Friday, October 12, 2012

Res Gestae 22: Augustus' Gladiatorial Shows

My upper level Latin students have been working through Augustus' Res Gestae (RG) and Suetonius Divus Augustus this fall. We've finished with the RG and started in on Suetonius with a quick read through his Divus Iulius in English translation. The development of gladiatorial spectacles from Julius Caesar to Augustus is quite important in the transformation of such spectacles from funerary displays to public entertainments. In 65 B.C.E. Caesar staged extravagant gladiatorial combats in honor of his father, who had died in 85 B.C.E.. Suetonius (Div. Iul. 10) reports that Caesar had brought so many gladiators to Rome causing his enemies to fear for their safety that a limit was imposed on the number of gladiators that could be used in a spectacle. Augustus himself imposed further limitations on the number of gladiators, but we see that he must have made exceptions to these limits when staging spectacles himself or on behalf of his heirs. Although limitations were being placed on the number of gladiators, the first permanent amphitheater was constructed in 29 B.C.E. by Statilius Taurus, one of Augustus' most successful generals.
 
In RG 22 Augustus recounts the entertainments he sponsored for the people of Rome, including gladiatorial combats (munus, sing./munera pl.), Greek style athletics, chariot races, and animal hunts. Approximately 10,000 gladiators fought in eight different show, an extremely high number per show no matter how the math is worked out in light of the restrictions that had been placed on the number of gladiators. Presumably Augustus staged at least some of his spectacles in the amphitheater of Statilius Taurus, but this passage suggests that there were other, temporary amphitheaters available as well. A.Cooley (Res Gestae Divi Augusti (2009) 203) identifies four of the five gladiatorial spectacles as follows:
  • 16 B.C.E. as part of the rededication of the Temple of Quirinus.
  • 12 B.C.E. as part of the Quinquatria, a festival in honor of the goddess Minerva, in the name of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius.
  • 7 B.C.E. in memory of Agrippa, possibly in the name of Gaius and Lucius.
  • 6 C.E. in memory of Drusus the Elder in the name of his grandsons Germanicus and Claudius.

Here's what Augustus has to say in Res Gestae 22:
"Three times I gave gladiatorial shows in my own name and five times in the name of my sons or grandsons; approximately 10,000 men fought in these shows. Twice I offered the people spectacles of athletes invited from every part of the empire in my own name and for a third time in the name of my grandson. Four times I celebrated games in my own name, twenty-three times more on behalf of other magistrates. As head of the college, together with M. Agrippa, I celebrated the secular games for the College of Fifteen in the consulship of C. Furnius and C. Silanus (17 B.C.E.). In my thirteenth consulship (2 B.C.E.), I first celebrated the games of Mars, which afterward in following years the consuls held successively by senatorial decree and by law. In my own name or in the name of my sons or grandsons, I sponsored hunts of animals from Africa twenty-six times for the people in the circus, in the forum or in amphitheaters, in which approximately 3,500 animals were killed." (My translation.)
 
And the Latin:
"Ter munus gladiatorium dedi meo nomine et quinquiens filiorum meorum aut nepotum nomine, quibus muneribus depugnaverunt hominum circiter decem millia. Bis athletarum undique accitorum spectaculum populo praebui meo nomine et tertium nepotis mei nomine. Ludos feci meo nomine quater, aliorum autem magistratuum vicem ter et viciens. Pro conlegio XV virorum magister conlegii collega M. Agrippa ludos saeclares C. Furnio C. Silano cos. feci. Consul XIII ludos Martiales primus feci quos post id tempus deinceps insequentibus annis s.c. et lege fecerunt consules. Venationes bestiarum Africanarum meo nomine aut filiorum meorum et nepotum in circo aut in foro aut in amphitheatris populo dedi sexiens et viciens, quibus confecta sunt bestiarum circiter tria millia et quingentae."
 
More to come on Augustus' gladiatorial shows as my Latin students make their way through Suetonius...

Friday, May 25, 2012

If the Colosseum had been built on the University of Utah campus...

The BBC has a cool tool that puts the size of the Colosseum in perspective by letting you plop down the amphitheater's footprint in your own neighborhood. (They also offer comparisons of the pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, the leg span of the Colossus of Rhodes and more.)

The Colosseum compared to Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Huntsman Center, via the BBC
 I dropped the Colosseum on the middle of the University of Utah campus and it's interesting to see how it compares to the modern sports arenas. There are two arenas on campus: Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the Utes' football team plays and where the 2002 Winter Olympic ceremonies took place, and the Jon M. Hunstman Center, where the Utes' basketball teams and women's gymnastics compete. While it is roughly similar in size to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Colosseum would probably have dwarfed Rice-Eccles in appearance due to the difference in building techniques.
The Colosseum vs. Rice-Eccles Stadium (photos by author)
The stats:

The Colosseum
First Game(s): 80 A.D.
Cost: Unknown
Seating: 54,760, estimates vary from ca. 50,000 to 80,000[1]
Overall Square footage: 258,334
Arena Dimensions in feet: 282.15 x 177.17[2]

Rice-Eccles Stadium
First Game(s): 12 September, 1998
Cost: ca. $50 million ($71.3 million in 2012 according to Wikipedia)
Seating: 46,179
Overall Square footage: 234,350
Arena Dimensions in feet: 360 x 160 (NCAA regulation)

Jon M. Huntsman Center
First Game(s): 30 November, 1969
Cost: $10,392,00 in 1969 ($65.9 million in 2012 according to Wikipedia)
Seating: 15,115
Overall Square footage: Unknown
Arena Dimensions in feet: 94 x 50 (NCAA Men's Basketball regulation)

It's interesting to compare the seating arrangments of the three arenas. In the Colosseum, the best seats were front row seats. Bomgardner has calculated some numbers: for the tribunal, where the emperor and his guests sat, ca. 60 seats and ca. 2,190 seats for the podium, where senators and various priests and priestesses, like the Vestal Virgins, sat. These VIP's sat in portable folding chairs that they would have brought with them, while the rest of the audience sat in bleacher-style seating, packed in like sardines, if we extrapolate from Ovid's comments (Ars Amatoria I.139-142) about being compelled to sit glued to the side of one's neighbor in the Circus Maximus. (Of course, Ovid doesn't mind this as he thinks it's a great way to pick up girls!) 
Seating arrangments in the Colosseum (excerpted from A. Claridge (1998) Rome, p. 279)
It is debatable which are the best seats at Rice-Eccles. There are the front line seats, closest to the action, or the "luxury suites" (953 seats) up in the skyboxes. There are generally better seats at Rice-Eccles than in the Colosseum, because it has 15,015 "chair seats," but the other ca. 30,000 seats in the bleachers aren't much better than what the Roman enjoyed! The Huntsman Center has better overall seating, everyone gets a "chair seat", but there are only 194 front row seats.

[1] Bomgardner, D.L. (2000) The Story of the Roman Amphitheater, p. 20.
[2] Richardson, L. (1992) A New Topographical Dictionary, p. 10.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gladiators & Politic(ian)s (or, Why I Started This Blog)

I've been toying with the idea of developing a course on the cultural history of the Colosseum for several years now. I'd cover the usual amphitheater and gladiator topics from the "origins" of the games, through the building of the Colosseum, and the spread of amphitheater culture throughout the Roman empire. But I'd also dedicate a large chunk of the course to the cultural reception and appropriation of the Colosseum, and gladiators, from antiquity to modern times. Having pondered this idea for almost four years, gathering references here and there, I decided to commit to the idea and make a more concerted effort to developing the course, so that I'd be ready to propose it and teach it when the opportunity arose. And so, last fall, I started Amphitheatrum ad Infinitum. It's been a beginning filled with fits and starts, but now that the academic year is drawing to a close, I am hoping to develop a blogging habit and go somewhere with this course concept.

I started thinking about this Colosseum course four years ago, when we were in the midst of primary elections and political debates. I woke up one morning in February to a rehashing of the Obama-Clinton debate in Cleveland, OH, on NPR. Tom Ashbrook of On Point was getting a local take on the February 26th debate staged at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center from Mike McIntyre, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The thing that struck me was the way in which Ashbrook and McIntyre identified the debate as a "spectacle" comparable to a fight or a gladiator match. Here's the most relevant part of the analysis:

Ashbrook: "What was the sense in the hall? How did Ohioans respond?"

McIntyre: "... When it actually rolls into your town it just has a bigger spectacle, you know. Some of the folks that were following the campaign were rolling their eyes, like "here we go again," "we've heard all this before."..."

Ashbrook: "Did you have a sense, or was there a sense in the hall of who came out on top? It's neck and neck in Texas. I don't know where it stands in Ohio in the polls right now. Was there a sense of a winner, of two gladiators who have been at it, both admired for sticking at it? How did you read the Ohio response in that microcosm Mike?

McIntyre: "What's interesting about the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University where this debate was held, is that it is a place where there have been boxing matches, big time wrestling spectacles, there was even something called the "King of the Cage" match, where a kick in the teeth really is a kick in the teeth. And so it was a perfect site for this kind of a debate. I think it, I think people did see it as a couple of people who are really battling for it. In the end I don't think any opinions were changed, I don't think any minds were made up, based on last night's debate.  But I think people really did, they behaved themselves and didn't cheer on television as they were admonished not to, but I think that people really did think that their candidate represented themselves well, whichever side of the aisle they were on." [You can hear the whole broadcast here.] 

The positive identification of Obama and Clinton as gladiators and the suggested parallel between the debate and the other combat sporting events that have been staged at the Wolstein Center illustrate an interesting cultural appropriation of the arena. The image of the gladiator has become a popular one in our modern culture. The gladiator has come to represent the underdog who overthrows the forces of oppression. A hero who will fight to the death for his beliefs or for his "team." This is easily seen in films like Spartacus or Gladiator or in the innumerable identifications of football players as "gridiron gladiators."

While ancient gladiators had a certain celebrity, they were largely considered disreputable (infames), like prostitutes and others who made a living by "selling" their bodies, and were most frequently slaves. And a Roman citizen most assuredly would not identify with a gladiator. In fact, we can see gladiator being used as a slur against one's political opponents in ancient Rome. Perhaps the best of examples of this come from Cicero's defense of Publius Sestius in 56 B.C.E. against charges of using violence for political gain (de vis). Cicero's nemesis, Publius Clodius Pulcher (and probably his brother, Appius Claudius Pulcher), was almost certainly behind the charges brought against Sestius. As the last to speak in Sestius' defense, Cicero does not need to deal the charges or the facts of the trial. Instead he sets out to demonstrate that Sestius was the sort of man who had only the best interests of the republic at heart and to attack those who are wrongly prosecuting him, namely Clodius. Cicero repeatedly refers to Clodius as a gladiator, accusing him of using untrained gladiators to compel political support in the forum by means of violence and bloodshed. Cicero's identification of Clodius with gladiators is clearly antithetical to Ashbrook and McIntyre's identification of Obama and Clinton. [You can read a translation of Cicero's Pro Sestio here. The gladiator references pick up in section 77.]

We are now in the midst of the campaign season, again, and I was quite thrilled to see this on the cover of the February 6th issue of Newsweek.


From what I've seen, this cover as largely met with ridicule, and I suspect that this is a case where it is better to imagine the politician as a gladiator, than to actually see him dressed/photoshopped up like one. Still further comparisons have been drawn between this spring's campaigning and the arena. The debate audiences have even been compared (here and here at 10:36:25) to the unruly spectators at the Colosseum at the CNN debates in January.

The issue of politics and the arena is a topic that I will return to in the future. In fact, there's a lot of interesting stuff to think about in Cicero's Pro Sestio. Gladiatorial games were as much about politics as they were about sporting spectacles. It seems that we have returned to that political idiom again and it will be interesting to see how it recurs as the campaign season continues. We already have images of bruised and battered politicians, as if they have been fighting it out hand to hand (see here).

I had never heard the comparison of a modern political to a gladiator made until the 2008 presidential campaign. Were there earlier comparisons in American politics? Please send them my way if you know of any.







Monday, April 9, 2012

Reditum ad Amphitheatrum...

I've been away from this blog for too long and hope to begin regular posts this spring. Think of it as a sort of second coming. To ease me back into things, the Colosseum has conveniently been in the news this weekend for two different reasons: 1) Passover and 2) protests by the "gladiators" who pose for pricy pics with tourists.

In 1749 Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) declared the Colosseum sacred ground and had a cross erected in the center of the arena and a series of fourteen crosses to mark the stages of the Passion of Christ around the perimeter of the arena. The crosses stood in the arena for a a century and a quarter, until they were taken down prior to excavation of the arena began in 1874. The Popes, however, have continued to mark the beginning of Passover with a procession to the Colosseum, often referred to as the "Via Crucis" or the "Way of the Cross."

Cross on the south side of the Colosseum arena ~photo by author

Anyone who has been to Rome, has has almost certainly seen, if not been acosted by the "gladiators" who hire themselves out for tourist photos at the Colosseum and other major tourist venues such as the Trevi Fountain. In reality, most of the ones I have encountered seem to be costumed in military garb of some sort, rather than gladiator outfits.  Last August, a number of these "gladiators" were arrested in an undercover sting, after it was revealed to the police that they were working as an organized and illegal gang to bilk tourists out of their euros. This past week the City of Rome issued notice that the "gladiators" would be prohibited from plying their trade at the Colosseum as of April 6th.  They can, however, continue to line the streets leading up to the Colosseum and work in the vicinity of other tourist attractions; other, licensed vendors, were also asked to move away from the Colosseum.  (The rogueclassicist has conveniently collected the pertinent news stories over at Rogueclassicism.)

It is interesting that this ban on "gladiators" at the Colosseum is happening now. As already mentioned, it may have something to do with last years arrests, but another possible reason for their removal may be tied to the conservation work that is just beginning on the Colosseum. Albert Prieto has written up "What's Wrong with the Colosseum" in a two part post over at the American Institute for Roman Culture (see here and here).

"Gladiators" at the ready outside the Colosseum ~photo by author

On Saturday, April 7th, a number of "gladiators" protested the ban by climbing the Colosseum and displaying banners supporting their cause. The banner I find most interesting is one that reads "30 famiglie romane da oggi senza pane. Diritto al lavoro." (30 Roman families are without bread today. Right to work.). Although probably unintentional, it reminds me of Juvenal's panem et circensem or "bread and circuses." Juvenal, in his tenth satire, is commenting on what gets the attention of the people in the first century B.C.E.; only free food and entertainment does the job. (For photos of the "gladiators" holding the Colosseum check out the series at La Reppublica).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anachronistic Colosseums

The Colosseum is iconic.  It is the symbol of ancient Rome.  And even though it was relatively late on the scene in terms of Roman history, (ca. 800 years late!, if one counts from the legendary founding in 753 B.C.E.), it still pops up from time to time in modern recreations of earlier Roman eras.  

Yesterday, I learned (thanks to a tweet from the rogueclassicist!) that Warner Brothers has purchased the rights to a time-travel story created on reddit in response to a post asking if the entire Roman empire, during the Augustan period (27 B.C.E.-14 C.E.), could be destroyed by a modern Marine battalion.  James Erwin responded with a series of posts that tell this tale, which he entitled Rome Sweet Rome.  The story itself has potential; The Final Countdown was pretty awesome 30 years ago.  Will Warner Brothers actually make the movie?  We'll have to wait and see.

The story now has its own reddit and facebook page, and there is some cool concept art as well.  The main poster (see the concept art here) depicts three togate men flanked by military standards overlooking a mass of Roman troops.  There are several temples in the background, helicopters in the sky, and looming over it all - the Colosseum.  It screams "ROMAN!" 

But Augustus never knew the Colosseum, despite the fact that Vespasian supposedly (according to Suetonius) began the work on the amphitheater after discovering that Augustus had favored such a project.  During Augustus' lifetime, the first permanent, stone amphitheater was built in Rome by Titus Statilius Taurus, one of Augustus' generals in the civil war and dedicated in 29 B.C.E.  It was destroyed by the great fire of 64 C.E. and Nero supposedly planned to rebuild it, but the Domus Aurea seems to have moved the amphitheater to the bottom of the emperor's to do list.

You can read more about Rome Sweet Rome here and here

What other anachronistic Colosseums are out there? 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Now Showing: Nero at the Colosseum

In June I had the chance to revisit the Colosseum, which is currently home to part of an exhibit on the Roman emperor Nero (reigned 54-68 C.E.).  The exhibit, Nerone, running through mid-January 2012, is also staged throughout buildings in the Roman Forum and on the Palatine Hill. It's a great exhibit and I suspect that Nero himself would have enjoyed it immensely, especially seeing his portrait projected, larger than life, on the back of the Curia Julia.  Or visiting the Temple of Romulus, where various cinematic Neroes were screened and Nero receives the epithet "Superstar" which he so longed for in life.


I don't know which part of the exhibit Nero would have liked best, but surely he would have felt a great deal of satisfaction in seeing his own name, Nerone, emblazoned across the facade of the Colosseum.  And perhaps Vespasian (reigned 69-79 C.E.) and his sons Titus (reigned 79-81 C.E.) and Domitian (reigned 81-96 C.E.) are rolling over in their graves, having gone to such effort and expense to erase the memory of Nero and gain popular favor by building the Amphitheatrum Flavianum, as the Colosseum was known prior to the Middle Ages. 


The portion of the exhibit on display inside the Colosseum focuses on the great fire of 64 C.E. and Nero's Golden House.  There is a certain, rich irony in this.  Nero began construction on a vast, palatial complex, the Domus Aurea, stretching from the Palatine to the Esquiline, making use of land cleared by the fire of 64.  The project was not popular and the biographer Suetonius (ca. 70-130 C.E.), in his Life of Nero, reports that the saying "Rome will become a house..." (Roma fiet domus) was popular in verse and graffiti at the time.  At the heart of the palace was a great park, with wild and domesticated animals; vineyards, fields and forests; and a lake, like a sea, surrounded by Disneyland-like, miniature cities.  It was here that the Flavian emperors built their amphitheater, supplanting Nero's private, luxury palace with a venue for public entertainment and largess. 

The poet Martial (ca. 38/41-103 C.E.) composed a series of epigrams, the Liber Spectaculorum, commemorating the building and inauguration of the Amphitheatrum Flavianum.  In his first three epigrams, Martial emphasizes the grandeur of the amphitheater on a global scale; it is greater than Egypt's pyramids, Halicarnassus' Mausoleum and Babylon's gardens. In his second poem, Martial especially contrasts the Flavian's amphitheater with Nero's Golden House:

Hic ubi sidereus propius uidet astra colossus
     et crescunt media pegmata celsa uia,
inuidiosa feri radiabant atria regis
     unaque iam tota stabat in urbe domus;
hic ubi conspicui uenerabilis Amphitheatri
     erigitur moles, stagna Neronis erant;...
Reddita Roma sibi est et sunt te preside, Caesar,
     deliciae populi, quae fuerant domini.
- Excerpted from The Latin Library 
"Here where the starry colossus sees the constellations close at hand and a lofty framework rises in the middle of the road, the hated halls of a cruel king used to gleam and in the whole city there was only one house standing.  Here where the awesome bulk of the amphitheatre soars before our eyes, once lay Nero's pools....Rome has been restored to herself, and with you in charge Caesar, what used to be the pleasure of a master is now the pleasure of the people."
- Kathleen Coleman's translation, Martial: Liber Spectaculorum, Oxford University Press, 2006

So the Flavians are not just trumping Nero's gargantuan  palace, but they are trumping every major monument in the world.  And they are reclaiming Rome for the Romans. 

Now Nero has come home.  I wonder if he would like his new landscaping.  Nero did have a wooden amphitheater built in Rome during his consulship in 57 C.E.; presumably it was built in great haste, as it took only a year to build.  Suetonius also tells us that Nero planned to appear in the arena in the guise of Herakles, fighting a trained lion. 

What would Nero think of the Nerone exhibition? What would the Flavians think now that Nero has been resurrected in their greatest monument? With his name plastered across the arcades, larger than theirs ever was?  Have you seen the exhibit?  What did you think?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Welcome to Amphitheatrum ad infinitum...

The focus of Amphitheatrum ad infinitum is the cultural use and reuse of the Roman amphitheater and gladiator from antiquity to the present day. I'm particularly interested in how the Colosseum in Rome and the figure of the gladiator have become cultural icons and how they have been appropriated to construct meaning in literature, art, architecture and beyond throughout history. I'll be blogging about things old and new related to the Roman amphitheater.

The recent news about the discovery of a gladiatorial ludus, or training facility, at the ancient site of Carnuntum in Austria seems like an appropriate place to start things off.
On September 5th, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI-ArchPro) revealed their recent discovery of a gladiatorial training complex at the Roman town of Carnuntum, located about 35 km southeast of Vienna. The site was discovered through the study of aerial photographs and the use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). No excavation has been undertaken yet, but according to LBI-ArchPro, the 2800 m2 complex includes administrative and living space for the lanista, the manager of the school; living quarters for the gladiators; a heated, indoor training room; and small, circular training area. The complex is located near to a local amphitheater that was constructed ca. C.E. 100-150 and there is evidence that the two structures were connected by a walled passageway. From an archaeological perspective this is an amazing find and will undoubtedly provide important new information about the life of Roman gladiators. Very few training complexes are known from their archaeological remains.

As interesting as this archaeological discovery is, the thing I find most interesting is the press coverage of the Carnuntum ludus. It was managed in such a way as to create suspense and play on the modern fascination with gladiator-related things. A statement was released on August 30th by the Carnuntum Archaeological Park about a "sensational discovery" that came across in news reports as the discovery of an amphitheater (for example herehere and here. Details about the site were withheld until a September 5th press conference. The fact that this pre-press conference announcement was picked up by some many news agencies demonstrates the extent of popular interest in the gladiatorial world. Erwin Pröll, the governor of the Lower Austria province, is quoted by the AP as saying that the discovery is "a world sensation, in the true meaning of the word." Other comments by Pröll, reported in a press release from the Carnuntum Archaeological Park, make clear the financial benefits that such a discovery can have. "This discovery brings considerable stimulus...and is proof that our investments in Canuntum are both justified and will have a lasting effect." Carnuntum is the host of a special Lower Austrian regional exhibit this year, still running through November 15th: "Erobern - Entdecken - Erleben im Römerland Carnuntum" (Conquer, Discover, Experience in the Roman Land of Carnuntum). The cost of organizing the exhibit was 42 million euros. The exhibit was expecting its 300,000 visitor at the time of the press conference; it would be interesting to track what effect the announcement of the gladiatorial ludus has on visitor numbers this fall and even into next tourist season.

Are you planning a trip to Carnuntum since this new discovery was announced? Or, like me, have you at least added it to your wish list of places to go?