function of the Republic’s popular assemblies’… ‘The theater became the single most important locus of contact between the leaders of the State and their people.’" [285] In the new pseudo-assemblies of the imperial arenas and theaters, Romans with an issue might appeal to the Emperor for his support, or else express, in public, views which there was no longer any other forum left to broadcast from. In one notable case, Aemilia Lepida, a woman accused of adultery, fraud, and poisoning, entered a theater in the midst of the games, and weeping, swore upon the names of her renowned ancestors, that she was innocent. The crowd, moved by her passionate display, became outraged and, taking her side, began to hurl insults at the prosecutor, who was in attendance. Authorities, taking note of the people’s powerful reaction, quickly altered their plans for the accused, who received a lenient punishment instead of the death sentence that, otherwise, would almost certainly have befallen her. [286] In addition to using the games as a forum for making appeals to the Emperor and for expressing their wishes on a variety of matters, the people could also use the games, in a symbolic way, to express support or disapproval for an Emperor and his most recent actions. Some Emperors, for example, favored certain racing teams at the Circus. Nero’s favorite team was the Greens, and to bet or root against the Greens was one way a Roman could safely express his dissatisfaction with the government. [287] At times, though, this form of protest could be dangerous, as when Domitian had spectators executed for rooting against his favorite gladiators. [288] However, most often, when Emperors gave signs of openly disrespecting the people in the great public venues of the games, their days were numbered; for the people could not tolerate the destruction of their last vestige of social importance, and though they did not have the power to overthrow the Emperors themselves, their coldness frequently provided space in which others, better armed and better connected than they, felt free to act. [289] At the games, the people were supposed to have a voice. They were supposed to have immunity. They were supposed to have an Emperor who cared for them. Woe to the Emperor who did not nourish the illusion!

With the old assemblies in which the people had wielded power either powerless shells, or non-existent, clumsy yet symbolically-rich interactions between rulers and subjects at the games became the principal means of political communication left, and nearly the only evidence of political inclusion which the masses could discern. To avoid the games was to avoid the sense of belonging to the body politic, to deepen one’s sense of isolation and powerlessness. If violence and death were part of the collective ritual of citizenship, so be it. Beyond the morbid attraction to blood and gore which drew many to the games, was also the desire to be more than a disenfranchised shadow; to seek and hold onto the illusion of having a country, and a home.

While attendance at the games might provide some sense of lingering political involvement to those who had been politically removed from the formula of power, on a psychological level there was also the possibility of feeling powerful, once more, through the act of identifying with the participants in the struggle. More than coming to watch men be maimed and die, many saw, in the spectacles of the games, a mirror of their own uneven struggle and sense of hopelessness in life; and they came to see the miracle of someone defeating the odds, either by living, or by laughing at his fate. [290] They came seeking role models and proof that they were not utterly vanquished. As Mannix writes: "The Romans worshipped courage and every Roman liked to picture himself as a rough, tough fighter. In Rome, the ‘little guy’ could identify himself with a successful gladiator as a modern fight fan can identify himself with a famous prize fighter." [291] Beaten in reality, fantasy provided such Romans with their only chance to reach the land of self-respect out of the swirling sea of conditioned helplessness and self-contempt in which they were drowning. Unfortunately, their fantasy, to be vivid, required that others live it. And the death they faced in dreams in order to ennoble their lives, was experienced, in reality, by others. How many countless had to die, victims of the insufficiency of their imagination?

And yet, all of this shows that the Roman spectators of the games were not all, necessarily, bloodthirsty sadists, nor bloodthirsty sadists only. Their motives and their personalities were complex, they had traits of monsters imbedded in souls that could also evoke sympathy. While records of their shameless brutality offend us from the past, there are also records of profound humanity, and moral awakening during the games, which have been passed onto us. In the days of Pompey, for instance, a great hunt of elephants which was staged in the Circus Maximus, and designed to impress the audience with its novelty and scale, only ended up enraging spectators. According to Cicero, "…the last day [of the games] was for the elephants, which greatly impressed the crowd and rabble, but gave them no pleasure. In fact there was a degree of compassion and a kind of feeling that this huge beast has a fellowship with the human race." Dio, another historian, wrote that the elephants, as they were pierced by javelins, wandered all about the circus, "with their trunks raised toward heaven"; some, in the crowd, believed the elephants were lifting their trunks and pointing them towards the audience to appeal for mercy, in the manner of wounded gladiators, and the sight became too much for them to bear. As some of the trumpeting elephants, who had put up a heroic struggle, continued to fight, or else ran about trying to escape, ramming into the iron fence that separated them from the spectators while crying out in desperation and pain, the crowd finally "burst into tears and cursed Pompey." [292] Humanity, long numbed and buried by a culture of violence, dug its way out of the grave, to feel, once more, things it had learned not to feel; human beings socialized to accept altered codes of morality, came in contact, once more, with more ancient, primordial understandings of morality. Warped by man, revisited by God. Elephants as the messengers. The Romans were lost, not inhuman…

Another incident which shows us that the Roman heart was not utterly dead, is the story of Androcles and the Lion. Generally treated as myth by the modern audience, it turns out that this story was based on a real incident, and described by Roman writers as though it were true. According to the story, an escaped slave named Androcles, while wandering in the desert, came upon a lion which was suffering greatly from a thorn impaled in its paw. As an act of kindness, Androcles removed the thorn. Some time later, Androcles’ luck finally ran out, he was recaptured and sent to Rome to be executed in the games; around the same time, the lion he had befriended was caught by animal trappers, and also sent to Rome, to be used in the games. By chance, when it came time for Androcles to be slain, the lion sent into the arena to devour him was none other than the very one who he had helped so tenderly and so bravely during his days as a fugitive. Hungry though he was, the lion refused to harm the condemned slave. Amazed, but more angry than amazed, the directors of the games sent out a leopard to finish off Androcles; but this time, the complacent lion suddenly leapt up, and rushing to his friend’s defense, killed the approaching cat. Surprised and moved by this unexpected spectacle of loyalty and friendship, the crowd demanded Androcles’ release, and the freed slave went on to make a handsome living from displaying his lion-friend at taverns throughout the land. [293] Can we accept such an incredible story, even though it is backed by multiple sources, at face value? It is hard to say. In my own mind, there are other more plausible possibilities: the possibility that Androcles was actually an animal trainer associated with the games, who was condemned to die for some transgression, and that one of his old lions refused to do the dirty work, and actually defended him from a leopard; or that the lion sent to kill Androcles was too weak from starvation, or else disinterested to attack (human beings are not the lion’s natural prey); but that, feeling threatened when the leopard approached, it finally reacted, not to save Androcles but to defend itself. Whatever the case, the crowd was moved by an astonishing incident of apparent solidarity between man and beast, and rose, as one, to demand mercy for both. The sight of the compassion (real or imagined) of others had awakened its own sense of compassion. And as the legend of Androcles grew - be it truth or fiction - the ideal of kindness which it embodied endeared both the former slave and his lion to those who lived in a world where kindness was frequently despised. The way in which this legend was born and spread - cherished so deeply that it is now ours - shows, yet again, that the Romans were not devoid of humanity, only lacking in an environment, and in stimuli sufficiently powerful, to elicit it.

In the same vein, the popularity of the trick in which the lion carried the hare safely in its jaws [294], demonstrated the Romans’ capacity for appreciating the gentle and the sweet in the midst of the cyclone of carnage that was their games. In this trick, there was a beautiful message of mercy - of power not used, of small things not crushed or destroyed just because they could be, of respect for life - signs that the Roman spectator was still feeling and thinking, or at least coming in and out of feeling and thinking: sometimes lost in a terrible trance of callousness and barbarism, sometimes waking up as the sensitive being that kept trying to return inside of him, like a plant cut down, but with roots in the ground, sending up new green chutes towards the sun.

Doubtless, one of the most powerful indications of the Roman spectators’ inhumanity and humanity can be discerned by the reaction of the crowd to the martyrdom of the Christians. At different times in Roman history, the persecution took on fierce and horrifying proportions, as hundreds and thousands were sent into the arena to be slaughtered in the most painful and frightening ways that could be imagined and materialized. While some spectators watched this destruction with sadistic delight, others apparently wept and were sickened, while still others began to grumble against the authorities or to call out for a stop to the slaughter. In one instance, the Emperor is reported to have told his soldiers: "Note those people [the protesters]. They’ll be down with those Christians if they’re so fond of them." [295] Fear of reprisals caused many who were upset to hide their tears from the soldiers, and from others in the crowd. Eventually, the inhumanity of the destruction of the Christians alienated large numbers of Romans, at the same time as the courage and faith of the murdered tempted, then won over, multitudes of new converts to Christianity, who believed that only something magnificent and true could inspire men and women to die so bravely. Victims of barbarism reached out, with unbowed souls, to victims of nihilism. As Christ, they died to give life to others. Their blood was the womb of things to come. Romans who came to watch them die, woke up to the fact that it was they, themselves, who were dead, for being able to watch, for living in an empty world which revolved around the suffering of others, and around fantasies of courage stolen from the wounded and the dying. This revelation of emptiness, and worthlessness, is what led many Romans to Christianity, at last, until the movement finally grew too strong to be persecuted. The fact that so many Romans were capable of receiving this revelation shows that they were men, not monsters, after all. For they finally reached a point, in the midst of their cruelty and inertness, when they could no longer sustain it: when closed hearts opened; when dark assumptions were exposed in the light, that somehow always returns; when barbaric customs met a fierce uprising of humanity, battling its way back up from vanquished souls to challenge centuries of defeat. Rome’s cruelty, carried to unbearable excess, finally broke itself and released love. In 325 AD, Constantine’s premature effort to put an end to the games failed - even many Christians, it seems, continued to attend the games as spectators, lured by the excitement of the spectacles, although going to the games was strictly forbidden by the Church. However, the government, finally influenced then taken over by Christianity, was beginning to drive back the games, for the very first time on moral grounds. In 365 AD, Valentinian successfully outlawed the use of wild beasts to kill human beings. Then, in 404 AD, a monk by the name of Telemachus jumped into the arena and launched an appeal to the crowd, urging them to give up the gladiatorial games once and for all. Outraged, the crowd stoned him to death. However, the Emperor Honorius, outraged in his turn by the behavior of the mob, responded by closing down the arenas, and they were never again reopened in Rome, although it seems that chariot racing did continue. [296] Rome, itself, did not long outlast the demise of its games, however, officially perishing in the year 476 AD.

Although the above discussion is meant to deepen our understanding of the "Roman mob" that watched the games, and to bring it within the moral range of ourselves, so that we do not think ourselves completely removed from it, as men are removed from demons, it must still be emphasized that the brutality and cruelty of the games were phenomenal, and that the damaging effects upon the souls of those who watched them must have been correspondingly severe. While the poor and the wronged were polluted by their role as spectators, losing the moral highground which gives the oppressed the power to fight back - while they took the bait of the games from the rich, thereby agreeing to become oppressors, in their turn, which undermined their right to demand and achieve justice for themselves - Roman society as a whole dug its karmic grave by offering and accepting the games as a solution to its internal problems. In the way of the horrible chain fights despised by the old-timers, in which an unarmed man was killed by a man with a sword, who was, in his turn, disarmed, then forced to face a foe with a sword, so Rome rose by violence, lived by violence, and when its time came, fell by violence. Fate took away the sword it had held for centuries, and gave it to the "barbarians at the gates." Though we can identify with the ancient Roman who sat in the stadiums of his day, witnessing the spectacles of his day, and even sympathize with him to some extent, rather than merely despise him as we have been wont to do in the past on the basis of unsubtle scholarship, we cannot ever allow ourselves to become like him. He was a man and she was a woman with human feelings and moral potential, ravaged by pain and tricked by custom to perpetuate one of the cruelest phenomena ever beheld on our earth.

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Bread and Circuses, and the Fall of Rome


How is it that Rome, once the colossus of the world, fell? And did the games hasten that falling, or delay it? In attempting to answer this question, it is essential to consider the games in their full historical context, and to view them as one half of a political package that included not only free entertainment, but also free grain (for the poor): hence the famous phrase, "bread and circuses."

A good starting point for this important analysis would be a brilliant string of observations authored by American social thinker Lewis Mumford, whose highly literate, strongly opinionated and historically detailed works on culture, architecture and technology include The City In History (1961) and Technics And Civilization (1963). The following observations come from The City In History, and passionately reach the heart of many truths, at the same time as they possibly overfly others: for the eloquence of outrage sometimes burns up and consumes any nuance which could dim the brilliance of its flame. Beginning with a brief explanation of Rome’s effort to create a universal political order in which peace, made possible by victory in war, and justice, made possible by the taming of the chaos in which brute force thrives, might reign upon the earth, he goes on to deconstruct the project. "Rome’s order, Rome’s justice, Rome’s peace," he writes, "were all built on a savage exploitation and suppression… The empire, which had pushed back the barbarous tribes that threatened its borders, had erected a greater barbarism at the very heart of its dominion, in Rome itself. Here the prospect of wholesale destruction and extermination from which the city had largely escaped, thanks to Roman arms, came back in the acting out of even more pathological fantasies. Predatory success underwrote a sickening parasitic failure." [297] Proceeding to the key point of parasitism, which the wealthy promoted among the poor as an alternative to the vitality which might have made revolution possible, and which the wealthy, themselves, began to exhibit in relation to the army, which finally remained the only vigorous and active element of society left, Mumford writes: "In nature, this parasitism is often as ruinous to the host as it is to the creature that battens on him: if the latter loses the capacity for free movement or self-maintenance, the host, in turn, becomes dependent and must exert himself further to keep the seemingly weaker creature going. The rich and powerful often found themselves in this position: the decent living that they refused to give the lower classes on economic terms, they were forced to yield in outbursts of indiscriminate public largesse… Rome’s parasitism… ended by producing in a more general form the same functionless, empty, and dependent life for rich and poor alike, filled with unappeasable appetites and unresolvable anxieties… In Rome, a whole population, numbering hundreds of thousands, took on the parasitic role for a whole lifetime; and the spreading empire was turned into an apparatus for ensuring their continued existence, supporting them ‘in the state to which they were accustomed,’ by shamelessly [utilizing] the army that alone guaranteed the flow of tribute, slaves, captives, and wild beasts, which poured incessantly into the maw of this insatiable city." [298] But the psychological impact of the turn from vigor and participation in empire-building, towards decadence and parasitism, was devastating. "So vital are the autonomous activities of the organism, so necessary are they for keeping it whole, that any surrender of independence has deep psychological repercussions. Particularly, the infantile feeling of dependence, prolonged into adulthood, awakens self-distrust and self-hatred, which exacts a suicidal desire for revenge. The impotent develop a craving for virtual, if not active, power while those who have not lived their own lives experience a violent desire to impose a humiliating death on others. To atone for the limitations of a parasitic existence, the parasite himself transposes the values of life, so that all his acts take a negative form. The hatred the parasite feels for himself he projects upon suitable victims and scapegoats, covering them with his own despair, his own self-loathing, his own desire for death." [299] This individual pathology, in turn, multiplied by many thousands of wounded men and women, impacted heavily upon the historical course of Rome. "By giving a municipal form to its parasitism, indeed by giving it a solid collective basis in the dual handout of bread and circuses, Rome solidified the fatal errors of its political exploitation of other lands and cities. Ironically, in yielding to parasitism it forfeited at the same time the predatory vitalities that had made it possible." [300] While the entertainment of the games satisfied the people’s need for passion, at the same time as it, in many ways, detached it from the real world, the institution of the dole (free handouts of grain) destroyed any possible motive for recovery. "The temptation to lead an industrious life, with the hope of improvement in economic status, was weakened, especially in favored Rome itself, by the fact that the chief needs of existence, like bread and circuses, were available gratis, or in the case of baths, nearly gratis, to the populace." [301] Weakness and dependency, cultivated to protect the State from internal discord, undermined its ability to protect itself from external threats.

Already, in these lines, Mumford has stated the crux of a compelling argument for the role played by bread and circuses in the destruction of Rome; and, in fact, the rest of his words on the Roman games only add vividness to the theme, embellishing our sense of Rome’s decadence and deepening our reactions of indignation. Nonetheless, some of these passages are so powerful that they should not be missed, not even for the sake of traveling in a straight line. Mumford writes: "Roman life, for all its claims of peace, centered more and more on the imposing rituals of extermination. In pursuit of sensations sufficiently sharp to cover momentarily the emptiness and meaninglessness of their parasitic existence, the Romans took to staging chariot races, spectacular battles set in an artificial lake, theatrical pantomimes in which the strip tease and lewder sexual acts were performed in public. But sensations need constant whipping as people become inured to them: so the whole effort reached a pinnacle in the gladiatorial spectacles…" [302] Mumford characterizes these spectacles as a secular form of blood sacrifice [303], writing: "… the deadly contests [became]… a popular means for the public punishment of criminals, at first presumably as much for an admonitory deterrent as an enjoyment. Too soon, unfortunately, the ordeal of the prisoner became the welcome amusement of the spectator; and even the emptying of the jails did not provide a sufficient number of victims to meet the popular demand. As with the religious sacrifices of the Aztecs, military expeditions were directed towards supplying a sufficient number of victims, human and animal. Here in the arena both degraded professionals, thoroughly trained for their occupation, and wholly innocent men and women were tortured with every imaginable body-maiming and fear-producing device for public delight." [304] Determined to provide some link with our own times, Mumford warns: "Like our own preparations for nuclear and bacterial extermination, this form [of collective pathology] gave an acceptable ‘normal’ outlet to what were otherwise unspeakable and privately inexpressible psychotic acts. In a disintegrating civilization the sanction of numbers makes madness and criminality ‘normal.’ Affliction with the universal disease then becomes the criterion for health." [305] And he adds this impressive observation: "The need for such mass entertainments became imperative in proportion to the futility of the rest of existence." [306]

While Mumford’s take on the Roman games lacks some of the subtlety of modern scholars specializing in Rome - but, after all, this was a man of sweeping historical vision and huge intellectual interests, unwilling to plant his flag in a single period of history - his overall sense of the destructive impact of the "bread and circuses" package is insightful and to the point, and consistent with the interpretation of this article. Rome, which began as a vigorous warrior state, comprised of citizen-soldiers who were also, for the main part, farmers, began to destabilize from within as divisions within its own class system grew increasingly intense. For a time, the Roman political system, a democracy of varying degrees from 509 BC to 27 BC [307], proved itself capable of managing the strain. Adjustments were made, such as the institution of the Twelve Tables - a formal code of law which sheltered the masses from arbitrary abuses by the powerful - and the introduction of new political officials, the Tribunes, and new political bodies, the Plebeian Council and the Assembly of Tribes, to represent the interests of the lower classes. This effort of inclusion prevented the city, and the empire it was building, from succumbing to class conflict and unraveling at the very outset. However, as time went on the tensions between the classes grew stronger, exceeding the power of the institutions and reforms previously created to defuse them. The upper classes (patricians) continued to swallow up and monopolize land around the city and elsewhere in Italy, while the lower classes (plebeians), frequently victims of debt or war, and lacking in the economic resources and political clout needed to keep their farms afloat in the face of increasing competition and pressure from the wealthy, began to abandon the land - not by choice, but because they could no longer make a go of it. For a time, populist politicians such as the Gracchi struggled to heal Rome’s growing social rift by pushing for reforms that would redistribute land to the poor, and guarantee the survival of small farmers, who were being displaced in increasing numbers by the major landowners, and forced to come to the city in search of work which did not exist. However, aristocratic politicians, backing the prerogatives of their class, chose to interpret the programs and attitudes of the Gracchi as revolutionary and divisive, rather than as necessary and ultimately healing. By too zealously and territorially defending the excessive expanses of property which they had accumulated through the misfortune, and sometimes through the outright exploitation of others, and by backing away from the idea of sharing desperately-needed resources with fellow citizens in a time of suffering and fear, Roman patricians exacerbated revolutionary conditions, rather than averted them. The murder of the Gracchus brothers by aristocratic gangs demonstrated, to all, the failure of the democratic system as a medium for working out Rome’s most pressing social problems: the patricians would not allow that system to produce results which were not in their perceived interest, and would, when the time came, either shut the system down or sidestep it with violence in order to maintain their position of dominance Noting this, plebeians began to lose interest in the democratic system altogether, and became increasingly receptive to military figures with populist leanings, such as Marius, or Julius Caesar, who had the power to deliver important social reforms by force. As the fierceness of the social struggle grew, the forms of democracy which had once encompassed it could no longer contain or express it, and civil war was the inevitable result. In the end, the popular side, represented by patricians who sought to harness the power of the masses for their personal and political struggles against members of their own class, came out on top. These leaders, naturally, provided some social improvements and concessions to the plebeians who had served as their power base during times of strife and war; yet, just as naturally, these aristocratic champions of the commoners sought to make peace with their own class, sometimes prematurely and at the price of insufficient advocacy. In an age exhausted by war and deeply scarred with memories of terror, almost anything that was not defeat or death could be tolerated by the poor: in an environment so grievously wounded, symbol was as good as reality, and gesture could take the place of substance. Julius Caesar, a paradoxical, prodigal man, was still concrete when it came to reforms; Augustus also, but less so. Although he did give real gifts to the populace, he also mastered the art of ruling by illusion, defusing revolutionary possibilities with careful attention to his image as a populist. It was he who perfected that mask, which most of the future Emperors would wear.

In the context of a society in which the vital reforms pursued by the Gracchi, and later by Julius Caesar, did not materialize in spite of numerous brutal wars, peace between the classes was now kept by dictatorship, sweetened by the facade of populism, which neither the wealthy nor the poor challenged: the wealthy because they could see through it, the poor because they could not. Land remained in the hands of the powerful. But, gradually, it ceased to be a provocation to the poor, because the government, in order to avoid antagonizing the rich and inciting the poor, sidestepped the issue of land altogether, creating a new source of livelihood for the displaced peasants and descendants of peasants in the form of the dole. While the economic rewards of work, which was not available, were now circumvented by charity, the mental energy that had formerly been engaged by work was now captivated, and prevented from wandering into socially dangerous spaces, by the games. Hungry people may rise up and fight, while idle people with nothing to do may seek something to do, and end up by discovering something that is politically explosive. As charity bestowed time upon the poor, the games seized control of that time, and prevented it from being used in ways that might possibly undermine the system.

At first glance, the system of "bread and circuses" seems to have brilliantly succeeded, in terms of solving class conflict in Rome and creating long stretches of internal stability in the place of violence and political chaos. However, as Lewis Mumford has so forcefully pointed out, the price of this solution was to infect Rome with a parasitic mentality that undermined its long-term survival. The vigorous citizen-farmer-soldier of Rome’s youth was left to recede into the pages of history, as the land which had given him his pride and strength was gradually taken from him, and compounded into huge estates owned by the rich, and manned by slaves: estates which produced an abundance of goods, but no longer men of greatness. Turned into the landless, jobless recipient of the dole and watcher of games which the political system preferred him to be, this once-proud warrior evolved into a demoralized, beaten shadow, crippled by a deep-seeded lack of self-respect, gravely weakened, without rigors or challenges to stir him back to life. His weakness served those who ruled, for it negated him as a threat. At the same time, as his life was made miserable, then filled by spectacles provided by the government, which also put food into his mouth, his moral right to defend himself became confused in his mind, for his oppressor was also his savior. How could he go boldly forward to reclaim his heritage in the face of such mixed signals, in the face of such unsettled loyalties? And finally, once he had partaken of the injustice offered to him for amusement, and watched others be tortured and killed for him, how could he ever again feel that he deserved justice for himself? Better to let his mind and heart fade away into the hypnotic falsehood of the games, accept the enveloping distraction, escape from the pain of what he had become by becoming a satellite of the pain of others. Better to live in a constant daze, let others control and shape his thoughts, his dreams, his aspirations, channel him away from his despair, engineer his emotional, and their political, survival.

Of course, this ruined man was no longer fit to be the bulwark of an empire.

As for the rich, they, too, were destroyed by their system of bread and circuses, for their monopoly of resources, which forced the creation of that system in order to defuse a potential revolutionary response, left them owners of fabulous wealth which they could neither manage nor absorb. Luxury ruined them, as charity ruined the poor. They became prisoners of appetites that ordinary limits no longer applied to, prisoners of monstrous vices that alone remained in the wake of old pleasures worn out by overuse. At the top of the civilization that was at the top of the world, they should have felt blessed and empowered to do great things, but instead, they felt overwhelmed. Behind the door of the world, they found boredom; and behind the door of boredom, terror. They walked over floors, inlaid with mosaics of skeletons, which were inscribed with dire warnings, which were also fierce incitations to live: "Eat, Drink, And Be Merry, The Rest Is Nothing." [308]  [308 TXT]  A freezing wind of nihilism blew through their lives; joy was prey that must be hunted down, and they sought it with desperation on the brink of extinction. They had reached a point in youth which others only reach when they are about to die, and did not know how to fill in the frightening amount of time they still had left to live. They did not truly believe in the old Gods, and they had not yet come to a new God; and Rome no longer motivated them, it seemed able to run by itself, and was frequently dangerous to those who rose too high. When you have nothing, life seems full - filled with all the things you do not have. When you have everything, life seems empty - empty with all the things that are not enough. Unhappiness when you are poor seems to have a remedy. But unhappiness when you are rich seems hopeless. In the face of such despair, such fear, there was no recourse but to dive deeper into the world of the senses. Pleasure was driven by anxiety, until, at last, only corruption and utter dissolution could fight off the void. [309]

As the poor man, broken by charity and turned into an appendage of fantasy by the games, was no longer fit to defend or extend the power of Rome in the real world, so too, the wealthy began to fall away, like leaves, from the defense of empire, consumed by their own obsession with pleasure, which they pursued desperately over the thin ice of nothingness. Few were any longer fit to fight, or inclined to fight. Nor was there any patriotism or love left for the empire, it was now only a playground and a granary, no more a country that one felt moved to die for. Rome was becoming increasingly weak, its human power fading away. Organization, technology, and money remained, along with history and mystique, but within them was growing a hollowness that Rome’s enemies could not fail but notice.

While the human strength of Rome was dissolving, the demands upon the empire did not wane. True, the era of conquests was mainly at an end: Rome’s main foreign policy objective, in the days of the Emperors, was to maintain borders won by former generations. And yet, invasions and threats of invasions by many different groups - Persians, Parthians, various Germanic tribes, and Asiatic Huns - was constant, as was the threat of rebellion within the provinces. Expenditures to defend the empire were enormous, as were expenditures needed to maintain the "bread and circus" regimen which appeased and controlled the masses. These expenditures were met by tribute collected from foreign lands, and by taxes levied on the people of Rome and Italy. As time went on, however, the tax base available to the Roman Emperors began to decline. Taxation, itself, helped to precipitate this decline as many of the farmers and productive landowners who had managed to survive till now, were driven out of business by high taxes, and joined the ranks of those who had to be publicly supported in Rome. As Roman citizenship was extended to increasing numbers of residents within the Empire, a move deemed politically expedient, and also ideologically consistent with the grand developing concept of Rome as an international union of peoples bound together by culture, trade, and law (no longer an ethnically-defined nation), the amount of people free to come to Rome and to collect the dole increased. As the economic capabilities of the Empire were declining, the economic demands being made upon the system were increasing. Eventually, as Rome began to collapse into the black hole of its generosity - an untenable generosity, born from the past’s greed, which began to draw in the last demoralized and overtaxed productive sectors, which could no longer pull the weight of the broken, drastic measures had to be taken. Diocletian (284 - 305 AD) forced all remaining workers, in "factories" or on the land, to remain at their jobs, thereby arresting the retreat from labor, but at the price of imposing a draconian control over the lives of citizens. [310] The mobility of Romans was frozen: the job you did yesterday was now your job forever, and the place you worked yesterday was the place you were going to work until you died. In a precursor of the days of serfdom, Diocletian stemmed the rush to parasitism by extinguishing the freedom of men to choose the kinds of lives they wished to live.

At the same time as Rome struggled from these economic ordeals, in part encouraged and exacerbated by the system of bread and circuses, defects in the political system began to destroy it. As ideals of citizenship and loyalty waned in the general moral decline that was engulfing Rome, and as no firm rules for regulating the succession of the Emperors were in place, civil war became more common, as various armies would declare their generals to be Emperor (each seeking to gain the most powerful Benefactor for itself), then fight it out for mastery of the Empire. Rome, ringed by formidable enemies to begin with, could hardly afford this dangerous squandering of resources.

Finally, as its armies were weakened by the erosion of the human material from which they had formerly been made - as many thousands who might have defended Rome with pride and courage were socially engineered to be harmless, self-absorbed, and weak, and as many others who might once have sought glory on the battlefield now wallowed in luxury and decadent excess - and as growing numbers of Christians refused to fight at all (they were, in those days, "conscientious objectors") - Rome was forced to hire warriors from the ranks of the "barbarians" who threatened it, in order to defend itself. These "mercenaries" were often ethnically linked, and far closer, to the men they were paid to fight than the men they had been hired to defend. The potential for betrayal was, therefore, immense: especially once it dawned upon these mercenaries that the wealth that inspired them to fight their barbarian brothers might just as easily be taken directly from the Romans. In cases, as funds for payment were short, mercenary barbarians were paid for service rendered with grants of land, sometimes provided to them within the fortified borders of the Empire. If this was not a recipe for disaster, what was? For men such as these, Rome could not help but seem to be an old man, covered with jewels on a deserted street on a dark night. Finally, even in the case of mercenaries immune to thoughts of treachery, a basic differential in commitment remained relative to the legions which had once battled for the glory of Rome. Roman history is filled with the story of desperate battles - of men battered but unbowed, of armies and whole generations mauled but unvanquished, which would not accept the decision of the Gods, but rather, crossed out the lines of Destiny which did not agree with them, and rewrote history with the sheer power of their will. Horatio, Mucius Scaevola, Decius Mus, the unknown standard bearer of the Tenth Legion… [311]  [311 TXT]  Who could break a city and an empire animated by the spirit of such men? Nothing of the kind, however, could be asked of the mercenary defender of Rome. He fought because he was paid to, and he was sure to have been very aware that wealth is of no use to the dead. He did not fight for something that mattered more than his own life; and so, when the going got tough, he ran. He would not have understood the following lines, which every Roman soldier who fought in the Second Punic War would have comprehended in his core, as he made the ultimate sacrifice for something he truly believed in, for something which death could not frighten him away from loving:

I am the grass beneath your feet,

come and play above my death.

I am the one who lit the sun in the sky,

I lit it with the torch of my blood,

but left it hanging there

without my name,

without my shadow,

it’s my gift to your happiness.

Your laughter is what I am buried in.

Your singing and your dancing

is what I heard

when steel found me

in the middle of the night.

I wouldn’t have it any other way,

because otherwise

there would have been no you.

You were the choice I made.

Morally wasted away, decadent and without commitment or vigor, economically breaking down [312] [312 TXT], and protected by unreliable barbarian mercenaries instead of the determined and patriotic warriors of the past - Rome’s fate was sealed, there could be no other. Although Rome was captured and sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD, and sacked again by the Vandals in 455 BC, the official date for the fall of Rome is usually given as 476 AD, when a German king, Odoacer, deposed and replaced the existing Emperor. [313] [313 TXT]  In this drama, part tragedy and part triumph, part ending and part beginning, "bread and circuses" played an undeniable role. They destroyed any possibility of resistance by subjecting the Roman spirit and the Roman body to centuries of "de-conditioning." For generations of Romans, unconsciously nearing the end, life seemed to come as Manna from Heaven, they forgot that someone must work for it and that someone must struggle for it, they lost touch with the things that make life possible, and so, became as vulnerable as cows being led to the slaughter, dependent upon enemies, and upon nations they could no longer compel to serve them. Hurt long ago by reality, they retreated into a world of collective fantasy, that simultaneously protected and debilitated them. Consumed by the artificial world of the arena and the racetrack, they increasingly lost their ability to function in the real world, which began, very slowly, to surround them with threats and dangers they could not dream away, nor enclose inside a stadium. For the Romans, entertainment took away the excitement of the world, which could not compete with it, it turned the world into a mere dream. But reality has a way of returning. Fantasy is only a shield until a real spear appears. One day, Rome woke up to find it was gone…

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Lessons for Today?

What a fascinating, terrible story this has been; what a strange and disturbing journey. The question now is, is it over? Or is it still in play? Has the book of the disaster been closed with the chapter of ancient Rome, or is there yet another chapter in the book - one that we are, perhaps, writing right now with our own lives, our own country, and our own future?

I have always believed that the greatest value of studying history, besides the enriching depth it gives to us, is its potential to instruct us in the living of our own lives. How often yesterday wears the clothes of today. What a shame not to recognize an old friend - or an old enemy!

The legacy of ancient Rome is, nowadays, everywhere around us - present in our Constitution, which grew out of James Madison’s studies of the British political system, and the governments of ancient Greece and Rome; present in our legal system, which grew out of Rome’s meticulous and complex legal codes and philosophies of law; present in the words we speak, many of which are derived from Latin: words that Caesar spoke, and Livy wrote. Likewise, modern architecture, warfare, and engineering all perpetuate traces of ancient Rome, we can recognize features of the father in the son. Of course, our modern civilization is a product of many influences, as well as of our own consciousness and moment in time; and yet, in it, many traits of Rome, many marks of Rome, persist. Is it possible that Roman attributes remain in our concepts of entertainment, as well? And what of Rome’s fall? Might it lurk somewhere in the middle of our sun?

Certainly, as Lewis Mumford wrote about the decadence of ancient Rome and its brutal entertainments, he came one half as a historian, and one half as a moral prophet, brandishing a warning for America. He saw the past dangerously close to the present, when he wrote, in 1961: "The inhabitants of modern metropolises are not psychologically too remote from Rome to be unable to appreciate [the gladiatorial games]. We have our own equivalent in the daily doses of sadism that follow, like contaminated vitamin capsules, our deficient commonplace food: the newspaper accounts, the radio reports, the television programs, the novels, the dramas, all devoted to portraying as graphically as possible every variety of violence, perversion, bestiality, criminal delinquency, and nihilistic despair. So, to recover the bare sensation of being alive, the Roman populace, high and low, governors and governed, flocked to the great arenas to participate in person in similar entertainments, more vividly staged, more intimately presented… Just as today ‘real’ life, for the millions, exists only on the television screen, and all immediate manifestations of life are subordinate, accessory, almost meaningless, so for the Roman the whole routine of the spectacle became a compulsive one: The show must go on!" [314] Mumford went on to expose the dimensions of the obsession in ancient Rome, and subtly, but pointedly, contrast it to the scale of our own entertainments: "Even taking a low figure per unit, it would seem that almost half the population of Rome could be accommodated simultaneously in its circuses and theaters: a far higher proportion than was possible in other cities until electronic communication indefinitely extended the area of the performance and the number of spectators." [315] Imagine if Mumford, penning these words in 1961, were to behold the state of our culture today!

Of course, any comparison we might make between the entertainments of today, and those of ancient Roman times, can only seem to be exaggerated and alarmist. Our society is saturated by sports and spectacle, but nothing as cruel, inhumane, and obviously perverse as what existed in ancient Rome today confronts our conscience. And yet, we must wonder - are we headed that way? Can we see signs of our moral withering in the way we choose to amuse ourselves? Even more than that, can we find some of the same misuses of the idea of entertainment that existed in ancient Rome, present in our own society: the use of distraction to arrest the development of a civilization, to freeze it in an unjust, incomplete place, protecting its errors, and concealing its mistakes?

Of course, the answer to these questions must be highly subjective. And yet, the fact that no truly objective answer which is free of personal bias can be provided should not be used as an excuse to perpetuate silence: for silence, in the face of danger, is an even greater sin than is alarm, in the midst of safety. In my own world of subjective perception, the similarities elicited by Lewis Mumford between Rome and America are possibly overly sensitive, yet still compelling, especially as warnings of how things may become. Rather than disregard him, I find myself drawn to his side, though in my own way, to my own degree, and in my own tone of voice.

In my opinion, play, sports and games are an invaluable and essential part of life. They help to relieve us of stress, to exercise our passions, to inspire our spirit, to expand our imagination. They provide us with opportunities to bond with others; they help to channel and redirect (work off) our aggression in bloodless ways; they enrich and deepen our lives. Some "spectacle entertainment", such as that provided by the theater and the film, or by concerts, can actually play an important role in humanizing us, stimulating our intellectual and emotional growth, grafting experience, wisdom and insight beyond our years onto the substance of our souls. I do not believe in work, without play, in somber clothes of black, in joyless gravity, in the inviolability of "important" things. I believe in the value of escape, in the life-giving power of play, in the fertility of fantasy, in the utility of the periodic changes of focus between truth and fiction which can keep our hearts and souls from being blinded, and burned out, by reality.

This having been said, there is no doubt that entertainment, pursued to unhealthy extremes, can also damage our contact with reality, entomb us in false worlds, wound the earth with the ignorance that comes from not really living on the earth, and train us to be cruel, callous and self-centered, reinforcing rather than venting the dark energies which we need to purge, if we are to collectively survive the gift and curse of our technological abilities, which so amplify the risk of our mistakes.

Where do we stand today, in comparison with ancient Rome and its legacy of violent, dehumanizing entertainments, its deadly plague of escapism, and its self-destructive pursuit of pleasure in the midst of social amnesia and personal despair? This is a theme I prefer to break down into two parts, the first dealing explicitly with the content of our entertainments, the second with a broader analysis of the factors leading to the fall of Rome, and factors of decline which may, or may not, be present in our own society.


Our Entertainments Compared to Rome’s

Although we are not ancient Rome, there are, as stated at the beginning of this article, some alarming signs in the evolution of our entertainment culture these days: signs which reflect disturbing moral directions in which we may be moving. For years, we have enjoyed paler versions of some of the entertainments prominent in ancient Rome: boxing matches, horse races, automobile races (races of the "modern chariot"), circuses (with displays of dangerous animals), and track and field competitions (similar to the Olympic Games) [316], as well as various forms of mass spectator sport (such as baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) which have generated passions reminiscent of the tremendous enthusiasm which ancient Romans felt towards their favorite sports. In some of these sports, such as boxing, cruelty and danger have always been present, and yet never was anything like the Roman games ever approached, either in spirit or in consequence: death in these pastimes was always an aberration; although it was not infrequent in auto-racing, and sometimes occurred in boxing, it was always the result of a "mistake", an accident, of something that "went wrong", of something that "wasn’t supposed to happen." In the shadow of unexpected tragedies occurring in the midst of its entertainment, the public was left deeply disturbed, the participants shaken.

Although this still is the case, we note, with some concern, an increasing air of disdain for the rules and codes of fair play, which has begun to surface in some of our sports. Frequently, the result is a rise in both excitement for the spectator, and danger for the participant. In the case of hockey, for example, brawling and the violent use of hockey sticks to injure opposing players has become disconcertingly common and, although it is habitually punished by a sport that is trying to prevent itself from succumbing to anarchy, there are many who feel that it is not being punished severely enough; just as there is the sense that fans are enjoying, rather than abhorring, these outbreaks of violence. In a society filled with frustrations, yet carefully constrained by laws, there is the sense that at the ice rink spectators have come not to see the rules enforced, but to see them broken; not to witness order, but to get a glimpse of chaos. Are these outbreaks useful outlets for the venting of repressed emotions, which allow spectators to return to work and home relieved, and better able to function as parents, friends, and workers? Or are they "training grounds" for individuals moving in the direction of increased aggression, and disrespect for other human beings and for the rules and laws that philosophers and legislators have formulated through the ages to promote compassionate, or at least civil, relations between men? Judging by an observed increase in rule-breaking and disrespectful behavior exhibited towards referees and umpires at nonprofessional sporting events these days (in venues ranging from the Little League to high school sports), it seems that the violent, out-of-control "winner" mentality which surfaces at many hockey matches - and in many other sporting events as well (including basketball, football, baseball, and soccer games) - is not defusing anger, but rather, legitimizing it, and "teaching" larger elements of society to manifest their anger in inappropriate and sometimes dangerous ways. Role models who generate vast fortunes for their employers are insufficiently punished for their transgressions of the rules (whether these transgressions take the form of drug abuse, steroids use, disrespect of officials, or violence against other athletes or fans). The signal generated by excessive leniency is that the rules matter less than success, and that signal is clearly understood by spectators of all ages, but especially by the young, who are always impressionable and psychologically vulnerable in the presence of their heroes. Generations of imitators follow the champions of sport, who in some ways reflect, and in other ways, disseminate the values of a society to the masses. Once victory is able to stand without virtue, the path towards immorality is guaranteed.

To continue with this concept - that entertainment may, sometimes, not defuse the frustration and rage of spectators, but rather, reinforce and encourage it - we may cite the case of professional soccer, a beautiful sport which is nonetheless frequently marred by the violence of fans. In various instances, gangs of fans have beaten and maimed fans of the opposing team in the streets outside the stadium, and in the stadium itself, producing riots and bloodbaths not unlike those which occasionally erupted in ancient Rome between different factions at the chariot races; smoke bombs and dangerous objects of various kinds have been thrown down onto the field, at both officials and players; in Colombia, an unpopular official was killed, and a player who made a crucial mistake that caused his team to lose in the World Cup was assassinated; in 1969, violence which erupted between soccer fans even led to a war between El Salvador and Honduras. [317] [317 TXT]  Sports, which may serve as an outlet to let off social steam, creating acceptable venues for primal releases which help to preserve the peace outside the stadium, may, on the other hand, also serve to spread and strengthen the lawlessness and rage which underlie many contests, conditioning the public to bring the aggressiveness back out into the world with them. The stadium then ceases to contain the "animal" in man; instead it excites him and releases him as an imitator of what he has just seen.

This trend of increasing violence and disregard for the rules which threatens our most popular spectator sports (which are still, however, attempting to contain it), is greatly magnified in the case of professional wrestling, which takes us one step closer towards the ancient Romans. Granted, this wrestling, epitomized by the WWE, is staged, and represents an act of (highly athletic) fantasy, not real combat. Nonetheless, its fantasy battles, which include all sorts of "dirty tricks", "rules violations", and "life-threatening" maneuvers, have attracted a mass audience which habitually "suspends its disbelief" in order to revel in the mayhem. Here, fierce giants hurl helpless opponents through the air, jump on top of them, strangle them, gouge their eyes, stomp on their heads, and knock out any referee who dares to intervene. Wrestlers are routinely kicked in the crotch, hit on the head from behind with chairs or lead pipes, smashed in the face with chains, or punched with brass knuckles. Horrible personal insults are hurled back and forth, and "political correctness", neither ignored nor brought back into balance, is carefully mastered, then blown to smithereens in ways which delight audiences which are fed up with civility, and overloaded with expectations of empathy which they cannot live up to. Although, as stated, this violence and mayhem is "fake", huge numbers of spectators react to it as though it were real, and one is left with acute uncertainty as to whether the experience is simply a huge collective venting, or a revelation of the true psyche of millions of Americans: enchanted by violence, tired of rules, fed up with compassion, in love with raw power and might. Is this theatrical sport working off our aggression, or only building it up to higher levels, embracing it with an electronic institution of its own, and providing it with a base for further expansion into the mainstream of our social and political behavior?

While the WWE is undeniably a fantasy, albeit a potentially dangerous one which glorifies rage and teaches contempt for fairness, new forms of free-for-all fights between untrained fighters are proliferating at clubs, in which ordinary people are invited to come forward and beat each other to a pulp, for the viewing pleasure of spectators. These fights are 100% real, and can only be watched with some relaxation of one’s compassionate instincts, since the participants are untrained and, in many cases, unprepared for the ordeal into which they have ingenuously flung themselves.

And then, there is the "reality show." This new breed of television show, ushered in by programs such as Survivor, Temptation Island, and Fear Factor, carefully crafts an environment and context in which real people are placed into a competitive situation, and then observed over a period of weeks by the TV audience, which follows, in intimate detail, the struggles and travails of the participants. Unlike the tears, the humiliation and pain, the betrayals, setbacks, and triumphs which can be seen on soap operas or TV drama series, the emotions generated on these shows are real emotions, being experienced by real people as they live their lives, not emotions imitated by actors playing roles in a fantasy performance. Even though the reality through which these participants move is a manufactured reality, meticulously engineered by television producers, it is nonetheless, a reality, in the same way that a battle between a scorpion and a tarantula carefully placed into the same jar is a reality. The intensity of the viewing experience is increased, as the insulating layer of fantasy is removed. Although great actors, working with a great script and expert director and technical crew, can transmute fantasy into reality for a hypnotic moment of consensual delusion, for the spectator there is still an important difference in sitting down to watch a fantasy, and sitting down to watch a reality. There is a different (though not necessarily deeper) level of involvement; and we can behold, taking root in our living rooms as the wave of reality TV rises, an increasing element of voyeurism, an escalating willingness to use others for our entertainment, and an increasing ability to tolerate, and even to enjoy, the predicaments of our fellow man.

Of course, "reality TV" existed long before the recent surge of shows which have been designated as such. Before them, and continuing to this day, there were many forms of "game shows", infused with the reality of real people engaged in real competitions for real prizes. There were also, and are, the talk shows, which have slowly moved from the direction of presenting interesting and stimulating interviews, into the realm of dwelling on "scandalous" and sensationalistic themes, and promoting fights and arguments between guests, and between the audience and guests. Of these, Jerry Springer is, till now, the classic example. While game shows and talk shows have traditionally represented the tamer side of "reality TV", as shows like Temptation Island and Fear Factor have represented its middle ground, other shows have upped the ante, increasing our level of exposure to the discomfort and misfortune of other human beings by another notch, in an effort to satisfy emotions which are no longer placated by mere performances. In this tradition, Cops actually brings us out into the streets with the police forces of various American cities, to pursue and chase down criminals, kick down doors, pull out guns, and cuff people on the floor. Without denigrating the crucial work which policemen perform in our country, there is an undeniable element of vicarious thrill-seeking here, as the audience gets to witness dangerous and potentially deadly situations, to feel powerful through the police, who are actually doing all the work, and to let aggressive emotions, directed against acceptable quarry, reign in their hearts. Other shows, such as Jackass or Wild Boys provide a wonderful outlet for sadism, as we get to watch people injure and make fools of themselves for our amusement, performing absurd and reckless stunts which often end in catastrophe (but not yet death). At the same time, the dose of reality in programs that deal with reality is increasing. Shows about crime are dwelling more and more on the grisly details of the crime scene. Repeated and ever-more-popular stories of serial killers and their horrendous deeds, graphic dimensions of forensic science, crime scene photos, and even footage of autopsies are beginning to appear on the TV screen with considerable regularity, revealing, in our culture, a rising fascination for destruction, death, and gore. Footage of shark attacks, and attacks by bears, lions and other animals, has also made it onto the TV. Not staged, as were the animal attacks of ancient Rome, these events are nonetheless carefully collected from around the world, as they occur and are captured on video cameras, making it onto the arena of our television sets. We do not suffer from the guilt of organizing this violence, but we still manage to derive satisfaction from witnessing it, even if that satisfaction is masked by appropriate levels of horror.

In order to compete with the rising tide of "reality" programming, the fantasy world of movies is continuing, meanwhile, to escalate its own graphic content, in the realms of sex and violence. Horror movies are becoming more horrifying and sickening. War movies are becoming bloodier. Heads are flying off, blood is spurting everywhere, faces are decomposing, images are becoming more and more shocking. There can be no doubt that our society’s sense of frustration is rising, and its understanding and appreciation of life declining. In this escalating fascination with violence and death we can detect aggression, seeking to lash out and hurt; and also self-hatred, in search of self-destruction. Our forms of entertainment both reflect, and foster, this trend. We can also detect a growing emotional numbness, and the need for more vivid and powerful stimuli to break through the layers of our resignation, and make us feel.

But, of course, these cultural trends are not only evident on the television screen or at the movies. We also have compelling indicators of our times in the excesses of our music, music videos, and video games. In the music scene, "Rap" has taken the lead in introducing violent and sexist lyrics, which have had a major impact on significant sectors of our population. There is no doubt that "Rap" can be intelligent, hard-hitting, and critical in an ultimately constructive way (besides harmlessly entertaining), and, in fact, the "poetry" found in some "Rap" has been culturally compared to the work of the beatniks, who struggled, through their art, to inject a new sensibility into a society which was withering away into soulless materialism; to deepen it with a new perspective, and to wipe the sand from its eyes. When millions of people are suffering while others sleep through their pain, it is normal that those who are suffering should seek to awaken those who are sleeping. The ringing of the alarm clock is painful and offensive to the ears. So, too, is some of the harsher Rap, which seeks to smash through the doors of complacency with the ugliness of all the wounds which have inspired it. In some ways, Rap, at its harshest, can be seen as an effort to bring attention to a gaping social wound that needs to be healed. However, it would be unwise to whitewash this genre by overly identifying it with this possibility. Much Rap is born and used as a form of aggressive payback, glorifying violence and misogyny, conditioning listeners to dwell in an angry, reactive state of mind that is no substitute for genuine social movements, and, in fact, is more likely to perpetuate powerlessness than to overcome it; for power, ultimately, comes from education, willpower, and sustained determination, not from undisciplined rage, which only isolates and weakens. When all is said and done, the dark side of rap culture does not envision a better or fairer society; instead it fosters gangster-like dreams of making it outside of the system, while leaving the system intact. Corrupt symbols of success remain: huge wads of money, gold chains, luscious "ho’s", big cars. Only now, drugs or bullets are the way there. While for most listeners, these lyrics, often reinforced by the imagery of music videos, remain a fantasy, promoting fruitless forms of anger without inspiring real-world transgressions, for others, rap music has actually become a soundtrack for their crimes. It is used by drug dealers and customers to communicate where and when deals are taking place; to accompany drug usage, which promotes its own culture of violence; and to hype people up for various types of criminal activities, some planned in advance, some spontaneously committed. The interconnectedness of rap and violence is made especially clear by the importance of "street creds" for furthering the career of big rap stars, who are expected to be "for real": not just "performers", but men who have lived their story, or at least seem capable of having lived the stories in their songs. Those who listen don’t want to give their money and adulation to impostors; and those who perform, must therefore perform not only on the stage and in the record studio, but on the streets. The violence, crime, and killing that has surrounded some of the big stars, and ended some of their lives, has elevated their popularity by saving them from being "fake"; but at the price of helping to strengthen the values that led to their demise. [318] [318 TXT]  In a world that needs deep changes, the Gangster Gods have promoted fantasies of outlawry that leave the world the way it is, although perhaps a little more violent than before; and fantasies of redemption which are devoid of moral evolution, for either the "oppressor" or the "oppressed." Anger grows, as real answers drift farther away.

Of course, Rap is not the only kind of music around whose content is often violent or "antisocial." It is simply the most obvious and culturally prominent musical genre, in terms of media coverage, which falls within this category. Not to be left out are some of the harder rock scenes, where flirtations with Satan and the "forces of darkness" are used as a simultaneous search for power (black magic as an amplification of the human potential for defense and revenge), and as a tantrum against hypocrisy (the values of a society which has hurt, or let down, the listener, are drastically inverted). Once again, it would be unfair to trash the genre entirely. The cry of rage and upside-down values are, in some ways, protests against paradise betrayed: protests generated by a ravaged idealism, by souls jaded by the hollowness of beautiful things. In the disappointment, some great lyrics have blossomed. On the other hand, this music, too, cannot be whitewashed. Many songs and many artists are only consolidating the rage, the desperation, and the deadly cynicism that are the worst possible responses of sensitivity to the forces that have injured it. Despair is perpetuated; drug use, and violence against others or the self, is amplified.

By no means are the above comments intended to mimic hysterical reactions of past generations against new forms of music, new performers, and new styles. Younger generations will always shock and alarm their elders, it seems. In the 1960s, for example, groups as classic as the Beatles and Rolling Stones were regarded with suspicion, and widely considered to be corrupting influences on youth, and signs of the disintegration of civilization. The world is still here. Nonetheless, the intensification of the hardness of much of our music, in our own day, has to be noted. It is consistent with the increasing violence, despair, and anger observable in many other aspects of our culture.

Finally, we have the burgeoning new world of video games to consider. These games, most often played on the computer, TV screen, or hand-held game device, utilize increasingly sophisticated graphics to portray various situations and scenes, with which the player can interact by means of buttons or joysticks linking him to the game system. Evolving from simple games like Pacman or Space Invaders, which flourished years ago, video games have become increasingly complex and violent. War, crime, and combat scenarios prevail. Blood and gore are now intimately integrated into many of these games, so that players can experience the full "pleasure" of destroying their imaginary enemies, or sometimes helpless victims, as they spray them with machine gun fire, pick them off with sniper’s rifles, shoot them point blank in the head, decapitate them with swords, or in other ways dispatch them. While concerned parents continue to pressure the manufacturers, and to carefully monitor the games which they let their children play, other parents pay little attention to the games which come into their children’s hands, or which their children may end up playing at friends’ homes; besides this, many game-players are now of legal age, and have reached the point where they can play whatever games they want to. The immense popularity, in our times, of video games filled with blood and violence indicates an increasing fascination for death and destruction in our society, or perhaps only increased liberty to act upon that fascination. Although it is possible that these games are helping to vent the frustrations of those who play them before they can build up to unendurable levels, it is also possible that the worst of the video games are teaching millions of Americans to become more aggressive and callous towards human life. The perpetrators of the Colombine massacre were said to have been addicts of violent video games, which, in their case, seemed to act more as a form of emotional training, preparing them to kill others, than as a release, defusing their anger by providing it with fantasy targets. It is also known that some video games have played a role in attracting recruits to the military, who were ensnared by the video heroics, at the same time that they were trained to have quick physical reactions, and to make split-second "life-and-death" decisions.

Do any of the things just said about our sports, our TV and movie entertainments, our music, or our video games, bring us to parity with ancient Rome? While we may be disturbed, observing the current state of affairs relative to the near past or to our own standards of morality, the obvious answer is NO. We are not close to Rome, in terms of the cruelty and destructiveness of our entertainments. Although we can recognize Roman sentiments and Roman shadows in our actions and our tastes, we lack the force of their depravity in the choice and conduct of our amusements; the dark substance of their games is missing from our own.

Is it possible if we are not there yet, that we might be moving there? This is a more interesting question. We do seem to be headed towards a phase of more graphic, more open contact with violence, anger, cruelty, disrespect and pain, although when one takes into account the illusory nature of the "good old days", which also had their fair share of negative attributes, perhaps we are not moving as far and as fast as we think. [319] [319 TXT]  Nonetheless, we do seem to be becoming more receptive to our dark side, spending more time with it, conditioning ourselves to face it (without necessarily understanding it) and to enjoy it (without necessarily defusing it). Pleasure is paramount - the pleasure of hurting others, seeing others hurt, or hurting ourselves - while transmutation does not even seem to be on the map. What could be a deep spiritual process - exposure to our hatred, our agony, and our rage, in preparation of finding the source, and then healing ourselves at the source - is, instead, being short-circuited by the pleasure we are finding in our symptoms, as we mutually encourage each other not to feel shame, not to feel remorse, not to feel guilty, not to feel inferior to what we could be, as we spend more and more time in our personal and collective night. [320] [320TXT]  Let’s not go there, to the place of healing, let’s stay here, in between repressing our ills and curing them. Rather than bind the wound, we are entering an age of falling in love with the brightness of our blood. No, we are not ancient Rome, but we are heading towards a crueler and more callous sensibility. How far could we go in that direction?

Certainly, there are possibilities for the emergence of a more Roman-like entertainment culture than the one we are experiencing today. Years ago, Hollywood dreamt of Roller Ball, a violent, futuristic game which evolved out of the game of "roller derby." Could it happen? Long before that, a vivid short story, The Most Dangerous Game, was written, featuring a master hunter who, bored with killing ordinary beasts, engineered more challenging hunts against human beings. Could something of that nature one day evolve from diversions like paint ball - the war games that more and more people are enjoying with non-lethal guns, which allow them to experience the thrill of hunting and fighting other human beings, without actually crossing the moral line to kill them? What if we should become so accustomed to death one day, from the deluge of violence and destruction streaming out of our TVs, and from the countless fantasy enactments practiced over and over again in our video games, that the killing of another human being finally ceased to seem momentous? Then, perhaps, the line to be crossed would not be the one that separates morality from immorality, but only the one that separates fantasy from reality. In the words of Christ, such killers might, truly, "know not what they do." What about our boxing and wrestling contests? Could these one day become more violent than they already are (or pretend to be), one day perhaps even incorporating weapons and leading to death by design, rather than by accident?

It’s hard to say. Speculation has great value, but also lacks firmness, and is not enough to condemn a society, in advance, for crimes it has not yet committed. Even so, since we are now wandering into a speculative and intuitive realm (the only path left to us), I feel entitled to venture an intuition of my own: which is that a descent into the sheer and open brutality of Roman-like games by our own culture is not likely in the foreseeable future. I believe that the moral tone of our Christian-influenced civilization would make such a descent feel far too uncomfortable for us. After all, what Rome did was done from within the environment of the ancient world, and made possible by the cruel and in some ways open ideologies of those days, which had not yet developed such gigantic facades of compassion that had to be maintained. We may be violent and we may be cruel, but we also have a different level of commitment to appearances, and a different self-image to protect, whether by means of compliance with our historical belief system, or hypocrisy. Our need to appease our moral heritage is great enough for us to hide and reroute the darkness that is beginning to surface in our entertainments, and social life in general [321]; so that I feel we will not likely reach the brazen savagery of Roman spectacles within our own land, in any recognizable time.

However, this is not to say that we cannot or will not approach Rome in other ways, nor develop new forms of entertainment, disguised as something beyond and above entertainment, which will make them acceptable. Violence, stripped of its frivolity and made solemn with righteousness or mourning or sympathy, would not violate the moral demands of our post-Roman, Christian heritage. It is, in fact, in this direction that I feel we must begin to look if we are to reap the full value of our study of ancient Rome and its deadly legacy of "bread and circuses."


Bread And Circuses, American-Style

Rome and America. The comparisons are there. Though we are, in our consciousness, more the result of a courageous moral revolt against the power of that ancient empire (Christianity) than we are of that empire’s legacy of conquest, domination, decadence and wealth, there are many who would disagree with our perception of ourselves. We, who have a more personal stake in our country and its soul, are distressed by their analogies; and yet, it is more harmful for us to ignore them, than it is for us to consider what they have to say.

Both Rome and America were born out of revolts against tyranny, the Romans throwing off the yoke of the Etruscan kings, Americans throwing off the yoke of the British crown. Both emerged from their successful rebellions against tyranny as aggressive young (and imperfect) democracies, entering into periods of rapid territorial expansion based upon military conquest. In the case of the U.S., the philosophy or national attitude of Manifest Destiny - the belief that it was America’s God-given right to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific and to fill the continent with its own vision of civilization - led to the defeat of innumerable Native American tribes, and to the defeat of Mexico (1848), which, in addition to the huge tract of land picked up from France by peaceful negotiation (the Louisiana Purchase, 1803), transformed the United States from a tiny nation clinging to the Eastern seaboard, into a gigantic country, broad and rich in resources, able to stand up to any other in the world. After a time, outright conquest ceased, but American power continued to be spread, via trade; via economic concessions, granted willingly or under pressure, by other lands; via military aid given to favored regimes, which supported American interests in their land; and via military intervention to support those regimes whenever they were threatened, or to undermine unfavorable ones, whenever they became threatening. Latin American history is filled with examples of this behavior [322] [322 TXT], which was also applied in many other parts of the world, as America’s global military and economic capabilities expanded. Certainly, America does not resemble Rome, in terms of the prolonged occupation and systematic colonization of foreign lands, or the use of proconsuls and garrisons to directly govern and control conquered provinces for indefinite periods of time. [323] [323 TXT]  Critics, nonetheless, argue that times have changed, and that new economic and technological possibilities have allowed a more discreet form of Empire to be constructed, which relies less on obvious forms of domination than on indirect techniques of control which manipulate economic conditions and psychological perceptions, and cultivate and empower local allies to rule on behalf of America, without stirring up the nationalist resistance which direct occupation would engender. Neocolonialism is often used to describe this form of domination, which may, at times, lead to results as brutal as that of direct colonization, but with the advantage, for the imperial power, of placing distance between them and the acts of violence which are used to maintain their domination. How valid are the parallels these critics have drawn between ancient Rome and the U.S. in this regard? I leave the answer to each reader’s subjectivity, for this is a polemic issue which is pointless to take sides on, without first entering into a substantive and well-documented argument which is beyond the scope and intention of this article. What does seem clear is that Rome was, and America is, an Empire. Whether ours was created by avarice or by altruism, by legitimate needs of self-defense or by designs of domination, or by a mixture of all of these factors, does not affect the final outcome. We are a different form of Empire than was ancient Rome; and yet, the dimensions of our military power, the scale of our economic might, and the breadth and weight of our influence upon the nations of the world, undeniably places us in the category of ancient Rome, in terms of our impact upon our times. Some see no wrong in this, while others abhor the insight.

Granted that we are an Empire, in some ways similar to, and in some ways very different from, ancient Rome, what of our internal dynamics? What of the struggles between plebeians and patricians which characterized the inner history of Rome? And what of the package of "bread and circuses" that was offered as a remedy for those struggles: a remedy that, in the end, doomed the patient it was meant to save? Parallels, too, have been drawn in this regard. We, also, have had our social struggles in America: the struggles of the slaves to be free, and of the descendants of the slaves to achieve political and social equality, and to gain access to genuine economic opportunity; the struggles of farmers and workers of all races to achieve basic economic rights, and to acquire and consolidate humane and secure living conditions. Grown from the seeds of these aspirations, we had, in our own country, the Abolitionist Movement, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement; the Populist Movement, the Labor Movement, and the Progressive Movement; and the huge whirlwind of social turbulence, unleashed by the Great Depression, which led to the New Deal. Out of the New Deal, and the mentality it introduced into American society, arose programs of compassion and social safety nets meant not only to provide succor to ailing and economically wounded Americans, but also to rescue the capitalist system from rising levels of disaffection which the disaster of the Great Depression had produced. Franklin Roosevelt, lambasted as a socialist by his enemies, actually saved the capitalist system by alloying it with modest socialist attributes that helped to humanize it and increase its responsiveness to the needs of desperate people living in the throes of a terrible crisis. Without such adjustments, the system might have been abandoned altogether, or at the very least degenerated into conditions of outright revolution. As a result of the work of FDR, and others acting in his tradition, American citizens today are eligible for many benefits which they did not previously have recourse to. There is social security to aid the aged, unemployment insurance to help those who have lost their jobs, disability insurance to assist those who have been injured in an accident or cannot work, medical insurance, low-income public housing and food stamps to help the poor, and "Welfare" to provide badly-needed income for those who could not otherwise make a go of it. While social welfare programs in America still lag far behind many which are available in Europe, the improvement from how things used to be, in terms of safety for the poor and the unfortunate, is enormous. And yet, there are also drawbacks to these programs of compassion. Critics of the left blame them for not going far enough, for still leaving too many people exposed to hunger, sickness, and insecurity, and for creating a regimen of institutionalized subsistence for the poor in order to back up a society which will not take the more decisive measures necessary to provide all of its citizens with real jobs and real opportunities. These critics see the social welfare system in our country as incomplete, a net with too many holes in it; and also, in cases, as degrading and disempowering. Meanwhile, critics from the other side blame the social welfare system for siphoning off far too much income from the national treasury: income which could be used in other projects ranging from national defense to economic development. The taxes required to support the system are said to subtract from the income of productive sectors, lessening the quality of life of many other citizens, who must "carry the freeloaders on their backs", and adversely affecting the economy as a whole; while, psychologically, the system is said to create dependency among those who it serves, and to act as a disincentive to their procurement of real jobs, by means of which they might "pay their own way." Combined with the widespread prevalence of entertainment, available to rich and poor alike in our society, this state of affairs has led some to claim that we have our very own regimen of "bread and circuses" here, in modern-day America. Differences between America and Rome, in this regard, are apparent, yet so are similarities. Like Rome, our country does not seem to be able to heal the wounds inherent in the gaps that remain between our classes and our races. It acts, instead - like Rome - to make those wounds bearable by means of guaranteeing basic levels of survival, and by providing compensations and distractions in the form of entertainment, most routinely provided by the TV. [323a] [323a TXT]  The intensity of the ancient and modern experiences is not the same, but the concept is.

Along similar lines, we may note parallel tendencies in the development of our militaries. In the same way that the Roman army, under the direction of Marius, became a new form of social welfare system, absorbing the jobless and the landless of Rome, who had no other horizon of opportunity, no other possible source of income, so the army in modern-day America has become a magnet for the poor. It provides food, shelter, and clothing, a salary, and in cases loans for education and vocational training (the chance to "learn a skill"), as well as the promise of future medical assistance via the Veteran’s Administration. As military advertisements have stated, reminding potential recruits from "disadvantaged backgrounds" of the difficulty of getting a decent job outside of the military: "We don’t ask for experience, we give it." At the same time, using the military as a "social service" as opposed to "Welfare" helps young men and women to escape from the stigma, and to avoid the damage to the self-esteem, which joining the Welfare rolls often causes. Instead of being "parasites" and "freeloaders", they now have the chance to become valued and respected citizens of society, performing difficult and oftentimes dangerous tasks for the good of the whole: tasks which foster pride, and build up, rather than tear down, self-esteem. In fact, they have the opportunity to become the very opposite of parasites: from being the ones who others carry (and despise), to being the ones who carry others, who face the challenges that others won’t, and make the sacrifices that allow society to function and even to survive. As conservative Americans work to dismantle the social Welfare system, in order to help balance the budget (without cutting back on their own priorities), and as Welfare comes more and more to be replaced by "Workfare", spearheaded by the creation of new low-level, dead-end jobs designed to absorb the unproductive, it is likely that the army will become increasingly important as a social refuge for the poor and the marginalized, as it was in the days of ancient Rome.

At the same time, it must be noted that these dynamics may not only apply to citizens of the United States, living within the United States. In our increasingly global economy, in which nations and regions have, in some ways, begun to take on the characteristics of classes (rich nations and poor nations), and in which the movement of resources and labor between different parts of the world is on the rise, it seems logical that many individuals from other lands will seek to come to the "Rome" of their times, the great center of wealth and opportunity on the earth. Waiting lists are already crowded with potential new residents, eager to come to America; and illegal immigration, especially from and through Mexico, is a force to be reckoned with. Some analysts who fear the impact of migration upon our economy, recall that the social services of ancient Rome were, in fact, pushed to the breaking point by the extension of citizenship to multitudes of "foreigners", who then migrated to Rome to receive the dole. On the other hand, the desperation of many foreigners to escape from the poverty and limits of their own environments, and to come to the United States, is a force that could also work to the advantage of the country, as the best minds and talents from around the world could be recruited and used to augment the power and productivity of the nation [324]; as many poor people with different concepts of life, accustomed and ready to work harder than more "spoiled" Americans, could be recruited to handle jobs passed by by US citizens [325]; and as the need for America to expand its military manpower, due to conflicts such as the war in Iraq, without incurring the political fallout of the draft, increases. [326] [326 TXT]  By offering citizenship, or creating a "fast track" to citizenship, in exchange for military service, it seems likely that the US government could utilize the longing of many foreigners to come to live in America in order to recruit additional military manpower, when needed, to help fight its wars without triggering political resistance at home. [327] [327 TXT]  For the sad fact is that the waging of war, when it is done by "volunteers", and its dangers are safely kept away from the mainstream, can become peripheral to the lives of the majority. [328] Loyalty to the war-planners and their system, or at least apathetic non-interference, increases as the personal risk incurred by their policies is diminished.

Analysts note that the willingness of Americans to "fight for their country" is waning, as compared to the willingness of past generations. This is similar to, but possibly less drastic than, the process that occurred in ancient Rome, whereby a vigorous warrior state slowly evolved into an empire of abundance whose citizens would no longer fight the wars needed to maintain their lifestyle. In the case of ancient Rome, these militaryphobic citizens became dependent upon volunteer, professional armies, made up of the poor who had no other social option; and later, upon mercenary armies recruited from foreign lands. As opportunities and support services diminish for the poor in our own land [329] [329 TXT] - and as hopelessness grows in other countries, increasingly impoverished by the uneven dynamics of global growth [330] [330 TXT] - it seems that powerful, long-term recruiting zones for the armies of the future will be consolidated. The lack of equal opportunity and the psychological wounding of some will become the fuel that preserves the power of the military machine for the benefit of others.

Of course, in ancient Rome, the use of the army to provide for the poor, and the use of the poor to keep the army functioning in times of waning patriotism and proliferating decadence, created a dangerous opportunity for social revolution. Both Marius and Caesar utilized this potential to generate major reforms, using the army as their base. Is it possible that the American army could, in a similar way, as it becomes more and more populated by the poor and the destitute, become an instrument of radical social change in our country? Doubtful. As seen in the days of ancient Rome, where the revolutionary potential of the army was ultimately subsumed by the personal agendas of its leaders, the power of the command structure, with its regimen of indoctrination and its benefits, is likely to prevail, and to steer the poor away from any political directions not chosen by the leadership. That leadership, of course, will come, as it came in the days of ancient Rome, primarily from the ranks of the elites, or from those who have proven themselves to the elites and wish to be connected to the elites. [331] [331 TXT]  The ability of the leadership to control channels of communication and to monopolize the most effective technology and weapons (weapons such as armor, aircraft, and missiles), which will be entrusted to the most reliable of troops, should enable them to prevent any possible defection of the army. Furthermore, the very process of training the modern-day soldier has proven highly effective in deterring him from radical political behavior. Obedience and solidarity with one’s fellow-soldiers is paramount. In Latin America, armies have frequently become worlds unto themselves, isolated by training, ideology, and shared experience from the rest of society, which they are equally able to defend or to repress. Although the links between the American soldier and his society are culturally and historically more intimate [332], he is also a product of an intense process of conditioning and bonding, and not likely to gravitate away from the trajectory which his organization gives to him.

Along similar lines, the danger to America of utilizing "foreign mercenaries", recruited with the promise of citizenship, is probably far less than what one would imagine from the legacy of ancient Rome. Monopolization of strategically crucial weapons and resources by non-foreign elements could, by itself, prevent the kind of mercenary rebellions which battered Rome in its final days. In a world where firepower matters far more than manpower, control of such weapon systems could effectively neutralize the potential danger of relying on large numbers of foreign soldiers in order to maintain the fighting power of a country mesmerized by consumption, and accustomed to safety. Besides this, it is a frequently-observed fact that many new immigrants to America act "more American than Americans", at times displaying an overzealous longing to be accepted in their new homeland by embracing symbols and adopting attitudes and behaviors which will prove their loyalty and commitment, even as many long-term citizens display skepticism and more freely exercise their right to dissent. The "mercenary" of today and tomorrow, for all of these reasons, is not necessarily a threat to America, as he proved to be to ancient Rome. He may, in fact - if his sense of vulnerability as a newcomer is properly exploited, requiring the compensation of exaggerated loyalty - prove to be a more ideologically dependable warrior than the native-born American. [333] [333 Text]

One crucial drawback of Rome’s eventual reliance upon a professional army, recruited from the poor and the foreign-born, was, of course, the fact that it contributed to the demise of Roman democracy, as generals and armies, then Emperors, took the place of Assemblies, the Senate, and the courts. [334] Increasingly ineffective institutions lost prestige relative to the invigorating imagery of military pageantry, and the charisma and refreshing decisiveness of military leaders. [335] [335 TXT]  The people responded, primally, to signs of imperial power, as long as they were nominally included within the circle of power (the low man in Rome still towered above the foreigner who lived in a conquered land, and the gladiator who was forced to fight and die for him in the arena). While some Romans persisted, for a while after the accession of the Emperors, in the vain hope of recovering their lost democracy, most others, who were provided with their basic material needs by the State, and stolen from their engagement with the real world by constant immersion in the fantasy world of the games, made no protest. Their sense of freedom had become flaccid, satisfied by mere gestures. As Beacham poignantly writes of the young Caligula, still possessed of some noble ideals in the early days of his reign: "In 38 [BC] he attempted to restore to the popular assemblies the voting rights that Tiberius had removed, but whether because, as Dio asserts, they had ‘lost the habit of freemen’ or because Caligula’s support and enhancement of the games provided more direct means of expressing popular concerns, his proposal aroused little enthusiasm among the urban plebs, and the following year the elections were again abolished." [336] Is America, like Rome, in danger of losing its democracy to the military, or to civil leaders who, with the support of the military, might subvert the Constitution? It is not impossible, though we may hope that it never comes to pass. [337] [337 TXT]  But if it does come to pass, of one thing we may be sure: it will be largely because the American people have, like the people of Rome, been duped into believing that the power their nation holds over other lands is their own power; and because the gigantic world of fantasy which has been lowered over their heads by the media and by technology, like the dome of a planetarium lit with false stars, has shut out the real world, and left them impervious and indifferent to all that happens outside of the realm of their indispensable illusions.

But are our entertainments truly capable of equaling the mesmerizing distractiveness of ancient Rome’s?! Although our entertainments are still less vivid and intense than were theirs, we are already quite hypnotized by them; worn out by the rat race each day, we limp back to our dark rooms, and to the embrace of our television sets. We are already, say some critics, a nation of "lotus-eaters" [338], seduced by the sweet taste of the diversions which alone satisfy us in a world where the most beautiful and worthwhile offerings of life seem impossible to attain, either because we have been conditioned to look for them in the wrong places, or else because we no longer have the energy, faith, or confidence left with which to seek them. Even without a continuing degeneration of our entertainment culture towards the hypnotically exciting distractions of ancient Rome, our immersion in the realm of fantasy is such that, if the government is careful not to demand too much of us in the real world, we can more or less be taken along for any ride they choose for us. However, it is possible that our entertainment may, indeed, be ready to take a turn towards the days of ancient Rome…

The danger which I foresee in this regard, is not that our official entertainment will take the shape of ancient Rome’s, but rather, that what is happening in the real world will be turned, thanks to intimate television and media coverage, into a disguised form of entertainment. The principle of the reality TV show will be extracted from the realm of real-world catastrophes, crimes and wars, and applied to "News" and "Documentaries" which will become the new arena where we sit to watch others suffer and die, where we sit to imagine we are heroes, where we sit to experience emotions deeper than those which pure fantasies can elicit from us, where we sit to vent our despair or our rage, to sympathize or despise. Poor people driven to crime, and the police charged with catching them, will become the new gladiators, in shows like COPS. [339] [339 TXT]  Poor people and foreigners driven to join the army to make a go of it, and the soldiers of enemy lands, will become the new gladiators in expanded news coverage, which will also be crafted, more and more, to reflect the values of the government and military which will be able to control access to the flow of imagery. [340] [340 TXT]  As long as there is no danger of the war affecting a majority of the people of the land, either through the possibility of conscription or through the risk of a critical mass of loved ones being involved, coverage of this sort may successfully satisfy entertainment needs without destabilizing government policy, providing a form of gladiatorial spectacle which is consistent with the moral tone of our culture. For the guilt we would feel to organize such vast spectacles of death for our own amusement would be grating on our Christian-influenced sensibilities. But by becoming aficionados of wars deemed righteous, we would be able to enjoy the thrill of battle and death, played out by others, without being weighed down by any sense of self-indulgence or moral culpability. "Games" such as this would, therefore, be perfect for our society.

Thinking in this way, it is not impossible to envision a future in which the needs of our nation to secure resources, uproot terrorists, and protect business operations overseas, might coincide with the masses’ rising taste for violent, vivid, and intense entertainment, as reflected in many of the forms of entertainment we enjoy today. In a system masterfully feeding into itself, the poverty and despair of the have-nots would provide us with soldiers to fight the wars needed to maintain our power, soldiers who, at the same time, would be our gladiators, separated enough from the mainstream not to activate it politically; close enough to it, emotionally, to mesmerize it and distract it from the real issues and lacks of its existence. As in ancient Rome, the masses would become docile, compliant, their brains overpowered by spectacle. Wars, no longer ordeals of the conscience, would become necessary as entertainment, unconsciously undermining resistance to them as leaders used them to attain political and economic objectives of their own. In a stupor of blood and pride, viewers of these spectacles might finally fade so completely into the power of fantasy as to care no more about justice, freedom, and dignity in the real world.

Far-fetched? Possibly. And yet, there is enough cultural movement in this direction for us to hold onto our awareness. Fearing the possibility, we may do more to preempt it than if we merely dismiss it.

Of course, the final question which we must ask ourselves, when comparing our own Empire to that of ancient Rome, is whether we, too, just like Rome, are doomed to weaken, fade and die? There are those who now see, in us, the signs of decadence which destroyed ancient Rome: the addiction to consumerism and passive pleasures which undermines the spirit and the will; the diminishment of our physical vigor and collective courage, as we are buried under a barrage of what poorer nations see as luxuries, and as we become accustomed to meeker forms of struggle than theirs, struggles which demoralize us rather than ennoble and harden us. Are we, too, losing our moral center and our strength, as did ancient Rome? Are we, too, in a state of decline, headed towards defeat and collapse?

Although there are clear warning signs, even as we seem to be at the height of our power on the earth, with the former Soviet Empire in ruins, and China still struggling to catch up, certain important differences between our times and those of ancient Rome must be noted. In Rome’s day, the differential in military technology between Roman armies and the armies of Rome’s enemies was not as decisive as is the differential in military technology which exists between the United States and most other countries in the world today. This means that the United States can survive a far greater dose of decadence and moral rot than could ancient Rome, as long as its economic ability to maintain its technological advantage over other nations remains intact. A thoroughly decadent warrior, with a single button beneath his finger, may today vanquish an entire army of heroic fighters. [341] [341 TXT]  And even if some other country one day catches up with America’s technological capacities, unless a glaring disparity involving a major unmatched breakthrough occurs, the US will always have the ability to at least deter a successful invasion and conquest of its global position, by threatening to resort to its arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, which could destroy the earth many times over. In this sense America, even should its national character be consumed by utter decadence, is not nearly as vulnerable as was ancient Rome. This could be good, or it could be bad. On the one hand, it is comforting to believe that our nation will not fall. On the other hand, it is by the rise and fall of empires that human vitality and progress has been maintained through history, as what was old and spent (and sometimes unbearably unjust) was repeatedly replaced by what was new and daring (and sometimes redemptive). Like a wheel, the days and nights of Empires turned, moving all Humanity forward in defeat and triumph, in pain and hope. These fusions of past greatness and new energy habitually enriched civilization, which did not stagnate forever within the borders of something dead, but always grew anew, rising higher, from something that once more had the power to sustain it. What if this process should now be interrupted by the inviolability of apocalyptic technology? What if a wall of nuclear weapons should protect a spent Empire from falling, from impregnating a new energy with its defeat? Is it possible that, not falling, America could persist forever as a pitiful collective Tithonus, the aged, decrepit man who could not die? [342] [342 TXT]  Surely such a possibility is enough to pull a lover of his land in opposite directions.

More likely, I feel, is the possibility that if America weakens within, as did ancient Rome, it will lose the flexibility of response which allows a nation to defend its interests effectively and safely: that is, well below the threshold of brinkmanship. If weakness were to make America’s responses more brittle - that is to say if it were to reach a point where, due to a lack of competent field forces, it could only defend its interests by means of nuclear assaults upon an enemy similarly armed - then great risk would be incurred. Could a nation this weak effectively manage a foreign policy based only upon an unthinkable deterrent? Might not other nations, in their own minds pressed into a strategic corner, gamble that it was all a bluff, and move into the void that only madness could defend? Or might the overcompensation which is frequently apparent in weak people, who, losing all sense of balance in defending themselves, are destabilized by their fear into taking extreme measures, exaggerate our aggressiveness and finally push America’s enemies to the edge? "We will not be blackmailed into submission by this presumptuous ghost." What if the self-hatred with which weakness poisons those who have lost their ability to be strong were to infect America, in a time of decadence, with suicidal impulses, a collective death wish, a mindset that no longer cared? What if recklessness, born of disenchantment with life, were to take over America’s foreign policy, driving it towards the edge of apocalypse? Already, we have noted, in our culture, a weakening of the values of life, and an increased fascination with death and violence. What if this trend should continue, as we slowly lose our ability to defend ourselves in any other way than by planetary obliteration?

In ancient Rome, we note the power of this despair, which affected rich and poor alike, both of them defeated: the poor by the rich, the rich by themselves. Caligula, a man who had the world in his hands, yet could not derive happiness from it, linked his personal despair quite clearly to the fate of the world, wishing that some terrible calamity would befall it, such as an earthquake, an epidemic, or the destruction of his armies, in order to mirror his own pain, to interrupt the unendurable boredom of his omnipotence and bring something new and different into his life. From these ancient times come familiar hints of human disinterest at the continuation of the world beyond one’s own life and needs: "When I am dead let the earth go up in flames!" And "If I must fall, let me fall with the world shattered!" And as Seneca had Medea say, in a play of the same name: "The only calm - if with me I see the universe overwhelmed in ruins; with me let all things pass away. It is sweet to draw the world down with you when you are perishing." [343] What if this dark mentality, perhaps linked to the Biblical Book of Revelations and thereby given moral cover, were to color America’s final days? What if the modern Rome were to destroy itself and the world, rather than to be conquered?

Of course - once again - these are neither scientific projections nor prophecies, only musings to stimulate the mind, to help avert what might never come to pass, anyway. How much we are like ancient Rome today is a concrete, if impossibly subjective, matter. How much we will become like ancient Rome in the future is merely speculation. Our games are not their games, our Empire is not their Empire, our wars are not their wars, our people are not their people, and yet, Rome is not dead. It came, in part, from human nature, and we are human. Where people have walked before, we can sometimes find ourselves walking. Paved roads of ancient Rome still wind through some parts of the European countryside, and people continue to travel on them. As modern feet and wheels still travel on roads Rome built, so, too, perhaps, in some ways, do modern hearts and modern minds. It is always useful, on any journey, to pause and consider where one is, and where one is going…

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If, at the end of this, there are any conclusions to be drawn from this study, they must be made in words impassioned, finally escape from the weight of facts and the caution of restrained analysis. And so I leave this article, suggestive and possibly inconclusive, with a final spasm of words meant to make it useful to our times:

The heartlessness of ancient Rome is not likely to wear the same clothes as it did back then, if it chooses to revisit us. Our heartlessness will adapt to our culture, take the forms that make us capable of bearing it. We will not have stadiums in the middle of our cities where Christians are ripped apart by lions, and burned, at night, as human torches. We will find other means to be heartless, should we lose our heart. We will find ways to justify our heartlessness, and to hide from it, and we will believe our lies: we will make them believable. Our gladiators will not come to us in the shape of something wrong. Our serpents will appear as doves. Beware the difference which conceals sameness!

Fantasy is beautiful, the womb of new worlds and new souls. But it can also be used to steal men, and nations, from reality. When dreams grow like vines taking over the garden, thieves break into the house. A man who dreams without awaking places himself at the mercy of those who covet reality. Learn to face the pain of being awake, to avoid the pain of having nothing left but dreaming! If all you have is a back, everything will be done behind your back! Beware the medicine that destroys!

Pleasure that brings pain is just a strategy of pain. Don’t let pain win by deceit. When you run from where you must be, the emptiness inside your pleasure will chill you like the winter wind. When you run from what you must do, the fragility of your pleasure will break like a palace of glass. Pleasure that is not a destination, but the lack of a destination, will not fool the place your tears come from. The ghosts of lives not lived haunt halls of pleasure. Beware, that you do not kill pleasure with pleasure!

Where does it come from, this wealth? Just because others have more, does not mean you are not rich. True hovels aspire to your poverty. When the gifts you receive leave holes in the earth, you are a participant in the conquest. Break the mirror, see someone else’s face! Do not bow down to those who broke your heart, then ripped the earth apart to give you someone else’s happiness. Blindness is not a handicap, it is a sin!

Look your enemy in the face and know him. Do not let anger grow without locating its source, follow its tributaries into the heights until you find the cold snows from which it comes. Do not let the anger your tormentor arouses unleash you against the innocent. Do not increase the power of he who wrongs you by arming him with your rage. Do not build a jail of fury in which to live; do not redden the stones with your gullibility. Wild goose chases may be called victory. Learn to recognize defeat so that you will not be defeated. Bring your bravery home, where it belongs.

When the highest places are given to those who have no honor, the greatness of the best turns against them. Their power binds them so that they cannot move, their great heart destroys them. Sickness supplants genius, despair usurps might. Force with no object to act upon becomes weakness. The world becomes hollow when the best are passed by, when crawling becomes the road to Heaven. Then, fools run the ship; and storms know it. The alliance of the mediocre and the enslaved can buy a day, but when the next sun rises, the charade must end. Truth is fierce, and does not play by the rules of liars.

All errors have a price. Makers of mistakes cannot escape from the consequences of not being right! The one who gives up his rights to spare himself the strife that justice requires. The one who lets himself forget why he is alive. The one who lives through others; the one who uses others’ pain to feel better. The one who does nothing, and the one who does the wrong thing. The one who lets others’ eyes see for him, when his own soul is at stake. Every mistake is a cut. Blood is lost from every error. Live with consciousness, before sleepwalking leads you off a cliff! Live with courage, before cowardice shows your fears where you live! Beware mistakes! There are no innocent mistakes!

Everything is mutable, everything changes. The greatest Empire of the world made the world tremble, and then it died. Never let the moment freeze you with visions of grandeur and invincibility. Don’t insult history by pretending it has stopped; that your life, your world, your country is where the hands of time broke. This hilltop, this valley, isn’t forever. Seek the movement that is in the stillness, find the direction and the speed. There is time to react, to become a part of the changes, a pilot of the changes. A cat lands on its feet, a blind man just falls. Don’t be arrogant, arrogance weighs a thousand pounds and will drag you to the bottom of time’s sea. The man who doesn’t move, who doesn’t look around, is a sitting duck. How history loves to hunt his kind! Beware the slowness of the day that hides the power of its motion! Beware the thought that this moment is the end!

Rome, cruel Rome, you walk still in places we do not wish to see. Your ghost speaks my tongue, you look at me as if you know me. What I cannot prove, we two feel in the night. Give me your bravery and your determination, spare me your cruelty, and whatever greatness could only have come from your cruelty.

Rome, cruel Rome. Your ruins surface like wreckage in the sea of our times. Places you loved are gone, you would weep to see what has become of them. Nothing endures, but the greatness of our hearts, the only light we have to shine in the darkness. All else crumbles. It is worthwhile, but not as worthwhile.

Rome, cruel Rome. I pray to be what you could have been. I pray to be the world united, in peace, an Empire built upon understanding. I pray to be a giant; but I don’t want to wake up in the morning to find dead people underneath my feet. I pray to be the light of my times, and to live until the day that belongs to my son.

Rome, cruel Rome. You finally paid for your sins. Thank you for living. Thank you for dying. Thank you for encompassing multitudes of souls who I loved and hated. Thank you for showing the way - where to step, and where not to step. The rest is mine to do.

- J Rainsnow, October 17, 2005.

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Barton, Carlin A. The Sorrows Of The Ancient Romans: The Gladiator And The Monster. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Beacham, Richard C. Spectacle Entertainments Of Early Imperial Rome. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999.

Durant, Will. Caesar And Christ: A History Of Roman Civilization And Of Christianity From Their Beginnings To A.D. 325 (The Story Of Civilization, Part III). NY: Simon & Schuster, 1944.

Fuller, JFC. A Military History Of The Western World, Vol. 1: From The Earliest Times To The Battle Of Lepanto. Minerva Press, 1967.

Grant, Michael. A Social History Of Greece And Rome. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992.

Haywood, Richard Mansfield. Ancient Rome. NY: David McKay Company, Inc., 1967.

Livy. The Early History of Rome. Translated with an introduction by Aubrey De Selincourt. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, 1960.

Mannix, Daniel P. Those About To Die. NY: Ballantine Books, 1958.

Mumford, Lewis. The City In History. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.: 1961.

Time-Life Books, Editors. What Life Was Like When Rome Ruled The World: The Roman Empire 100 BC - AD 200. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1997.

Winer, Bart. Life In The Ancient World. NY: Randam House, 1961.

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[105] Time-Life, p. 142.

[106] Beacham, ix, 79.

[107] Durant, p. 385.

[108] Time-Life, p. 140. Work on the Colosseum was begun by Titus’ father, the Emperor Vespasian, around 70 AD.

[109] Time-Life, p. 137. Mannix, p. 8 - 10. Durant, p. 383. Estimates of the spectator capacity of the Circus vary: Beacham (p. 42) gives it as 150,000; Durant (p. 361) as 180,000; Winer (p. 193) as "more than 200,000."

[110] Beacham, p. 42.

[111] The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1997, p. 897.

[112] Beacham, p. 23.

[113] Mannix, p. 19.

[114] Winer, p. 195; Mannix, p. 19.

[115] Mannix, p. 8 - 9.

[116] Durant, p. 361.

[117] Durant, p. 382; Time-Life, p. 137.

[118] Time-Life, p. 137.

[119] Beacham, p. 79.

[120] Beacham, p. 102 - 103.

[121] Beacham, p. 24- 35.

[122] Beacham, p. 29 - 31.

[123] Beacham, p. 25.

[124] Beacham, p. 24 - 25; http://www.cvrlab.org/Library/LTUR/LTromforRep.html , an article on the Roman Forum during the days of the Republic.

[125] See above web site.

[126] Mannix, p. 5, 21; http://www.novaroma.org/ludi/html/history.html

[127] See web site from FN 124. Beacham, p. 37.

[128] Beacham, p. 29.

[129] Beacham, p. 62 - 63; 64 - 65.

[130] Beacham, p. 65.

[131] Beacham, p. 65 - 72.

[132] Beacham, p. 36.

[133] Beacham, p. 37, quoting R. Auguet.

[134] Beacham, p. 72.

[135] Beacham, p. 103, 122; web site cited in FN 124.

[136] Beacham, p. 120 - 121.

[137] Beacham, p. 122.

[138] Beacham, p. 126; 123 - 126. The upper portion of the theater was established for slaves, freedmen and the poorest citizens (were these the plebs frumentaria, the plebeians who qualified for free bread?); and women also seem to have been assigned to their own section within this area. (The separation of women from men seems to have been instituted on "moral" grounds, to prevent the kind of Saturnalia-like atmosphere which sometimes accompanied the mingling of the sexes during passion-inducing spectacles. Also, for "moral" reasons, boys of standing were expected to attend the games only in the company of their tutors.) The middle section of the theater was assigned to the urban plebeians. (Married men had their own section, and bachelors either sat apart, or were not permitted to attend at all.) Lower down, sat soldiers, those on active duty and retired veterans probably sitting in separate areas; then civil servants, then members of the equestrian class, then senators. The whole complex set of regulations which governed the assignment of seats in the theater is still not fully understood or documented…

[139] Mannix, p. 42 - 49.

[140] The design of the ancient Colosseum was so functional and ahead of its times that aspects of it were emulated in the construction of the second Madison Square Garden, completed 1890 (the Garden which exists today, in 2005, is version four). A biographer of the architect of Garden II wrote of it: "As in ancient arenas, provision was made for flooding the floor for water spectacles. As at the Roman Colosseum, animal stables to be used for the horse shows and circus performances were placed in the basement below. Here was a bit of ancient Rome, transformed, modernized, and brought to Gilded Age New York!" Garden of Dreams: Madison Square Garden 125 Years, from Pete Hamill’s introduction, p. 17.

[141] Winer, p. 178 - 181; Time-Life, p. 70 - 71.

[142] Winer, p. 189 - 191; Time-Life, p. 78 - 81. Admission to the public baths required a fee, but it was generally not high-priced. The greater baths were large indoor-outdoor complexes featuring gardens, baths, libraries, and other amenities, where citizens were able to spend much of the day in leisure and comfort. Exercising, engaging in various athletic activities, studying, reading, socializing, bathing, people-watching, and receiving massages, could all be part of a day at the baths.

[143] Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets, from the Prologue. See http://cheverote.com/texts/foreword1.html

[144] Beacham, p. 22 - 23, describing the opening of the ludi Romani. See also Mannix, p. 15.

[145] Beacham, p. 181.

[146] Durant, p. 382.

[146] Mannix, p. 14. In imperial times, once army units were a common sight in the city, troops were sometimes used to patrol the streets to try to prevent looting during the games.

[147] Mannix, p. 19.

[148] Mannix, p. 19.

[149] Mannix, p. 19, quoting Seneca.

[150] Beacham, p. 22.

[151] Mannix, p. 13, 16.

[152] Mannix, p. 12.

[153] Mannix, p. 12.

[154] Winer, p. 196.

[155] Mannix, p. 16.

[156] Mannix, p. 16 - 17.

[157] Mannix, p. 17 - 18.

[158] Mannix, p. 18.

[159] Mannix, p. 15 - 16.

[160] Winer, p. 195; Mannix, p. 10 - 11, 14.

[161] Mannix, p. 12.

[162] Time-Life, p. 141.

[163] Mannix, p. 13. Passerinus actually won more than two-hundred races.

[164] Mannix, p. 18; Durant, p. 382.

[165] Mannix, p. 14.

[166] Mannix, p. 19.

[167] Mannix, p. 19.

[168] Mannix, p. 18 - 19.

[169] Winer, p. 195; Mannix, p. 141.

[170] Mannix, p. 139.

[171] Winer, p. 193. The practice of throwing food and gifts into the audience was also popular in theaters, and was referred to as sparsio. (Beacham, 178)

[172] Mannix, p. 19.

[173] Time-Life, p. 137. Here, a passage by Ovid is referred to, which notes the opportunity a young man has to impress his girlfriend by assuming a protective attitude towards her.

[174] Mannix, p. 14; Durant, p. 382.

[175] Time-Life, p. 141.

[176] Mannix, p. 139.

[177] Mannix, p. 19.

[178] Mannix, p. 20.

[179] Mannix, p. 23 - 26.

[180] Mannix, p. 22; Barton, p. 31, 36; Durant, p. 386 - 387.

[181] Mannix, p. 20; Winer, p. 196.

[182] Refer to FN 5, and Mannix, p. 20.

[183] Mannix, p. 27, 29 - 30.

[184] Winer, p. 198. Durant (386) adheres to the standard old view, with "thumbs down" calling for death; Mannix (29) mentions the controversy, without taking sides; Time-Life (146) avoids the issue by a careful choice of words: "… the crowd… put their thumbs up or down to signal their verdict."  [Back to Text]

[185] Mannix, p. 27.

[186] Mannix, p. 29 - 30.

[187] Durant, p. 387.

[188] Mannix, p. 30.

[189] From www.novaromra.org/ludi/html/history.html and Durant, p. 386. Information on boxers from Mannix, p. 31 - 33.

[190] Winer, p. 197; Mannix, p. 21 - 23.

[191] Durant, p. 386; Time-Life, p. 143; Barton, p. 48.

[192] Barton, p. 80 - 81.

[193] Winer, p. 198; Barton, p. 66.

[194] Time-Life, p. 148.

[195] Time-Life, p. 149. In private bouts in his home, however, Commodus may have killed or seriously injured various opponents. [Back to Text]

[196] Mannix, p. 30 - 31; Time-Life, p. 146.

[197] Mannix, p. 31 (who gives the length of post-fight servitude as five years); and Durant, p. 385 (who presents it as two years).

[198] See above; and Time-Life, p. 148.

[199] Mannix, p. 31; Time-Life, p. 148. Even gladiators who were not free had plenty of opportunities to mingle with the public and to be visited by interested women, who might be let into their chambers by owners or promoters (eager to reward their gladiators for their success) [Barton, 81], or else approach them at one of the public banquets given in honor of the warriors the night before the fight .[Time-Life, 144] [Back to Text]

[200] Mannix, p. 13, 20; Winer, p. 197.

[201] Mannix, p. 34 - 35, 117.

[202] Mannix, p. 34 - 35.

[203] Beacham, p. 79; Durant, p. 383; Mannix, p. 36 - 40.

[204] Beacham, p. 133; Mannix, p. 36.

[205] Beacham, p. 192; Mannix, p. 36 - 40. This second spectacle was more of a battle of infantry, fought on pontoons.

[206] Mannix, p. 47; Winer, p. 200.

[207] Mannix, p. 74.

[208] Beacham, p. 123. Here, of course, I am using the term "family values" quite loosely. Did children attend the games? They are rarely mentioned in the capacity of spectators. However, it seems that boys did attend many types of shows. Beacham (123 - 124) describes the way in which freeborn boys of the upper classes were required to attend presentations in the Theater of Marcellus in the company of their tutors, while poor boys, lacking a tutor, were "probably relegated into the upper galleries." He writes, of the upper class boys, that Augustus "seems to have been particularly concerned for their education and morals, as well as anxious to curb rowdiness…" Winer, writing on Roman boys, who began to go to school at age seven, and might be considered to be men by age seventeen (early republic) or even fourteen (late republic), says: "The schoolday lasted six hours, with a noon recess for lunch. Boys sometimes sneaked into the circus to watch a chariot race instead of returning to classes." (173 - 174)

[209] Mannix, p. 30 - 31.

[210] Mannix, p. 59; 112 - 113 Also p. 45, on the use of wires to make people, animals, and objects seem to fly above the Colosseum.

[211] Mannix refers to this on several occasions. It seems he consulted with various modern-day animal handlers and circus performers as a part of his preparation for writing Those About To Die, a book that, though far from scholarly, contains a wealth of information infiltrated into his "mass appeal" style.

[212] Beacham, p. 11 - 12; Durant, p. 384.

[213] Beacham, p. 12.

[214] Time-Life, p. 144; Winer, p. 198.

[215] Mannix, p. 124.

[216] Mannix, p. 124 - 127.

[217] Time-Life, p. 144 - 145; Mannix, p. 124. Mannix speculates that the legendary "Nandi bear", a cryptozoological favorite rumored (but by most scientists not believed) to inhabit parts of East Africa, might be a remnant of a once-ferocious species of bear utilized by the Romans in their games. (For more on the Nandi bear, see Bernard Heuvelmans, On The Track Of Unknown Animals, chapter 17.)

[218] Mannix, p. 127.

[219] Mannix, p. 126 - 128.

[220] Mannix, p. 82, 137.

[221] Mannix, p. 51 - 52. The use of slaves to "train" animals (by being victims), was sometimes complemented by the use of prisoners for the simple purpose of feeding the animals, if not enough dead gladiators could be requisitioned. When Caligula was faced with a shortage of meat with which to feed the animals he had gathered together for the games (he was going to feed them cattle, but found the cattle too expensive), he had a mass of prisoners lined up before him, and without reviewing the charges against them in order to select who would live and who would die, chose "baldness" as the criterion which would doom a prisoner to be fed to the beasts. (Durant, p 267; Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars: Caius Caesar)

[222] Mannix, p. 52, 67.

[223] Mannix, p. 67.

[224] Mannix, p. 50, 62, 109.

[225] Mannix, p. 48.

[226] Time-Life, p. 142; Durant, p. 384; Mannix, p. 112. Mannix, p. 98 - 99 on a battle between African and Indian elephants, which was really a battle between Indians and Numidians using the respective elephants of their lands. Mannix, p. 107, on the use of humans to incite animals to fight each other (he recounts the case of a man who ran at an aurochs, and lured it to run after him into the personal space of a European bison, which triggered the bison to attack the aurochs). While some of the hunts of harmless creatures may have given an opportunity for hunters to display their efficiency as archers, spearmen, and/or horsemen, in many cases these hunts must have degenerated into little more than mass slaughters of helpless animals, trapped in the arena with nowhere to run.

[227] Mannix, p. 59.

[228] Mannix, p. 75 - 78.

[229] Mannix, p. 107.

[230] Mannix, p. 109.

[231] Mannix, p. 33.

[232] Mannix, p. 89.

[233] Durant, p. 384.

[234] Mannix, p. 120.

[235] Mannix, p. 120; Winer, p. 198.

[236] Mannix, p. 125.

[237] Mannix, p. 120.

[238] During the grand opening of the Colosseum in 80 AD, over 9,000 animals were killed. (Time-Life, 142)

[239] Mannix, p. 80 - 89.

[240] Mannix, p. 110.

[241] Mannix, p. 53 - 55.

[242] Barton, p. 61.

[243] Durant, p. 385; Mannix, p. 112; Barton, p. 61.

[244] Livy, p. 18.

[245] Livy, p. 102 - 103.

[246] Lewis Mumford, The City in History. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961. P. 233. Mannix, p. 129 - 130.

[247] Mannix, p. 68 - 69.

[248] Mannix, p. 130.

[249] Beacham, p. 222 - 224; Mannix, p. 134 - 137; Durant, p. 280 - 281. For more on Christianity in Rome, see Durant, Book V. For more on "Emperor worship", see the beginning of Footnote 102; also my article on "The Roman New Age" in "Weapons of Depth."

[250] Mannix, p. 70 - 72; Durant, p. 385.

[251] Mannix, p. 118.

[252] Time-Life, p. 145.

[253] Beacham, p. 204 - 205, on Nero, and the collapsible boat which inspired him; Mannix, p. 71 - 74, on the destruction of the pleasure barge.

[254] Mannix, p. 118 - 119.

[255] Beacham, p. 181 - 182.

[256] See Footnote 102 for a detailed account of Caligula’s reign, and political decline.

[257] Barton, p. 62 - 63.

[258] Durant, p. 267.

[259] Beacham, p. 189.

[260] Barton, p. 60 - 61.

[261] Barton, p. 63.

[262] Mannix, p. 22; Barton, p. 36; Winer, p. 198.

[263] Mannix, p. 25; Durant, p. 386.

[264] Mannix, p. 24; Durant, p. 137 - 138. For more on Spartacus, see Footnote 16.

[265] On banquets, Durant, p. 386. On girls, Mannix, p. 25 and Barton, p. 81. On the pageantry of the pre-games march and entry into the arena, Mannix, p.27, 58 - 59.

[266] Beacham, p. 194. "Caesar", of course, was the generic term given to all the Emperors - a symbol of power ever since the days of Julius Caesar and his nephew, Augustus Caesar, who became the first Emperor of Rome. [Back to Text]

[267] Beacham, p. 110, 161 - 162.

[268] Beacham, p. 162. Along similar lines, Barton writes: "For Manilius, writing for his patrons Augustus and Tiberius, the gladiatorial games provided a source of foes to conquer when one had run out of enemies." (p. 38)

[269] Barton, p. 27 - 30.

[270] Barton, p. 26.

[271] Barton, p. 47 - 48.

[272] Barton, p. 47 - 48, talks of the gladiator as a man with nothing to lose, who is made free by his despair and the nearness of death.

[273] Barton, p. 70 - 72.

[274] Barton, p. 46, quoting Publilius Syrus.

[275] Barton, p. 46. One scholar, Georges Ville, claims that volunteers may have outnumbered non-volunteers by late Republican times.

[276] Barton, p. 24.

[277] Barton, p. 34.

[278] Barton, p. 44.

[279] Barton, p. 40 - 45.

[280] Barton, 35 - 36.

[281] Barton, p. 77.

[282] Barton, p. 58.

[283] Barton, p. 77.

[284] Mannix, p. 7.

[285] Beacham, p. 161: first quote (within his quote) from W. Nippel, second from D. Potter.

[286] Beacham, p. 160.

[287] Winer, p. 195.

[288] Mannix, p. 116.

[289] Beacham, p. 181 - 182.

[290] Barton, p. 47.

[291] Mannix, p. 7.

[292] Beacham, page 64; Mannix, p. 99; Time-Life, p. 145.

[293] Mumford, p. 233; Winer, p. 198; Durant, p. 385; Mannix, p. 121.

[294] See Footnote 235.

[295] Mannix, p. 136.

[296] Mannix, p. 240 - 241.

[297] Mumford, p. 227 - 228.

[298] Mumford, p. 228.

[299] Mumford, p. 228 - 229.

[300] Mumford, p. 229.

[301] Mumford, p. 231.

[302] Mumford, p. 229.

[303] Mumford, p. 229.

[304] Mumford, p. 232.

[305] Mumford, p. 230.

[306] Mumford, p. 231.

[307] When Roman democracy should be considered to have ended is actually a matter of debate. 27 BC is often given as the year in which Augustus "became" Rome’s first Emperor. In reality, democracy was already shattered by the time of Julius Caesar’s dictatorship in 46 BC, and had previously been dealt a death blow by the violent actions and personalist politics of Marius and Sulla (107 - 79 BC).

[308] Winer, p. 173. Of course, the lusty and highly-sexual wall paintings found in some residences of Pompeii provide evidence of more joyful/fun-filled themes also utilized in Roman home art. Nonetheless, the skeleton/brevity-of-life motif appears to have been quite widespread in Roman homes, and is consistent with the mentality of mortality and human limitations which permeated Roman culture, surfacing in other venues and on other occasions, as well: for example, in the midst of the Roman military triumph (or victory parade), in which a slave would constantly remind the celebrated general, as he rode in his chariot, that he was merely a man (Beacham, 20), and that his moment of glory on the earth was transitory. While this awareness could deepen and enrich life if properly understood and applied, for many ancient Romans it merely undermined all possible achievements and moments of happiness with thoughts of inescapable despair, leading to desperate reactions of evasion by means of obsession.  [Back to Text]

[309] Probably one of the outstanding examples of this kind of dissolution is the case of the vomitorium - a special room, common to many of the wealthy, in which Romans who had eaten their fill, and therefore temporarily blocked themselves from further pleasure, would go to induce vomiting, so that they could resume eating and once more hide from their despair, in pleasure. This is an amazing case of a culturally-sanctioned, architecturally legitimized form of bulimia; and an example of how one sickness may be used to run from another.

[310] Fuller, p. 259.

[311] Collingwood, Roman Britain and the English Settlements, p. 38. This man, as Caesar’s expeditionary force feared to leave their ships to confront the British army arrayed on the seacoast to oppose it, leapt down into the water and rushed forward towards the enemy alone, with the standard of the Tenth Legion in his hands. This prompted the members of that Legion, dreading to lose their standard, which would have been an unbearable disgrace, to leap down into the water, and follow him towards the enemy on the shore. As for Horatio, he was a Roman hero who single-handedly held off a force of attacking Etruscans long enough for his comrades to destroy the bridge behind him and prevent the invaders from entering and quite probably conquering the city (Livy 99 - 100). Mucius Scaevola is discussed earlier in this article ("Public Executions as a Feature of the Roman Games"); while Publius Decius Mus (Barton, 40 - 44) is known for his courageous devotio (self-sacrifice) during a war against the Samnites, rushing into the midst of the enemy while his army stood by in terror, awakening his frozen troops with his disdain for death.  [Back to Text]

[312] By the time the end approached, the complex international economy that Rome had once managed was in a state of disarray. Rome’s ability to pay for the vast resources it required had declined as a result of deteriorating productivity not matched by diminishing needs; at the same time, and as part of the same process, its ability to extract resources from other lands by force had diminished with the decline of its military. This lack of resources not only led to increased taxation, and to the "forced labor" system of Diocletian, but eventually to the forcible requisitioning of supplies from the Italian countryside by government troops. The State had begun to cannibalize itself in order to prolong its life. Under these circumstances, the last of the wealthy Romans in the countryside (who were actually a new breed of "noble", generated from the State bureaucracy after the old nobility had been essentially broken and displaced), began to militarize their villas, or estates, and to localize and withdraw their economies from the "global economy." The old patron-client relationship was reestablished, or reinvigorated. Tenant farmers gathered around these men, and the villas organized themselves politically to resist further predation from the destitute, desperate government of the city, and organized themselves, economically, to provide for their own needs outside of the collapsing international economy. Self-sufficiency, at a lower level, became the alternative to interdependency with its history of greater wealth, but also its possibility for greater calamity. In these developments, which took place in the final, fading decades of Rome’s existence, one can clearly discern the genesis of medieval feudalism. (Fuller, 259)  [Back to Text]

[313] However, the Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was at Byzantium, or Constantinople, did not fall until 1453 AD. Originally established as a second administrative center by Diocletian to help manage the unwieldy Roman empire, which could no longer be effectively controlled from the city of Rome, alone, Constantinople and the areas corresponding to it survived the wave of Germanic invasions which overran Rome and the western half of the empire. This Eastern (Byzantine) Empire evolved into a political and cultural entity quite distinct from ancient Rome, however; and so, its survival is never equated with "the survival of ancient Rome", which is held to have perished a thousand years earlier.  [Back to Text]

[314] Mumford, p. 230, 231.

[315] Mumford, p. 233.

[316] Although these games were Greek in origin, they persisted into Roman times, and, in fact, Nero participated in them (Durant, 282 -283). Various other Olympic-like games also existed in Roman times (Beacham, 214 - 219), although they were never as popular as the games at the Circus, or the gladiatorial spectacles.

[317] Of course, the turmoil at the soccer matches would not have led to war if other, deeper issues had not been involved. (For more on these, see: Liisa North. Bitter Grounds: Roots of Revolt in El Salvador. Westport, CT.: Lawrence Hill, 1985. P. 61 - 64.) Nonetheless, the matches were emotionally charged to the point that they were able to serve as a trigger for armed conflict between the armies of two nations.  [Back to Text]

[318] Some would argue that the death of some of the big stars, by violence, has unleashed waves of remorse and calls for peace and nonviolence among their fans. This is true, to some extent, but, by the same token, the "martyr cults" which have arisen from their deaths have also served to romanticize the "living on the edge" aspect of their lives.  [Back to Text]

[319] Fixed horse races, fixed boxing matches; the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when the White Sox threw the World Series in order to generate income for bettors.

Cheating baseball teams (extra baseballs were sometimes hidden in the outfield grass, to be thrown back to the infield in the place of the legitimate ball in play, if that ball got past the fielder).

Cruel sports play: Ty Cobb, the brilliant hitter and base runner, delighted in sliding into opponents with his spikes flying high.

The case of Stella Walsh, a Polish "woman" who won the women’s 100 meter dash in the 1932 Olympic Games: a 1980 autopsy revealed that Walsh had actually been a man. Various ring deaths. When questioned whether he had tried to hurt the opponent who he killed in the ring (in preparation for leveling a possible murder charge against him), Sugar Ray Robinson replied that it was his job to hurt people, clearly placing the blame where it belonged, upon the sport itself and those who derived pleasure from watching it. Accusations ceased, and the sport continued.

On a whole other level, public hangings were, in the past, essentially a form of entertainment.

Previous generations were also thrilled by tales of the killers and bandits of their own times, from Jack the Ripper to Jesse James, to Billy the Kid, to Pretty Boy Floyd, to Bonnie and Clyde. Our current obsession has been magnified by the increased capacity of our media to disseminate information and dwell upon dark themes.

Hunting, still a popular sport, was just as big in the past. What differed is that it was then more ennobled by its utility, whereas today its sport content has increased relative to its utility content. Also, as the skill level needed to bring down quarry has declined with the advent of high-tech weaponry, so the element of slaughter in the hunt has risen, which makes it seem more unfair and cruel.

As all these examples show, our current state of affairs does not exactly represent a "falling off" from a golden age. Our deterioration has roots, and what is going on today is probably the result of the interplay of our advancing technology (particularly our media capabilities), and our increasing psychological frustration as material values (fostered by greater abundance) tend to erode truer bases of happiness and self-esteem (such as family, community, and spirituality), leaving us feeling despondent, bored, angry, confused, and lost…  [Back to Text]

[320] As Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra (Part I, "Of War and Warriors", translated by A. Tille): "Ye are not great enough not to know hatred and envy. Be ye then great enough not to be ashamed of them!" But not being ashamed of them releases them from their cage. Ideals only partly lived by, although distasteful on one level, are nonetheless quite valuable, they act like flat tires on the vehicle of darkness, slowing down its terrible velocity.  [Back to Text]

[321] The recent rash of business transgressions epitomized by Enron, InClone, etc., is part of the same package.

[322] The Roosevelt Corollary (of the Monroe Doctrine) and Big Stick Policy of Teddy Roosevelt, and Dollar Diplomacy (associated with President Taft, and many future leaders of America), are historical terms given to some of the principles and policies behind this behavior. Later, as the Cold War intensified, various coups and interventions occurred (Guatemala 1954, Dominican Republic 1965, Chile 1973) justified by the US as necessary maneuvers in the global battle against the Soviet Union, while interpreted by many (but far from all) Latin Americans as acts of repression against legitimate political movements representing legitimate Latin American (not Soviet) interests. For a scholarly, non-anti-US study of events from 1910 - 1985, see The Hovering Giant by Cole Blasier. For a more radical Latin American perspective, with greater historical range, see Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.  [Back to Text]

[323] Critics of the current war in Iraq (beginning 2003) find the US occupation to be very Roman-like. However, the American goal seems to be to try to construct an Iraqi regime capable of governing the country in a way that is compatible with US interests, which will then enable the US military to withdraw. Permanent and direct Roman-like occupation does not appear to be the desired objective. In fact, something of this very sort took place in Japan after WWII, where there was an occupation and period of American rule, but only for a time, until the conquered nation had been reorganized for a postwar existence of its own.  [Back to Text]

[323a]  One interesting and blunt take on the role of the TV in America comes up in an article on Sam Cooke which appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine, October 6, 2005: "The Man Who Invented Soul", by Peter Guralnick (p. 135 - 142). Fellow musician Bobby Womack is quoted as saying (p. 138): "We had a TV, but my father called it 'the one-eyed monster.' He say, 'Why you watching that TV, the white man invented that, he stealing everything around you while you're watching.'"  Expanding the concept - because the distractive power of the TV is not, strictly speaking, merely a tool of one race against another - the quotation seems to get to the heart of a dangerous truth. [Back to Text]

[324] Other nations, which lose badly-needed professionals to this process, refer to it as the "Brain Drain."

[325] In fact, this has been taking place for some time. Different work ethics, expectations, and salary requirements are also being exploited by means of the massive export of US factories, especially assembly (maquiladora) plants, to foreign lands. This process, to a certain extent, helps to brake immigration, by reducing the need for menial laborers within the United States (they can now work for the United States in their own countries, a fact which immigration laws encompass); but it does not extinguish the dream, which many foreigners still harbor, of coming to America.

[326] Conscription, or the Draft - compulsory service in the US army, especially during times of war - became a gigantic social issue during the Vietnam War, and, in fact, is widely believed to have fueled much of the social protest and political agitation which shook the country to the core during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Politicians are not eager to reproduce this experience.  [Back to Text]

[327] Service in the military has long been a major asset in the quest for citizenship. On July 3, 2002, President Bush signed an executive order streamlining the process for acquiring citizenship (waiving traditional residency requirements) for foreigners who joined the military. He wrote:

"By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act…, and solely in order to provide expedited naturalization for aliens and noncitizen nationals serving in an active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States during the period of the war against terrorists of global reach, it is hereby ordered as follows:

"For the purpose of determining qualification for the exception from the usual requirements for naturalization, I designate as a period in which the Armed Forces of the United States were engaged in armed conflict with a hostile force the period beginning on September 11, 2001. Such period will be deemed to terminate on a date designated by future Executive Order…"

The order foresees a prolonged war and an increased need for military manpower, and offers an indefinite (but not necessarily permanent) incentive to foreigners to join the US military.  [Back to Text]

[328] See "How Many More Must Die?" by Sydney H. Schanberg in The Village Voice, 9/28/05 - 10/04/05. He quotes Charles Moskos, a professor of military sociology at Northwestern, as saying: "The political leaders are afraid to ask the public for any real sacrifice…" [p 32] Schanberg adds: "…continued support for [President Bush’s] crusade had to be conditioned on demanding little from the public."

[329] The political attack upon the Welfare state, the export of many US jobs to other countries, and in cases (though this problem has been overstated) the supplanting of American workers by foreign immigrants, may combine to lead to pockets of increasing poverty within the United States - breeding grounds of future soldiers.  [Back to Text]

[330] In theory, the globalization of national economies, which is nothing new, in fact - it is a recurring concept and practice - is supposed to assist in spreading the wealth of human productivity throughout the world. But critics fear that the process will only unleash new levels of exploitation of the weak by the strong, allowing the "rich to grow richer, and the poor to grow poorer." This perspective has been argued convincingly by many scholars, but is put into passionate words by Eduardo Galeano, who writes: "The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing… our wealth [Latin America’s] has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others… Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European - or later United States - capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power." [Open Veins of Latin America, p. 11, 12] Of course, there are many economists who disagree, and believe that globalization will benefit the poor nations of the world. Based on past experience, it seems likely that overall global levels of wealth will increase (until environmental limits are reached, and resource bases are either depleted or rendered insufficient by population growth); but that that wealth will be unevenly distributed, leading to increased differentials of income and power throughout the world, and within nations, and to the increasing impoverishment of areas that are neglected, and left to the impersonal dynamics of the economic system without active government intervention based upon humanitarian (non-economic) considerations.  [Back to Text]

[331] This process is greatly abetted by the central role which the major military academies play in producing the nation’s top-officers-to-be.  [Back to Text]

[332] Latin America has had a long tradition of military dictatorship and coups, and Latin American soldiers have, in many countries, evidenced much less of a sense of loyalty towards their civilian governments than that which (we hope) American soldiers still feel towards theirs. In effect, in such countries, the army has become a nation within the nation, and although it claims to act for the good of the country, its own vision of what is good for the country (as determined by its leadership) comes first.

[333] Of course, under various circumstances, the opposite could prove true, as the foreigner, with a different perspective gathered from his own life experiences, might question or see through things that native-born Americans did not.  Observe the consciousness displayed in an alternative point of view, which expresses awareness of the pressure to fit in at the same time as it resists that pressure with a genuine appreciation of the value of the differences that immigrants are able to bring to their new home:

Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


Come from my country

want to fit in

want to make it

get to the top of

the ice mountain.

Can I leave my heart behind?

Can I leave my heart behind?


Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


Want to change my skin

dye my hair

see my new country face

in the mirror

swim with the fishes

of the sea

stop climbing up the hill

of being me.

Such a long hard hill

to keep being me.


Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


One day the neighbor

won’t stare

won’t assume I’m the one

who did what no one should,

who couldn’t do what

everyone could.

I’ll wear his skin

pray to the altar of the


Every day I’ll

be more like him,

safe behind my shield

of disappearing.


Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


Don’t want to be me

in a strange land,

miss the laughter and the

love, but it wasn’t enough

to keep me where

there wasn’t air

or I’d be there

Got to keep up

in the place they brought

the gold to.

When you come from

the empty mine

you’ll know.

But oh,

it’s like a gunshot to

my Soul!

Am I the one who pulled

the trigger?

Is that why they call me



Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


It’s a mean world

when a good heart

gives in to the game

It’s a mean world

when a shipwrecked sailor

changes his name

so he won’t be broken

on the rocks.

Oh God,

Dilute me with time and


until I’m safe!


Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


Tower of cards

going to cave in

because the Suit of Hearts

is missing.

Fitting in,

I only built the coldness


You need my love

You need my love

even if you despise me,

don’t need an imitator

need the missing part

of you

I’m your missing half

the eyes and heart

you need

if I won’t bow down

to the stone face

on the shore.

I wasn’t meant

to bring you

more of yourself,

I was meant to

bring you what you lack

to bring us both

the key to



Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?


Conqueror one day

raped the dark girl

made a new mixed race

new blood poured out of the hate

hating itself

used all history

to run away

Ancient voices, old like

oceans, say

Never again

Never again

Don’t rape yourself

to be like them.

I can still be the friend

of what’s left of them

and what’s left of me

because time wants

to start again

and set us free

And it can be done

As long as I come

as me


Ye are the salt of the earth:

but if the salt have lost his savour,

wherewith shall it be salted?

 [Back to Text]

[334] The Senate remained, of course, but with reduced power; the court system also survived, but the Emperor had the authority to bypass it and to condemn whoever he wished.

[335] The primal effect of military pageantry, especially visible in the Triumph or in other spectacles involving large numbers of soldiers, was able to upstage, with its emotional power, loyalty to institutions with which the masses were becoming increasingly disillusioned. As the Emperors gained predominance in Rome, they surrounded themselves with military and civil pageantry, exuding power and glory in all public appearances. Beacham (p. 240) draws parallels between the political stagecraft of the Emperors, and that of the 20th-century Fascists, Hitler and Mussolini: "As Walter Benjamin observed, fascism was based in part on the ‘aestheticization of politics and the politicization of aesthetics,’ for which it drew extensively upon ancient example."  [Back to Text]

[336] Beacham, p. 181.

[337] See The Message of Rainsnow for an analysis of the possibility that America may one day succumb to dictatorship.  [Back to Text]

[338] From The Odyssey of Homer, Book IX, lines 82 - 104.

[339] The capacity of the DC sniper’s reign of terror, or OJ’s flight from authorities in a white van, to transfix the nation, as well as the huge success of COPS as it already exists, point to the possibilities for expanding this genre.  Related to this is the possibility that some day in the future, executions may be televised, not explicitly as a form of "entertainment", but as a "deterrent" consistent with a sterner sense of justice, which will nonetheless become a form of unspoken entertainment.  Already, spectators are allowed at some executions (as when relatives of victims are allowed to witness the killers of their loved ones die, e.g., in the case of Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh).  Down the road, the mentality that permits this could be widened to include society at large.  In Guatemala, executions of delinquents have been televised in the recent past, in an effort to stem a rising tide of crime.  The possibility of this phenomenon being embraced by our own culture does not seem excessively remote.  [Back to Text]

[340] Although the independent news media may challenge official presentations of the war, the government, by allowing or denying access to war zones based on political compliance by the media companies, may eventually steer coverage towards its own perspective. Editing and interpretation can be used to turn the raw war imagery into compelling entertainment (in the style of the gladiatorial games) and even political propaganda. Efforts of this sort were, in fact, begun during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, as the government sought to prevent any possible recurrence of what was considered to have been a damaging media presence during the Vietnam War.  [Back to Text]

[341] Of course, this is an overstated metaphor: to effectively control geographic space, ground troops will always be important; but the support these have from high-performance aircraft, artillery, missile technology, satellites, etc., gives them an edge the Roman army never had over the Gauls, the Germans, the Carthaginians, the Macedonians, or any of its other enemies.  [Back to Text]

[342] Writes Edith Hamilton of Tithonus (Mythology, p. 304): "This Tithonus, the husband of Aurora, the Goddess of the Dawn… had a strange fate. Aurora asked Zeus to make him immortal and he agreed, but she had not thought to ask also that he should remain young. So it came to pass that he grew old, but could not die. Helpless at last, unable to move hand or foot, he prayed for death, but there was no release for him. He must live on forever, with old age forever pressing upon him more and more. At last in pity the goddess laid him in a room and left him, shutting the door. There he babbled endlessly, words with no meaning. His mind had gone with his strength of body. He was only the dry husk of a man."  [Back to Text]

[343] Barton, p. 55.

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