21 Nov THE ATROCITIES OF THE ‘COLOSSEUM GAMES’ IN ANCIENT ROME
THE COLOSSEUM GAMES
In 80 A.D, the ‘Games’ were organized in the Colosseum for the very first time. Tens thousands of half-bored Roman citizens were waiting in the stands for the ‘Big Show’. They were somewhat curious, but not quite sure what to expect.
In the gigantic arena, a dozen naked criminals are forced to ‘test’ a new contraption. With their hands tied behind their backs, the cruel see-saw like machine launches one victim high into the air, counterbalanced by another victim crashing into the ground on the opposite side.
This was followed by the opening of arena’s trapdoors from which starved wild animals rushed into the arena.
Lions, bears, leopards and wild boars chase down the frightened men, who will do anything to escape the horrifying snapping jaws and sharp claws.
The Colosseum crowd in the stands laughs and applauds. The spectators of this morbid ‘show’ are invited to place their bets. Which criminal will succumb first to these ferocious beasts? And who will be the last standing, both blooded and scared?
THE TRUTH BEHIND THE COLOSSEUM’S GAMES
The organizers and sponsors of the Roman Games in the arena were known as ‘editors’. The purpose of these Games was to promote their views and philosophies to as much of the Roman public as possible: men and women, rich and poor, children and noble elite alike. Each new Game promised its eager audiences even more spectacular shows.
The ‘editors’ from the ranking of both politicians and aspiring noblemen- would not hesitate spending huge sums of money on the Games they were sponsoring. To these sponsors, the Games were not just a symbol of power and money, but also an opportunity. The more shocking and spectacular the ‘shows’ were, the more public they would attract. And the more popular they were, the more influence the ‘editors’ would have, the perfect way for the sponsors to sway the public opinion in their favor. Every detail of these games had to be meticulously planned since the reputation of the organizers entirely relied on the good or the bad outcome of their shows.
Today, thanks to famous films, theatrical plays and historical reenactments, it’s not difficult to imagine what the Roman Games were actually like. In the movies ‘Ben-Hur’ and ‘Gladiator’ for example, we witness “the gladiator fights and the chariots races” which were the two most popular shows in the arena of the Colosseum. What used to keep the audience glued to their seats, however, and which is almost forgotten today, was the ‘halftime show’, known as the ‘condemnation by beasts’.
THE RISE OF BRUTALITY IN THE COLOSSEUM
It all started in 242 B.C. when two sons, looking for a new way to pay funerary tribute to their deceased father, ordered slaves to battle each other to the death.
With time, as this innovative spectacle grew popular within the upper classes, new rules and weapons were added. This was how the Romans Games that we know today, were born.
In 189 B.C, as the human duals became more common, a consul called M. Fulvius Nobilior decided to try something different. He included a much more exciting act to what was already a bloodbath: prisoners would have to fight not only each other to the death but also wild cats like lions and panthers. Nobilior knew the spectacle would impress the Roman audience as the hunting of ferocious animals wasn’t in fact, part of their culture. He was right, and it turned out to be a big success.
The introduction of the ‘Animal Act’ created a crucial breakthrough in the evolution of the Romans Games: It became far more entertaining to watch a criminal get savagely chopped up in pieces and devoured by wild starved animals than to let him die a fair and honorable death.
Twenty-two years later, in 167 B.C, Aemilius Paullus set an example of those who would dare to challenge Roman authority. He brought in deserters from the army together and had them trampled to death, one by one by elephants. “The act was done publicly”, stated historian Alison Futrell in her book “Blood in the Arena”.
Those who witnessed criminals, slaves or deserters being thrown to the beasts, shared and experienced an empowering feeling of ‘satisfaction and relief’. As far as the spectactors were concerned, the victims in the arena were seen as ‘inferior’.
JULIUS CAESAR’S INFLUENCE ON THE GAMES
General Julius Caesar is considered the first true ‘Master of the Roman Games’. He knew precisely how to manipulate the Games so they would generate fear, obedience and loyalty among the Romans. He would stage the Games in innovative and resourceful ways. He was the first to organize fights between recently captured armies. He’d quickly grasp the defensive techniques of his enemies, and use these same ones to help him in his future conquests, all the while showing the Empire’s power and superiority to its cheering audience. It would be hard to think of someone else who, for the sole purpose of entertainment, was powerful enough to make enemy armies fight each other to the death?
Caesar also brought back exotic animals from his recently conquered territories and used them in his Games. He thought that presenting these animals in the arena would be an efficient way of educating the Romans about just how large the Empire was.
He was the one that organized ‘hunts’ between soldiers and a multitude of lions and elephants.
Did you know that Cleopatra herself sent giraffes to Caesar as a gift?
Caesar worked hard on every detail of his Games. He spent a lot of money on the men (called ‘bestiarii’) who took care of the many wild animals. They were responsible for housing them, breeding and training them for their ultimate purpose; to fight, kill and devour hapless human victims. It’s not a natural instinct for a wild animal to attack and eat a human being, especially if they have to do it in front of a huge, noisy crowd.
The bestiarii’s job wasn’t at all easy . Disappointing the editors by failing to train the beasts wasn’t an option. Doing so could result in their own death.
To make sure the wild animals behaved as intended ,they would only be fed human flesh. Bestiarii also had to ‘train’ the sentenced men. They would tell them how to behave or move around the starved creatures. It would not only help the condemned men to avoid unnecessary suffering, but it would also, above all, guarantee an even more spectacular show. No detail was left to chance. Soon, the bestiarii-orchestrated Games in the Colosseum grew so popular that the stands would fill up with more than 250,000 people. As the ‘Games of the Midday’ became more and more monstrous, the Bestiarii gained more independence, enough to even rival the ever-growing arrogance of their ‘sponsors’.
CALIGULA UPPED THE CRUELTY
As the ‘Fighting Shows’ between prisoners and beasts grew bigger, fancier and more horribly cruel, it also became the preferred method of ‘getting rid of both criminals and enemies, in an amusing way’ .
Emperor Caligula used to sentence all the prisoners of Rome to death without even examining the charges against them and instructed that they all ‘be devoured’ by the beasts. The training of wild animals could take up to several months before they were ready for ‘use’ in the Games. It goes without saying that it ended up costing the ‘editors‘ huge sums of money.
With the never-ending and increasing pressure to do bigger and better every time, the bestiarii had to keep coming up with even more innovative and impressive ways to kill. They couldn’t fail their sponsors, nor their audience. Their new techniques consisted of building machines that would make the prisoners believe that there was a chance of escaping, only to make these structures crumble beneath their feet, condemning those helpless humans to a cruel death. After collapsing the structures, the action was put on hold for a few minutes before the beasts were released. That would leave enough time for the crowd to place their bets on who would be the first or the last to be devoured by the pack of starved animals. The increase of cruelty and brutality of the Beasts VS Humans’ ‘Halftime Shows’ was such that it was very common for the condemned to commit suicide rather than face the horror that awaited them the arena.
THE RISE OF THE KING OF THE BEASTS, CARPOPHORUS
Carpophorus was not only known for training the animals to fight against the enemies, the criminals and the Christians of Rome but was also the one that defeated the most terrifying beasts in the arena of the Colosseum himself. His heroic exploits were such that a poet named ‘Martial’ wrote about him in his Odes to Carpophorus.
COMMODUS, THE ‘GLADIATOR’
In 180 A.D, with their ‘Midday Shows’, the Roman Games were as notorious as they could be.
Emperor Commodus had little interest in running the Empire, but he was however obsessed with the Roman Games. Not only did he want his Games to be the greatest of all, but he wanted to star in them too. That’s when he started ‘fighting’ as a Gladiator. But to make sure he would win, he would carefully choose his opponents: specifically amputees or wounded men with only wooden sticks for weapons. Being a gladiator wasn’t enough for him, however, and he aspired to be the ruler of the ‘Halftime Spectacle’ as well. Here again, animals had to be injured beforehand or chained, in order to guarantee his victory. He even went as far as having his competitive bestiarii killed, so they couldn’t steal any of his fame. His madness got so out of control that men began plotting his assassination. Everyone hoped that his death would reinstate order and stability, but by this stage, it was too late. Rome was already shattered, caught up in an unstoppable spiral of death. Ironically, all of the people that wanted to protect their Empire, and dared to stand up for it, also ended up being killed.
AS THE GAMES DECLINE, CHRISTIANITY RISES
What used to make the ‘Roman Games’ so powerful and outrageous is paradoxically what made the Roman Empire decline.
The ‘Halftime Shows’ at the Colosseum became less and less popular and brutal with the crowd.
Early Christians were by far the most popular victims of the ‘Midday Shows’. Men, women and children were condemned by the Emperors, who humiliated them and had them thrown to the beasts. The spectacle was so brutal and cruel that anyone who witnessed these horrifying scenes would have to think twice before considering converting to Christianity.
But that created more sympathy among the spectators as the martyrs accepted their fate with grace and humility.
Inspired by this, more and more people found faith and converted to Christianity.
In the end, who would have ever predicted that these almost-forgotten ‘Midday Shows’ would have such an impact on the world even more than the famous ‘gladiators fights’ or ‘the chariots races’ ever would?
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