July 21: Let the Games Keep Going!

2016/07/21 § Leave a comment

This day in 80 AD was like 99 other days that year at the Colosseum.

Begun by Vespasian but opened by his son Titus, the greatest of all amphitheatres was inaugurated in Rome with a lengthy festival befitting its massive and unparalleled size: one hundred days of games.

An average day began with the butchery of animals, especially exotic ones brought in from all over the Empire, of all shapes and sizes, from hares to elephants.  Depending on whose estimate you believe, between 5,000-9,000 animals were destroyed.  In Act II, criminal executions took place.  Most often they were subject to that Roman specialty, the crucifixion, but for the most dastardly criminals (especially war deserters and traitors), elaborate theatricals were staged, pitting them against deadly animals.  Later in the day famous battles were recreated, even ones at sea, as the Colosseum had a clever structure that allowed its arena to be flooded like a bathtub.  Finally, the gladiators would take to the arena in the late afternoon, and with a great variety of creative weapons would set upon one another in teams and singly in a battle to the death that makes WWE look like the kids’ stuff it is.

For all the mayhem and violence, blood and gore, the games proceeded in a predictable and orderly fashion.  The exquisite scripting of death as a spectacle was the most Roman quality of these 100 days in the most Roman of buildings.

Image: early fourth-century mosaic

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You are currently reading July 21: Let the Games Keep Going! at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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