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

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The growth, character, and final degeneration of the ludi closely paralleled the growth, character and degeneration of the Roman empire. In the old, simple days of the republic, the games were simply athletic contests.

As Rome became a conquering power, the games became bloody, ruthless and fierce, although still retaining a conception of fair play and sportsmanship.

This was the era when Augustus had to pass a law forbidding patricians from jumping into the arena and fighting it out with professional gladiators, and a young noble would challenge a victorious German prisoner to a fight to the death.

When Rome finished her conquests and became merely a despotic power, the games became pointlessly cruel. Toward the end, they were nothing but sadistic displays. Shortly after this period, the empire collapsed.

Any modern promoter who cared to put on a series of shows duplicating the Roman games would easily be able to fill the house.

Mickey Spillane could be Master of the Games. Bullfights, cockfights, dogfights, and the Indianapolis Speedway (our closest approach to the chariot races) are all popular.

I even find it hard to believe that all boxing fans are primarily interested in the fine points of the sport rather than in seeing two men half kill each other. If they knew that one man really would be killed, they'd enjoy it all the more.

The most popular programs on TV are the Westerns showing men shooting each other. The next most popular are the gangster films. Of course, the men don't actually kill each other—if they did you couldn't get people away from their sets.

The Roman games were probably the biggest argument against "spectator sports" that can be advanced. As long as the Romans were themselves a nation of fighting men, there might have been some truth to the beliefs of Cato and Pliny that the games encouraged manly virtues.

But there is a big difference between tough fighting men, appreciatively watching a struggle between equally matched opponents, and a depraved crowd gloating over scenes of meaningless cruelty.

The same tendency can be seen today in rough sports. The spectator who hollers, "Murder the bums! Knock his teeth out! Kill him!" is usually a meek little guy in a rear seat who has just got a bawling out from his boss and had to sneak out of the house when his wife wasn't home. He wants to see somebody else getting hurt . . . he doesn't care who.

Chapter Fourteen, the last page of the last chapter, ends.

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