Diversity of the Games
The Roman games were a religious festival held in honor of Jupiter. The sheer diversity of the games amounted to a celebration of the immensity of the Roman world. They consolidated the ancient bond between the plebs (Roman citizens) and the Senate. Nobility turned out in force to attend the games.
The games were more than a grand parade of the nobility – they were a time of wonder for all. Huge stocks of gold evaporated in a week so the amphitheater could be turned into a place of miracles. For a blessed moment, the rules of normal life were held in suspense.
The diversity of the games included tightrope walkers, ballet dancers, amphitheaters filled up with water for naval spectacles, and fountains with perfumed water. But, above all, the animal world poured into the city – from all over, all to Rome.
Animals Imported for the Games
- Crocodiles from the Nile.
- Irish wolfhounds from Britain.
- Lions from north Africa.
- Antelopes & gazelles from the Sahara.
What the Animals Represented
- Like the empire itself, their capture and eventual slaughter represented a triumph of human order over a savage world.
- Most beasts were lethal – they were destined to be slaughtered, by skilled huntsmen, armed with pikes, who were the matadors of the classical world.
- Beasts were slaughtered in a solemn mood.
What happened in the amphitheater was more than a blood sport – it was a fortifying lesson in the triumph of civilization. The activities celebrated the victory of human energy, human skill, and human courage over the wild. For this reason, “human animals” also made their appearance – and, like the rest of the animals, they were destined for slaughter.
Saxon prisoners of war were sent to Rome to serve as gladiators, condemned to fight to the death in front of the Roman people. The deaths of such prisoners, rounded up from the coasts of the English Channel, were intended to make plain, in the middle of Rome, the most magical of all energies – the eternal victory of empire along the frontiers of the North.
Christian Nobility and the Games
The bronze tokens issued on the occasion of the Roman games show that representatives of Christian noble families presided at the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum over spectacles that were as thrilling, as cruel, and as calculated to cause the raw, pre-Christian adrenaline of worship for the city and the empire to flow in their veins just as any pagan family.
Background on Peter Brown