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Roman Circuses and Arenas

For the Romans, circuses and arenas were both entertainment and politics. They institutionalised public killing, providing spectators with a voice in whether people lived or died. At the same time, they were also places where large groups of all social ranks congregated to exchange information. There was no internet then, or sites like insureforoneday.co.uk! Naturally, politics followed.

Roman Circuses

The Circus Maximus was not the only circus in Rome, though it was the first and largest stadium built for chariot racing. It was the site of public games as of the second century BCE. Julius Caesar expanded it to accommodate 270,000 seated viewers. Other emperors expanded and added to it as time passed. The circus was the sole place that the Emperor appeared before the massed populace; the imperial box was connected to the imperial palace. Chariot racing was the most important event; the Circus Maximus had space enough for twelve chariots to compete.

Chariot Racing

Chariot racing was among the Romans' oldest pastime. It took place in the circus and remained a popular favourite. Four teams competed greens, blues, whites, and reds with the charioteer donning the colour of his team. Races were incredibly dangerous; chariots had to make turns at high speeds, oftentimes leading to crashes and likely death for some of the contestants. Teams conspired against one another, trying to cause their opponents to crash. This was legal and encouraged. Races consisted of seven laps. Spectators, especially the wealthy, bet on the winners. Both four-horse chariots and two-horse chariots ran, but four-horse races were more important. Horses and charioteers could become very famous with success, most especially since their life expectancy was quite low. Teams also had groups of supporters among the spectators. They were so devoted that fights sometimes broke out between supporters of rivals. Such conflicts sometimes became politicized, which led to later emperors taking control and appointing officials to oversee them.

Roman Arenas

Roman arenas were important in public life starting in the third century BCE. All levels of society could take part. The term 'arena' signified the place of combat where sand was spread on the fighting grounds to soak up blood and allow for easier cleaning. Amphitheatres developed specifically for the gladiatorial events that took place on the arena, but other venues were also used: public squares, circuses, or a theatre and stadium could all host arena games. Amphitheatres were used increasingly often as of the first century BCE; at that time the forum went out of style as the place for arena games. Events of arena games came in three forms: animal hunts, public executions, and gladiatorial combat. The latter was the most prestigious.

Gladiatorial Combat

Gladiatorial games initially began as part of funeral rites for important people. The first gladiators were war prisoners, but eventually slaves were used. Occasionally free citizens entered gladiator school. Combat was dangerous, though combatants only fought a few times a year. If a gladiator lost, only public opinion and the emperor could spare him, giving the public a voice in life-or-death decisions. While incredibly popular early on, Romans became bored with the spectacle and demanded ever more exotic or unusual sights. Gladiatorial combat waned due to Christian influence in the latter half of the fourth century BCE.

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