Gladiatoral Effect on Roman Society Essay

This essay has a total of 2673 words and 11 pages.

Gladiatoral Effect on Roman Society



One of Ancient Rome’s most important forms of public entertainment took place in
amphitheaters. These were the gladiatorial games. Although there were more renown and
primordial forms of entertainment, such as the chariot races, gladiatorial activities
became a widely popular and powerful form of leisure for Rome’s powerful and common
citizens. Roland Auguet writes:

It only remained for the emperors to learn the lessons of experience. They hastened to
appropriate, to their own advantage, as far as they could, a means of propaganda whose
efficacy was to be proved by history. The organization which thenceforward controlled the
right to give munera showed a more and more open tendency to monopoly, which was expressed
by legislative measures and considerations of fact; in Rome at least all the gladiatorial
combats…were offered to the people by the emperor (28).

Auguet gives insight as to just how important the games were for people in Rome,
especially the powerful. The gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome had many affects on Roman
society.

Gladiatorial games developed from a more passive state and different motives to the image
that many people in today’s society believe it to be. Before the times of the emperors,
gladiators were used primarily for funerary remembrance. The family of the person who had
passed away would try to honor the deceased by having a display of power and wealth and
other skills between men, gladiators, to show the prowess the deceased had possessed in
life. This form of gladiatorial combat had been going on in Rome and its surrounding
provinces since the mid-3rd Century B.C. and was often followed with a banquet and gifts
(Beacham, 14). One of the earliest attempts at using gladiatorial combat for reasons not
pertinent with showing the deeds of the deceased came in 45 B.C. Julius Caesar announced
to Rome that he would honor “his daughter Julia with a munus.” This was when Caesar was in
the midst of a consulship and had the power to put on a show of great magnitude. He told
the people that he would put on a show so enormous that it would be nothing like they had
ever seen. However, in his attempt to win over any Roman that had yet to concede to his
leadership, the Senate intervened and put restrictions on the amount he could spend
(Weidemann, 6). This move by the Senate would be followed during the rest of Rome’s
history concerning the amount allowable on future gladiatorial combats.

When the games were used to the advantage of the person running for an office, they had
lost most of their original ideology behind them. The transition from funerary purposes
to social purpose was a gradual one. During the Republic, when one died they, depending
on the amount of wealth left behind, might be given a gladiatorial combat and banquet in
their honor. The ideology behind these games was to show the kind of person and life they
had left behind. Thus, Roman gladiatorial games originally started out as a kind of
passage from life to death.

If used correctly, the ability to put on ludi, or games, was a strong ally. The games
were a significant part of a Roman’s everyday life. Before gladiators fought publicly,
the forms of entertainment were not much more than theaters that would perform Greek and
Roman plays, and the local Circuses that often showed chariot races. These events would
very often be sponsored and supported by Senators and other Romans who would want to run
for office and become more popular. It was against the law to give bribes and “donations”
to people to get their votes for or against something; however, bribes would still take
place. Besides doing the honest deed by campaigning strongly for such heralded positions
as Consul and Tribune, these prospective candidates would put on shows in their name.
After the shows a festival would often be given to and for the people of Rome. The show
and the banquet would often be very expensive expenditures. These would often be
beneficial to the candidates, as the Romans would favor these candidates more because they
could put on a show. These passive forms of bribery soon expelled others from running for
offices. Romans came to expect these voluptuous banquets and magnificent shows from the
candidates. As a result, poorer candidates who could not afford to sponsor a game were
overlooked by the people (Beacham 15).

Around 44 B.C., the games started to become less about funerary purposes and more of an
entertainment theme. In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar had given the biggest spectacle of
entertainment Rome had ever seen. With restrictions by the Senate, he was not able to
involve as many gladiators as he advertised, but more important than that, he started a
new trend. The following year, on 14 February 44 B.C., at the annual Lupercalia Festival,
Julius Caesar was given the title Dictator Perpetual. Thus came the end of the Republic
and the beginning of a new Rome. The death of the Republic was not celebrated by a mortal
combat between men with few clothes and a weapon; it was followed by constant war until
Octavian Caesar took control of Rome in 27 B.C. Thus gladiatorial combats as funerary
games ended. They were replaced with games that would be presented as part of a calendar
of public events meant to ensure the continuity of the state and its emperors. The games
became associated with the continuation of Roman life and values (Futrell, 46-47).

From the start of the Roman Civil War, with the assassinations of the Gracchi brothers in
131 and 121 B.C. respectively, politics in Ancient Rome turned into a violent and
increasingly competitive state. The leaders of Rome used spectacles like gladiators to
direct the attention away from the negative aspects of the Republic. They used bloodshed
in the arena to try to balance the amount of mayhem that was happening inside and outside
the walls of Rome itself. With the ever-increasing importance of gladiatorial combat as
both an accessory for the people and a weapon against political opponents, places to watch
these shows would need to be constructed, and they were.

Amphitheaters had political ideas built into their construction. The location of
construction of amphitheaters in Rome was not always built in densely populated areas.
Before its use in Imperial Rome, the amphitheater held an independent status. The
placement of theaters in and around Rome did not correspond to developed areas. In the
provinces of Rome the theaters were often built in and around military frontiers. In
Gaul, for example, there was an amphitheater built in complete isolation from any central
village or town (58). Gaul’s theater shows that there oftentimes there were very few
determining factors of their placement. The few factors would have been their societal
and political impact on Rome’s conquered peoples as well as an attempt to assimilate Roman
values and ideals into their everyday lives.

The construction of amphitheaters also shows political and sociological views of the
Romans. One of the more important features of the theaters was the seating. The theaters
would be built to hold vast numbers of people. The better seats would be given to the
more important people in Roman society. The Senators’ decree provided that “every public
performance, wherever held, the front section must be reserved for senators” (Beacham,
122).

As gladiatorial games became more popular, the size, magnificence, and seating capacities
greatly increased. The pinnacle of every amphitheater ever built was the Colosseum in
Rome. Built on the grounds of the former Golden House of Nero, it was a project started
by the emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 A.D.) and completed by the emperor Titus in 80 A.D. It
was four stories in height and could hold an amazing 50,000 people! These houses of games
were the products of ambitious, young Romans who sought to help themselves while helping
Rome.

Continues for 6 more pages >>




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