What forms of entertainment were there in ancient Rome?

The first thing we think about with Roman entertainment is the gladiators. The first contest was held at the funeral Decimus Junius Brutus in 264BC {Boatwright Gargola Lenski Talbert, p94}. From here it became massive entertainment. Gladiators often started out as slaves and became celebrities.

There were auditoriums throughout the Empire, but the famous Colosseum was not built until Flavian times {Boatwright Gargola Lenski Talbert, p382}. The games were: “magnificent; there is no denying it. But what pleasure can it possibly be to a man of culture, when either a puny human being is mangled by a most powerful beast, or a splendid beast is transfixed by a hunting spear”{Cicero Letters VIIi}?

We may consider the gladiatorial games to be barbaric blood sport. This comes from a society that loves big football hits, boxing and cage fighting.

The Circus Maximus existed from Rome’s earliest days {Boatwright Gargola Lenski Talbert, p377}. Horse and chariot races were conducted here, passions ran high. In Republican times there were the Greens and Blues, representing political factions {Dupont, p209}. Under the Empire; the Reds, Whites, Golds and Purples were added {Boatwright Gargola Lenski Talbert, p380}. Charioteers (today’s harness) were extremely well-paid and famous, but the races were high-risk {Dupont, p210}.

Another form of entertainment was the ludi scaenici or theatre. There were tragedies, comedies and more low-brow mimes. Greek plays were performed; then Roman playwrights include Livius Andronicus, Terence, Publilius Syrus {Dupont, p228}; then later Seneca {Boatwright Gargola Lenski Talbert, p 333}.

The entertainments enjoyed by Romans show how little has changed in 2000 years, certainly not human nature.

Works cited

Boatwright, Mary & Gargola, Daniel & Lenski, Noel & Talbert, Richard. The Romans: From Village to Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Dupont, Florence. Daily Life in Ancient Rome. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1992.

Lewis, Naphtali & Reinhold, Meyer. (Ed) Roman Civilization: Selected Readings Volume I. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.


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