Entertainment In Ancient Rome

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The Circus Maximus (Latin for greatest circus, in Italian Circo Maximus) is an ancient hippodrome and mass entertainment venue located in Rome. Situated in the Valley between the Aventine and Palitine Hills the location was first utilised for public games and entertainment by the Etruscan kings of Rome. Certainly, the first games of the Ludi Romani (Roman Games) were staged on the location by Tarquinius Priscus, the first Etruscan ruler of Rome. Somewhat later, the circus was the site of public games and festivals influenced by the Greeks in the 2nd century BC.

Meeting the demands of the Roman citizenry for mass public entertainment on a lavish scale, Julius Caesar expanded the Circus around 50BC, after which the track measured approximately 600 meters in length, 225 metres in breadth and could accommodate an estimated 150,000 seated spectators (many more, perhaps an equal number again, could view the games by standing, crowding and lining the adjoining hills).

In 81 AD, the senate built a triple arch honoring Titus by the closed East end ( not to be confused with the Arch of Titus over the Via Sacra on the opposite side of the Palatinium). The emperor Domitian connected his new palace on the Palitine to the circus in order that he could easily view the races. The emperor Trajan later added another 5000 seats and expanded the emperors seating in order to increase his public visibility during the games.

Chariot racing was Rome's oldest and most popular pastime, dating back to at lest the Roman Monarchy. Greek chariot races were held in hippodromes in the east, but in the west they were held in circuses. Other events eventually infiltrated the circus games (ludi cirsenses), such as Greek Athletics and wrestling, but chariot racing remained the popular favourite. As a sport, it was highly expensive, but organised into a highly profitable business. There were four chariot racing factions, the blues, the greens, whites and the reds the colours of which by respected charioteers during races. If successful, a charioteer could become rich and famous throughout Rome. Images of charioteers survive in sculptures,mosaic and molded glassware, sometimes even with en scribed names. The factions rivaled greatly, sometimes even leading to violence amongst supporters. In general, the greens and blues were the favorites.

The circus itself consisted of tiers and seats built around a U-shaped arena with an elaborately ornamented barrier, the spina, running down the middle. Metae, or turning posts, adorned each end of the course. At the open end of the U waited up to twelve horse chariots(quadrigae), which began the race from starting gates (carceras), drove to the right of the spina, and then continues counter clockwise for seven laps. At each end of the spina were seven lap markers, one of which was removed by each lap run by the charioteers. Circuses were also used for two horse chariot racing (bigae), and by the late Republic other events, such as foot and horse racing, athletics, and gladiatorial shows/mock battles were common place in the circus.

The first circus was The Circus Maximus, supposedly built during the monarchy. Later circuses were often confused with Greek stadia, which was later adopted to the Roman world by their own right, but were only approximately one half the size of the typical circus (180 - 200 meters in length, 30 meters wide, with only two turning points and no spida). Circuses remained common in the west and stadia common in the Hellenistic east in the tradition of the Greek games.

Very little now remains of the circus, except for the now grass covered racing track and the spina. Some of the starting games remain, but most of the seating had disappeared, the materials no doubt employed for building other structures in medieval Rome.

circus in ancient rome

In ancient Rome, plays were presented at the time of the games on contemporary wooded stages. The first permanent Roman theatre was ordered to be built by Pompey in 55 BC, eventually erected on the Campus Martius in Rome. Built of stone, it had a seating capacity of 27,000. Essentially patterned after the Greek theatre, it differed in the respect that it was built on level ground.

Excavated out of the sides of hills, the circular space located in the front of the stage in a Greek theatre was called the orchestra, where choruses and actors performed . Since Roman plays usually lacked a true chorus, the area in front of the stage which might have been an orchestra simply became a semicircular area.

All actors in Roman plays were male slaves. Men played the parts of women. The typical stock characters included the rich men, the king , the soldier, the slave, the young man and the young women. If necessary an actor would play two or more rows in a single performance.

The most notable part of an actors regalia was probably his mask. While different masks and wigs were used for comedies than tragedies, certain characteristics remained constant. All masks had both cheek supports and special chambers which acted as amplifiers. Grey wigs represented old men, black for young men and red for slaves. Young men donned brightly coloured clothing, while old men wore white. In this manner the characters could be easily identified by the audience. The actors spoke the lines, but a second actor mimed the gestures to fit the lines, along with back round music. Some things were represented by a series of gestures, which were recognized by the audience to mean something, such as feeling a pulse to show a sick person, making the shape of a lyre with fingers to show music. The audience was usually more interested in their favourite actors than the play itself. The actors would try to win over the audience's with decorative masks, costumes dancing and mime. If the play scripted an actor dieing, a condemned man would take the place of the actor at the last moment and actually be killed on stage. The Romans loved bloodthirsty spectacles.

Admission to the Roman plays was free to citizens. Originally, women were barred from viewing comedies and were only allowed to tragedies, but later, no such restrictions were imposed.

Pantomimes, popular during the 1st century BC, involved miming roles to accompaniment of singers, dancers, and musicians, in additions to visual effects, similar to a ballet. In mimes of antiquity actors spoke.

Women were only allowed in mimes and pantomimes, which were more popular than typical plays but eventually degenerated into vulgar and vile tastelessness.

theatre in ancient rome

Public Baths
In the time of the Roman Empire, the baths were a place of leisure times during which many Romans daily routine. People from nearly every class - men, women and children - could attend the thermae, or public bathes, similar to modern day fitness clubs and community centres. Men and women enjoyed coming to the baths not only to get clean but to meet with friends,exercise or read at the library. Generally, Romans would first go to the unctuarium where they had oil rubbed onto their skin and would then exercise in one of the exercise yards. From here they would move to the tepidarium or warm room where they would lie around and chat with their friends. In some baths the floors would be so hot that the bathers would have to wear wooden sandals to stop their feet from being burnt. The fires in the basement were stocked by slaves of the baths. Next it was onto the Caldarium, similar to a Turkish bath in which it was hot and steamy. Here they sat and perspired, scraping their skin with a strigal, a curved metal tool. Attendants would serve them snacks and drinks, finally came a dip in the calidarium(hot bath) and a quick dip in the frigidarium (cold bath). After swimming the bather might enjoy a massage,where he might have oils and perfumes rubbed into his skin.

The two most well preserved baths of ancient Rome are the baths of Diocletian and Caracalla. Diocletian's baths cover an enormous 32 acres, and now, the ruins include two Roman churches, St. Mary of the Angels and the Oratory of St. Bernard. The baths of Carcalla cover 27 acres.

Towards the centre of the Roman baths, adjoining the dressing room, could be found the tepidarium, an exceedingly large, vaulted and mildly heated hall. This could be found on one side surrounded by the frigidarium, a large, chilled swimming pool about 200 feet by 100 feet, and on the other side by the calidarium, an are for hot bathing warmed by subterranean steam.

Hot air and steam baths had been known to the Greeks as early as the 5th century BC, and have been found in Italy dating back to the 3rd century BC. The original thermae were small, hand activated individual sweets called balinae. By the 1st century BC, hypocaust heating allowed for hot/cold rooms and plunge baths. Bathing quickly became a communal activity. The first thermae was applied to the baths built by Agrippa in the last 1st Century BC. Emperors later built gradually grander baths, and the thermae became an Ancient Roman tradition.

Not only were the baths meant for leisure, but also, for social gathering. In addition to the bathing ares could also be found portico shops, marketing everything from food, to ointments, to clothing. There was also sheltered gardens and promenades, gymnasiums, rooms for massage, libraries and museums. Complimenting these scholarly havens were slightly more aesthetic marble statues and other artistic masterpieces.

bath in ancient rome

Several different types of shows all took place in the arena of an Amphitheater. The word arena comes from the Latin for "sand," which was placed on the Amphitheater floor to soak up spilt blood. Amphitheaters were most commonly used for Gladiator matches which had been adopted from Etruscan funeral rites (munera). By the last 1st century BC, however, the games had lost their ritualistic significance.

The earliest gladiator competitions were held in the Roman Forum, or in the Circus Maximus when no chariot races were scheduled. But in 29BC the construction of the first Roman amphitheater was completed. The structure was specifically designed for large shows and came into fruition as the idea of two normal theaters combined together. These structures were perfect for the wildly popular gladiatorial matches of the day.

Gladiators came from various lots of life. Originally, there were gladiatorial schools, but these came under state control in the first century BC to avoid them becoming private armies. The majority of gladiators were either condemned criminals (damnati), slaves, prisoners of war, or volunteers who showed up to do a show for a fee. There were four main types of Gladiator:
Murmillo: Fought with a helmet adorned with a fish crest, an oblong shield and a sword, He usually fought a Retiaritius.
Retiatirius: A slightly armed gladiator with a net, brandishing either a trident or a dagger.
Samnite: Utilised a sword, visor and helmet, and an oblong shield.
Thracian: Combated with a curved scimitar and round shield.

Various other weapons, women, and sometimes even dwarfs were used in the games. Special types of "wild animal matches" (venationes) were introduced in the 2nd century BC and became very popular. Such bouts included men on foot, and on horseback, known as beastiarii, who were usually either criminals, prisoners of war, or trained and paid fighters. Beastiarii fought exotic animals, which eventually led to an extensive trade market. Originally, wild animals took place on the mornings of the games, the public executions were held at midday, and then the gladiatorial matches. Over time, however, these divisions became blurred, and often may fights would take place at once, giving the appearance of a battle. Other spectacles included a mock navy battles (naumachiae), known to take place on artificial lakes, as well as animal performances, accompanied by music.

The amphitheatre itself is a Roman, not Greek, contrivance, and was particularly common in the west. The very first wild beast and gladiatorial contest, were held in open areas, such as the forum or circus. The first known amphitheater dates back to 80BC at Pompeii; the first permanent one in Rome goes back to 29BC. The design itself was oval or elliptical. Sloped seating could be supported on solid banks of earth held by retaining walls with external staircases or vaulted masonry structures. An awning (velum or velarium) provided protection from the elements for spectators, and in larger amphitheaters, service corridors and chambers beneath the floor held animals until they were due to go out onto the arena, which was done by the facility of trapped doors.

In small towns, the local Amphitheater could be the only entertainment. Due to their massive size, they were usually constructed on the edge of a city or directly outside its walls. Military Amphitheaters (ludi) built near forts and fortresses served as training grounds for soldiers.

Of course the most famous amphitheater of them all is the Colosseum.Located in the heart of ancient Rome its ruins are forever symbolic of the might of the Empire. Brutality and heroism were on full displaying this blood splattered arena, as humans and animals fought to the bitter end. But the amphitheater symbolised something different to those these games - it was representative of the victory of culture over lawlessness, of civilization over savagery. These were the times of swift justice, too , and the most dangerous criminals were habitually executed upon the amphitheater floor, either by wild beasts, or by other criminals in the fight to the death. Prisoners of war often met their end upon the same floor.


Dining Out
One of the most popular private leisure activities amongst the upper class was dinner parties, which could range from intimate parties for nine in a triclinium, to events with music and other forms of entertainment and very elaborate outdoor effects, like floating banquets. At Roman dinner parties, unlike Greek symposia, women and men dined together. The common class in Rome also had many opportunities for dining out; they could choose from a thermololium, which was a small pub-like shop selling warmed wines and the ancient equivalents of fast food, or various types of taverns or restaurants, some of which were also inns.
Some of these eating places also accommodated customers seeking other forms of entertainment, though one could go to a brothel (lupanar), which often offered customers small,cell type rooms which might be painted with images depicting the activities conducted there. Board games especially gambling with dice, were also popular and were often played in these establishments.

Couple dining in ancient rome

A Roman Triumph was held to publicly celebrate the achievements of an army commander who had won great military successes, originally and traditionally, who had successfully completed a war. The triumphing general was called vir triumphalis (not triumphator, a modern coinage), and retained the right to be described as such for the rest of his life.
The triumph was the greatest and most sought-after honour amongst the hereditary nobility that built and governed the Roman Empire, whose ethics were essentially those of an agriculturist and militant ruling class. After his death for as long as his family endured, he was represented at the funeral of every descendant by a hired actor wearing his death-mask (imago) and clad in all purple, gold embroidered triumphal toga picta which symbolized the supreme achievement of his life.

In order to receive a triumph, the dux must :
  • Win a significant victory over a foreign enemy, killing at least five thousand enemy troops, and earning the title imperator.
  • Be an elected magistrate with the power of imperium, ie a dictator, consul or a prateor.
  • Bring the army home, signifying that the war was over and the army was no longer needed. Of course this only applied to the Republican era when the army was a citizen army. By the imperial period, when the army was professional, the proper triumph was reserved for the emperor and his family. If a general was awarded a triumph by the emperor, he would march with a token number of his troops.
The last requirement sometimes led to deserving men being denied their triumphs, or triumphs being granted on dubious grounds. It should be noted that the enemy had to be foreign as internal conflicts, in theory, did not merit triumphs. The army also had to be of equal status. Defeating a slave revolt was not a cause for a triumph. Often an ovation was granted for a successful campaign which did not meet the requirements of a full triumph. After the establishment of the Principate, only members of the Imperial family were rewarded triumphs. Other citizens were rewarded with Ornaments triumphalia (triumphal regalia) so that the Imperial family could keep better hold on avenues to power and advancement.

The normal order of the triumphal parade was:
  • The Senate, headed by the magistrates without their lictors.
  • Trumpeters.
  • Carts with the spoils of war to demonstrate the concrete benefits of the victory.
  • White bulls for sacrifice.
  • The arms and insignia of the leaders of the conquered enemy.
  • The enemy leaders themselves, with their relatives and other captives.
  • the lictors of the imperator, their fasces wreathed with laurel.
  • The imperator himself in a chariot drawn by two (later four) horses.
  • The adult sons and officers of the imperator.
  • The army without weapons or armour (since the procession would take them inside the pomerium), but clad in togas and wearing wreaths. During the later periods, only a selected company of soldiers would follow the commander in the triumph.
The Imperator had his face painted red and wore a corona triumphalis, a tunica palmata and a toga picta. Traditionally it has been believed that was accompanied in his chariot by a slave holding a golden wreath above his head and constantly reminding the commander of his mortality by whispering into his ear. The words that the slave is said to have used are not known, but traditional suggestions occlude "Respica te, hominem te memento" ( "look behind you, remember you are only a man") and "Memonto mori" (" Remember (that you are) mortal").
Often the order of triumphal progression was varied by the triumphator by adding exotic animals, musicians and slaves carrying pictures of conquered cities and signs with the names of conquered people. Due to the many stages of a triumph listed above, Suestonius claims that the emperor Vespasian regretted his own triumph because its vast length and slow movement bored him.

The Ceromony

Theceromony of the triumph began with the triumphater walking outside the Servian Walls in the Campus Martius, on the western bank of the Tiber. He would then enter the city in his chariot through the Porta Triumphalis, only opened for these occasions. He then entered the poreium and technically surrendered his command. At the gate the triumphater was then met by the senate and the magistrates, who would accompany him. The parade then proceeded through the streets of Rome under a strict route. The progression went along the Via Triumphalis to Circus Faminius and the Circus Maximus. At times (not always) the captured enemy ruler was taken to the Tallianum where he would be strangled.

Caesar getting his face painted redCaesar at his triumph .

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