Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Spectacle of Bloodshed in Roman Society

Via HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD

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“The death of humans usually constitutes a spectacle, a disturbing sight which is awful in both senses of the word, an eerie yet intriguing phenomenon demanding acknowledgement and attention.”  Despite the death that surrounded their lives, either from battle or as part of religious sacrifices, ancient Romans also viewed the shedding of human blood as entertainment. For example, gladiatorial combats originated as part of wealthy citizen‟s funeral ceremonies to symbolize the human struggle to avoid death, but eventually developed into widespread, popular spectacles of bloodshed in Roman society. Spectacles of death were not only relatively normal events in ancient Rome, but were looked forward to by both the peasant and aristocratic classes and men and women alike. Death as sport was a common occurrence and in fact, Romans of all classes attended, accepted, and enjoyed the games. Throughout the arenas and amphitheatres of Rome, spectacles of death included gladiatorial combats, ritualized executions and animal hunts and these served the purpose of entertaining, punishing the people, serving as an example to other citizens, promoting interactions between the emperor and the ruled and even providing meals and meat rations to Roman citizens. Therefore, it is clear that the spectacle of bloodshed served a practical and significant purpose in Roman society.

Blood shows, known as munera, became a spectator sport in ancient Rome, and the main purpose for holding such an event was to entertain the crowds. According to Donald G. Kyle, in his book Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome, these spectacles played a major role in the festivals, social life, and public interactions of ancient Roman citizens for over a millennium. These events were popular, and Romans of all classes found something redeeming or entertaining about the shows: “[T]he Roman games are ludi, amusements, entertainments… and the performers exist for the spectators.” Many of these spectators saw the bloodshed and death of the gladiators as fun and even relaxing. Romans flocked to the arenas in the thousands. The popularity of these shows can be explained by the Roman love and desire for violence. To exemplify these Roman values, in the spectacles of the Roman amphitheatre the death of the gladiator was not trivial but, instead, was often the entertainment‟s climax. Gladiators often died in these sports and if, by chance, their lives were spared, it was only because the provider of the games wished to spare him. Romans were attracted to the arena “by the allure of violence, by the exotic and erotic sights, and by an appreciation of the skill and courage of some of the participants…”