Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 14, Part 8 of 10

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Yet the end could not be postponed forever. Rome began to be overrun by foreigners. Thousands of Gauls, Germans, and Parthians were living in the city, brought there to bolster the weakening empire.

These "barbarians" had no interest in the games which, after all. required a rather special taste to appreciate.

A Parthian prince left the circus in, disgust, remarking, "It's no fun seeing people killed who haven't a chance." The crowd yelled, "Burr-head! Why doncha go back to Parthia where ya belong?" but the savages gradually obtained the balance of power. After all, the emperors depended on these foreign auxiliaries for support and placating the Roman mob became less and less important.

The Christian church was growing in power and did everything possible to stop the games. In 325 A.D., Constantine tried to put an end to the games but they still continued.

Then in 365 A.D., Valentinian forbade sacrificing victims to wild beasts. He was able to make his edict stick, and that took all the fun out of the spectacles. In 399 A.D. the gladiatorial schools had to close for want of pupils.

Then in 404 A.D., a monk named Telemachus leaped into the arena and appealed to the people to stop the fights. Telemachus was promptly stoned to death by the angry mob but his death ended the spectacles.

The Emperor Honorius was so furious at Telemachus' lynching that he closed the arenas. They were never reopened. The last chariot race was held after the fall of Rome by Tolila, a Goth, in 549 A.D. He was merely curious to see what the business looked like.

Yet so deeply had the games entered into the national consciousness that people still considered themselves as supporting the Red, White, Green, or Blue faction—although many of these people had no idea what the colors meant.

In 532 A.D., riots broke out between the Blues and the Greens that threatened to wreck what remained of the empire. The Emperor Justinian had to call out troops to restore peace, and in the fighting over thirty thousand people were killed.

The only remaining relics of these titanic spectacles are some crude pictures scratched on the walls of gladiator barracks, a few cracked tombstones, references in the literature of the times and, here and there, the ruins of the amphitheaters.

The games followed the legionnaires as chewing gum follows American GIs, and wherever the legions were stationed there was sure to be a circus.

Roman governors built stadia as soon as they arrived in their provinces, confident that this was the only way to keep the population contented. Many of their letters express amazement that the Greeks, Gauls and Britons seemed more interested in having enough to eat than in watching the games.

Establishing these amphitheaters was a difficult job. The Greeks fought them to the last (Plutarch describes the games as "bloody and brutal") but in other countries the games slowly gained a following, although they never enjoyed anything like the popularity they had in Rome.

Egypt held out against them for a long time, but at last had to yield—in every nation there is always a certain proportion of people who enjoy such sights.

So all over the Roman world great amphitheaters appeared, hardly less magnificent than the ones in Rome itself: at Capus, Pompeii, Pozzuoli, and Verona in Italy; at Aries and Nimes in France; at Seville in Spain; at Antioch in Palestine; at Alexandria in Egypt; at Silchester in Britain; and at El Djen in Tunisia.

Many of these amphitheaters still remain. You can sit in the "maenina" (stands) with a cold chicken and a bottle of wine and speculate out of which door the animals were released, where the inner barrier ran, and how they got the lions out of the "cavea" (interior) into the arena.

As your guess is probably as good as anyone's, it's an interesting way to spend an afternoon.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Fourteen, Part 9 is next.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents