Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 06, Part 1 of 8

(by Daniel P Mannix)

BORROWING HEAVILY from Martial, Seutonius, and other Roman writers, let's picture a day at the Colosseum at the time of the Emperor Domitian during the heyday of the games when Carpophorus was top bestiarius.

For weeks before the show, tickets have been distributed by wardheelers, thrown to the crowds by the editor giving the games, and sold by speculators.

People not fortunate enough to get a ticket have started to line up before the various entrances to the great building days in advance hoping to find standing room.

They have brought their food with them and are amused by tumblers, musicians, and dancers who hope that the crowd will toss them a few copper coins.

The ticket holders are shown to their seats by ushers called locarii: that is, men who show you the right location.

Then the soldiers guarding the entrances step aside and there is a frenzied dash for seats in the aisles and standing room in the top tier.

It's every man for himself. Women are knocked aside, children trampled, and fights break out in the tangle of passageways and ramps leading to the packed tiers.

In one such rush, forty people were killed. At last the gigantic building is filled, people crowding so close around the masts holding the awning that the sailors have difficulty handling the rigging.

The whole amphitheater is diffused by a red glow from the light shining through the awning covering the stadium. With this awning for protection, the signs advertising the games need no longer read: "Weather permitting" or "Will go on rain or shine" as they formerly did.

Perfumed fountains shoot colored water into the air, cooling the vast circus and sweetening the atmosphere.

Marble statues of various gods and goddesses clasp urns, dolphins, and so on, from which scented water gushes.

The statues could also apparently be made to "sweat" perfumes by some mechanism. The atmosphere takes some sweetening as already it stinks of sweat, leather, garlic, and the odor of beasts in the pens below the arena.

Later, it will smell a great deal worse!

The moat is filled with water constanly circulating and cooled with snows brought down from the mountains, for by noon the stadium will be like a roasting oven.

Summers in Rome are hot and this is one of the summer shows. Without the awning to protect the crowd from the sun, it would be torture to sit in the stadium.

Caligula, to punish the mob for criticizing one of his shows, had the awning removed and kept the people in the stadium under the direct rays of the sun for several hours. Many people died of sunstroke.

Most of the crowd have brought fans and are wearing their lightest togas or simply sleeveless tunics.

Hawkers selling programs, cool drinks, sweetmeats, and cushions to cover the hard marble seats, force their way through the packed aisles as best they can.

From the cages below the arena come the roars of lions, the howling of wolves, and the trumpeting of elephants.

People are busy making bets with each other or with the bookies who crawl from one seat level to another, shouting the current odds on the gladiators.

The sound of the crowd is like the noise of "surf in a storm," wrote a Roman poet.

As the awning flaps in the wind, the colors in the stadium change constantly. The awning is made of wool, canvas proved too heavy for the great span.

Although it was dyed red over most of its length, there were apparently other colors, too, because the Latin poets describe how the waves of light from the swaying awning would tint the white marble of the statues now red, now yellow, and now cerulean.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 2 is next.

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