Gladiators and Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome

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Eckart Köhne, Cornelia Ewigleben, Ralph Jackson
University of California Press, 2000 - Performing Arts - 153 pages
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Bread and circuses were what the Romans demanded of their emperors, and for more than 500 years spectacular events in amphitheaters, circuses, and theaters were the most important leisure activities of the masses in all parts of the Roman empire. In Rome itself, public holidays featuring magnificent and costly shows occupied more than half the year. Comedies and tragedies, pantomimes and bawdy folk plays were staged in the theaters, while in the arena of the Colosseum, opened in a.d. 80, gladiators fought in pairs or with wild animals to satisfy the blood lust of the crowd, and hundreds of thousands of race-goers packed the stands of the Circus Maximus to enjoy the thrills of chariot racing.

The organization of games came to be part and parcel of electioneering in towns and cities and was increasingly used as a means to consolidate the power of the reigning emperor. Like the sports stars of today, the top gladiators, charioteers, and actors were folk heroes, and the power of their universal appeal was recognized and exploited by politicians and emperors alike.

Two thousand years later, the Roman games may seem remote, but, as this superbly illustrated book shows, they satisfied the same need for excitement and hero-worship that gives rise to the intense media coverage of sports in our own time.

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User Review  - Poleaxe - LibraryThing

Decent book for one of those giant coffee-table types. Good general info about the games and some very good illustrations of the art and artifacts. Read full review

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Page 23 - ... beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs ; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state...
Page 8 - Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses.
Page 12 - Oscans, and the young men kept it for themselves and would not allow it to be polluted by professional actors; that is why it is a fixed tradition that performers of Atellan plays are not disfranchised, but serve in the army as though they had no connexion with the stage.
Page 26 - ... occurred a real and pressing famine, which was increased to the utmost severity by Papirius Dionysius, the grain commissioner, in order that Cleander, whose thefts would seem as much responsible for it as any cause, might both incur hatred and suffer destruction at the hands of the Romans. So it fell out. There was a horse-race on, and as the horses were about to contend for the seventh time a crowd of children ran into the race course, at their head a tall and sturdy maiden. As a result of what...
Page 19 - ... men contended. I twice gave the people a show of athletes collected from all parts of the world in my own name, and a third time in the name of my grandson. I gave games in my own name four times, as representing other magistrates twentythree times.
Page 17 - Asia and Bithynia danced the Pyrrhic sword dance ... A broad ditch had been dug around the racecourse, now extended at either end of the Circus, and the contestants were young noblemen who drove four-horse and two-horse chariots or rode pairs of horses, jumping from back to back. The so-called Troy Game, a sham fight ... was performed by two troops of boys, one younger than the other.
Page 140 - Now perhaps you would be indignant should I then say to you: "Sir, you know nothing about gymnastics; servants you tell me of, and caterers to appetites, fellows who have no proper and respectable knowledge of them, and who peradventure will first stuff and fatten men's bodies to the tune of their praises, and then cause them to lose even the flesh they had to start with; and these in their turn will be too ignorant to cast the blame of their maladies and of their loss of original weight upon their...
Page 17 - Wild-beast hunts took place five days running, and the entertainment ended with a battle between two armies, each consisting of 500 infantry, twenty elephants, and thirty cavalry. To let the camps be pitched facing each other, Caesar removed the central barrier of the Circus, around which the chariots ran...
Page 12 - The ancients thought that by this sort of spectacle they rendered a service to the dead, after they had tempered it with a more cultured form of cruelty. For of old, in the belief that the souls of the dead are propitiated with human blood, they used at funerals to sacrifice captives or slaves of poor quality whom they bought. Afterwards it seemed good to obscure their impiety by making it a pleasure. So after the persons protune et qualiter poterant eruditos, tantum ut occidi discerent, mox edicto...
Page 19 - Thrice in my own name, and five times in the names of my sons and grandsons, I have given combats of gladiators, in which about ten thousand men have fought.

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About the author (2000)

Eckart Köhne is a curator at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Cornelia Ewigleben is director of the Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer, Germany.

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