In most people’s opinion, the Roman gladiator games were gruesome and would not be permitted in our society today. However, the sport was especially popular in Rome, where it was considered the main sport and social event. It was performed in a giant stadium where people from all over Rome would come to see it.
It took ten years and a lot of money, hard work, and creativity to complete the Roman Colosseum, which was first called the Flavian Amphitheater, where gladiator games took place. The opening celebration lasted 100 days and consisted of games in which thousands of animals and gladiators were killed. Fights to the death were assured to please the crowds of thousands in an amphitheater that could seat some 50,000 spectators. Gladiatorial games would be held all day, with the main feature being the contests where trained fighters would fight to their deaths.
Trained in gladiatorial schools, slaves or criminals made up most of the gladiators. Another type of fight consisted of sending criminals of all ages and sexes into the arena without weapons to confront animals who would tear them apart, assuring their ultimate death, which was usually lions. Several kinds of animal contests were held as well. All these exhibitions were very popular in Rome.
Spectators would literally pack themselves into the amphitheater to participate in and watch the games. After a loud and sometimes long announcement, gladiator teams would enter the arena. A team of lightly armed men would face a team of heavily armed men jousting with dull weapons until the crowd would yell and encourage fights to the finish. Then the sharp swords and daggers would be brought in. These fights were so serious that the weapons would be presented to the Emperor to test their sharpness. With each and every type of game, the crowds would be merciless, crying for more gladiators and bloodshed. During the match, if they thought that a gladiator was doing well, they’d give him the thumbs-up sign; if not, they’d give him the thumbs-down.
When the day’s events would just about over, barred doors were opened, and hundreds of Jews of all ages would be driven into the center of the arena. The crowds would then scream for more barred doors to be lifted so that starved, man-eating lions and tigers could be released to attack the unarmed prey. The lions would have been starved for days, so they would be hungry enough to kill the Jews. These Jews were prisoners brought back from the Jewish war and the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. As slaves, they were forced into the amphitheater, where they were killed. After all the events of the day were finally over, mounds of corpses would be removed, and armies of slaves would prepare the arena for the next day. This practice, lasting for days, went on for years, marking one of the most celebrated holidays ever remembered by the Romans.
As part of the great festivals, public spectacles were provided by the Emperor and other state officials. It seems the gladiator games, the most popular and famous of the spectacles, served a purpose beyond just entertainment. All of Rome would be in attendance, from senators and priests to rich citizens and the general public. It is said that the contests encouraged a disregard for pain and death, for even slaves and criminals displayed a passion and need for praise and victory in the arena. But the gladiator games seemed to involve both a political and social purpose. The games served as a diversion from any political worries of the time, and they also seemed to be necessary to satisfy the needs of the common people. The Romans were a society that invested its time and money in this sport, giving the notion that it was a priority like some sports are in our society today.
The games were as popular as they were gruesome and caused great excitement and destruction. Civilized people created and promoted these events and participated in them because they provided great political and economic strength. I believe that these games were wrong and shouldn’t have taken place. They were morally wrong and inhumane. We are lucky that our society does not preempt these games today.
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