Emperors and the Games

Imperial Sponsorship of the Games

In this section you will learn

  • how emperors used the games to entertain and communicate with the people
  • the different way various emperors staged games
  • emperors like Caligula and Claudius who enjoyed the games a bit too much

Under the empire the role of games – particularly in Rome – was to promote the rule of the emperors. The emperor became the chief provider of games, an editor in chief, although some emperors revived the practice of various magistracies presiding over public games. Emperors vied with each other to provide more and more spectacular games; however, it wasn’t until very late (80 CE) that the Colosseum was opened, built by the proceeds of the war against the Jews, and gave the emperors a permanent arena suitable for their spectacular munera. Despite his lack of a suitable arena, the first emperor, Augustus, set the standard for lavish imperial games.

Augustus of Prima Porta

Augustus out did all who came before him in the frequency, variety, and magnificence of his public shows. He says that he gave games four times in his own name and twenty-three times for other magistrates, who were either away from Rome or lacked resources. He gave them sometimes in all the neighbourhoods and on many stages with actors in all languages, and combats of gladiators not only in the Forum or an amphitheatre, but in the Circus[1] and in the Saepta; sometimes, however, he gave nothing except a fight with wild beasts. He gave athletic contests too in the Campus Martius, erecting wooden seats; and a sea-fight,[2] constructing an artificial lake near the Tiber, where the grove of the Caesars now stands. On such occasions he placed guards in different locations in Rome, to prevent it from being a target for thieves because only a few people remained at home. In the Circus he exhibited charioteers, runners, and beast hunters, who were sometimes young men of the highest rank.  He also gave frequent performances of the Game of Troy[3] by older and younger boys, thinking it a time-honoured and worthy custom for the flower of the nobility to become known in this way. When Nonius Asprenas was lamed by a fall while taking part in this game, he presented him with a golden necklace and allowed him and his descendants to bear the surname Torquatus. But soon after he gave up that form of entertainment, because Asinius Pollio the orator complained bitterly and angrily in the Senate of an accident to his grandson Aeserninus, who also had broken his leg. He sometimes employed even Roman equestrians in scenic and gladiatorial performances, but only before it was forbidden by decree of the Senate. After that he exhibited no one of respectable parentage, with the exception of a young man named Lycius, whom he showed merely as a curiosity; for he was less than two feet tall, weighed only seventeen pounds, yet had a stentorian voice. He did however on the day of one of the shows make a display of the first Parthian hostages that had ever been sent to Rome, by leading them through the middle of the arena and placing them in the second row above his own seat.[4]

Suetonius, Augustus 43

Augustus made sure to spend his time at the games actually watching them, as a way to please the people:

He himself usually watched the games in the Circus from the upper rooms of his friends and freedmen, but sometimes from the imperial box, and even in company with his wife and children. He was sometimes absent for several hours, and now and then for whole days, making his excuses and appointing presiding officers to take his place. But whenever he was present, he gave his entire attention to the performance, either to avoid the criticism to which he realized that his father Caesar[5] had been generally exposed, because he spent his time at the games reading or answering letters and petitions; or from his interest and pleasure in the spectacle, which he never denied but often openly confessed. Because of this he used to offer special prizes and numerous valuable gifts from his own funds at games given by others, and he appeared at no contest in the Greek style without making a present to each of the participants according to their merits. He was especially fond of watching boxers, particularly those of Latin birth, not merely those who were recognized and classed as professionals, whom he was accustomed to match even with Greeks, but even the common untrained townspeople that fought rough and tumble and without skill in the narrow streets. In short, he followed with his interest all classes of performers who took part in the public shows; maintained the privileges of the athletes and even increased them; forbid the matching of gladiators without the right of appeal for missio; and deprived the magistrates of the power allowed them by an ancient law of punishing actors anywhere and everywhere, restricting it to the time of games and to the theatre. Nevertheless he exacted the severest discipline in the contests in the wrestling halls and the combats of the gladiators.

Suetonius, Augustus 45

As part of his generally thrifty (some would say cheap) nature Augustus’ successor, the Emperor Tiberius, cut back on the costs for the games:

Tiberius reduced the cost of the games and shows by cutting down the pay of the actors and limiting the pairs of gladiators to a fixed number. Complaining bitterly that the prices of Corinthian bronzes had risen to an immense figure and that three mullets[6] had been sold for thirty thousand sesterces, he proposed that a limit be set to household furniture and that the prices in the market should be regulated each year at the discretion of the senate; while the aediles were instructed to put such restrictions on cook-shops and eating-houses as not to allow even pastry to be exposed for sale. Furthermore, to encourage general frugality by his personal example, he often served at formal dinners meats left over from the day before and partly consumed, or the half of a boar, declaring that it had all the qualities of a whole one.

Suetonius, Tiberius 34.1

After Tiberius’ reign, where games were scarce and reduced in magnificence, Caligula’s fondness for spectacles must have been welcome to the people of Rome. Though not to the gladiators he killed.

He gave several gladiatorial shows, some in the amphitheatre of Taurus[7] and some in the Saepta Julia, in which he introduced pairs of African and Campanian boxers, the best from both regions. He did not always preside at the games in person, but sometimes assigned the honour to the magistrates or to friends. He exhibited different types of drama continually in many different places, sometimes even by night, lighting up the whole city.[8] He also distributed gifts of various kinds, and gave each man a basket of food. During the feasting he sent his share to a Roman equestrian opposite him, who was eating with evident relish and appetite, while to a senator for the same reason he gave a commission naming him praetor out of the regular order. He also gave many games in the Circus, lasting from early morning until evening, introducing between the races now a baiting of panthers and now the manoeuvres of the game called Troy; some, too, of special splendour, in which the Circus race floor was strewn with red and green,[9] while the charioteers were all senators. He also started some games at random, when a few people called for them from the neighbouring balconies,[10] as he was inspecting the outfit of the Circus from the Gelotian house.

Besides this, he created a new and unheard of kind of spectacle; for he bridged the gap between Baiae and the mole at Puteoli,[11] a distance of about thirty-six hundred paces, by bringing together ships from all sides and anchoring them in a double line, and then heaping a mound of earth on them and fashioning it in the manner of the Appian Way.[12] He rode back and forth over this bridge for two successive days, the first day on a caparisoned horse, himself resplendent in a crown of oak leaves, a shield, a sword, and a cloak of cloth of gold; on the second, in the dress of a charioteer in a car drawn by a pair of famous horses, carrying before him a boy named Dareus, one of the hostages from Parthia, and attended by the entire praetorian guard and a company of his friends in Gallic chariots. I know that many have supposed that Gaius devised this kind of bridge in rivalry of Xerxes,[13] who excited no little admiration by bridging the much narrower Hellespont; others, that it was to inspire fear in Germany and Britain, on which he had designs, by the fame of some stupendous work. But when I was a boy, I used to hear my grandfather say that the reason for the work, as revealed by the emperor’s confidential courtiers, was that Thrasyllus the astrologer had declared to Tiberius, when he was worried about his successor and inclined towards his natural grandson, that Gaius had no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding about over the gulf of Baiae with horses.

He also gave shows in foreign lands, Athenian games at Syracuse in Sicily, and miscellaneous games at Lugdunum [Lyon] in Gaul; at the latter place also a contest in Greek and Latin oratory, in which, they say, the losers gave prizes to the victors and were forced to compose eulogies upon them, while those who came last were ordered to erase their writings with a sponge or with their tongue, unless they chose instead to be beaten with rods or thrown into the neighbouring river.

Suetonius, Caligula 18-20

However, Caligula’s fondness for spectacles had a much darker side:

Mosaic showing a day of spectacles from Zliten (in modern Libya). Now in Tripoli, Libya.

The following are special examples of his innate brutality. When cattle to feed the wild beasts which he had provided for a gladiatorial show were rather costly, he selected criminals to be devoured, and reviewing the line of prisoners without examining the charges, but merely taking his place in the middle of a colonnade, he ordered them be led away “from baldhead to baldhead.” He forced a man who had made a vow to fight in the arena, if the emperor recovered, to keep his word, watched him as he fought sword in hand, and would not let him go until he was victorious, and then only after many entreaties. Another who had offered his life for the same reason, but delayed to kill himself, he turned over to his slaves, with orders to drive him through the streets decked with sacred boughs and fillets,[14] calling for the fulfilment of his vow, and finally hurl him from the embankment. Many men of honourable rank were first disfigured with the marks of branding-irons and then condemned to the mines, to work at building roads, or to be thrown to the wild beasts; or else he shut them up in cages on all fours, like animals, or had them sawn asunder. Not all these punishments were for serious offences – they were for criticising one of his shows, or for never having sworn by his Genius.[15] He forced parents to attend the executions of their sons, sending a litter for one man who said he was sick, and inviting another to dinner immediately after witnessing the death, and trying to make him smile and joke around by a great show of affability. He had the manager of his gladiatorial shows and venationes beaten with chains in his presence for several successive days, and would not kill him until he was disgusted at the stench of his putrefied brain. He burned a writer of Atellan farces alive in the middle of the arena of the amphitheatre, because of a humorous line with a double meaning. When a Roman equestrian loudly protested his innocence when he was thrown to the beasts, he took him out, cut off his tongue, and put him back again.

When a murmillo from the gladiatorial ludus fought with him with wooden swords and deliberately fell, he stabbed him with a real dagger and then ran about with a palm-branch, just like a proper victor.

He also devoted himself with much enthusiasm to arts of other kinds and of great variety, appearing as a Thracian gladiator, as a charioteer, and even as a singer and dancer, fighting with real weapons and driving in circuses built in various places; so carried away by his interest in singing and dancing that even at the public performances he could not refrain from singing with the tragic actor as he delivered his lines, or from openly imitating his gestures by way of praise or correction.

Suetonius, Caligula selections

Everyone criticised the following acts of Caligula. He made great numbers of men to fight as gladiators, forcing them to contend both in pairs and in groups drawn up in a kind of battle line. He had asked permission of the Senate to do this, so that he was able to do anything he wished even contrary to what the law stated, and thus put many people to death – this included twenty-six equestrians, some of whom had spent all of their money, while others had merely practised gladiatorial combat. It was not the large number of those who died that was so serious, though that was serious enough, but his excessive delight in their death and his insatiable desire for the sight of blood. The same trait of cruelty led him once, when there was a shortage of condemned criminals to be given to the wild beasts, to order that some of the mob standing near the benches should be seized and thrown to them; and to prevent the possibility of their making an outcry or uttering any reproaches, he first caused their tongues to be cut out. He compelled one of the prominent equestrians to fight in single combat on the charge of having insulted his mother Agrippina, and when the man proved victorious, handed him over to his accusers and caused him to be killed. And the man’s father, though guilty of no crime, he confined in a cage, as, indeed, he had treated many others, and there put an end to him. He held these contests at first in the Saepta Julia, after excavating the whole site and filling it with water, to enable him to bring in a single ship, but later he transferred them to another place, where he had demolished a great many large buildings and erected wooden stands; for he despised the theatre of Taurus.

Cassius Dio, Epitome of Roman History 59

Caligula’s successor, his uncle Claudius, became emperor through the actions of the Praetorian Guard, who (apparently) found him cowering behind a curtain after the assassination of Caligula. He was an enthusiastic patron of the games as the following selections from Suetonius himself:

Bust of Emperor Claudius.

He very often distributed largess to the people. He also gave several splendid shows, not merely the usual ones in the customary places, but some of a new kind and some revived from ancient times, and in places where no one had ever given them before. He opened the games at the dedication of Pompey’s theatre, which he had restored when it was damaged by a fire, from a raised seat in the orchestra, after first offering sacrifice at the temples in the upper part of the auditorium and coming down through the tiers of seats while all sat in silence. He also celebrated secular games, alleging that they had been given too early by Augustus and not reserved for the regular time; although he himself writes in his own History that when they had been discontinued for a long time, Augustus restored them to their proper place after a very careful calculation of the intervals. Therefore the herald’s proclamation was greeted with laughter, when he invited the people in the usual formula to games “which no one had ever seen or would ever see again”; for some were still living who had seen them before, and some actors who had appeared at the former performance appeared at that time as well. He often gave games in the Vatican Circus also, at times with a beast-baiting between every five races. But he adorned the Circus Maximus with barriers of marble and gilded goals, whereas before they had been of tufa and wood, and assigned special seats to the senators, who had been in the habit of viewing the games with the rest of the people. In addition to the chariot races he exhibited the game called Troy and also panthers, which were hunted down by a squadron of the praetorian cavalry under the lead of the tribunes and the prefect himself; likewise Thessalian horsemen who drive wild bulls all over the arena, leaping upon them when they are tired out and throwing them to the ground by the horns.

Claudius gave many gladiatorial shows and in many places: one in yearly celebration of his accession, in the Praetorian Camp without wild beasts and fine equipment, and one in the Saepta of the regular and usual kind; another in the same place not in the regular list, short and lasting but a few days, to which he was the first to apply the name of sportula, because before giving it for the first time he made proclamation that he invited the people “as it were to an impromptu meal, quickly prepared.” There was no form of entertainment at which he was more familiar and free, even thrusting out his left hand, as the commons did, and counting aloud on his fingers the gold pieces which were paid to the victors; and he would constantly address the audience, and invite and urge them to enjoy themselves, calling them “masters” from time to time, and interspersing feeble and far-fetched jokes. For example, when they called for Palumbus he promised that they should have him, “if he could be caught.”[16] The following, however, was both exceedingly timely and salutary; when he had granted the wooden sword to an essedarius, whose four sons begged for his release, and the act was received with loud and general applause, he at once circulated a note, pointing out to the people how greatly they ought to desire children, since they saw that they brought favour and protection even to a gladiator. He gave representations in the Campus Martius of the storming and sacking of a town in the manner of real warfare, as well as of the surrender of the kings of the Britons, and presided dressed in a general’s cloak. Even when he was on the point of letting out the water from Lake Fucinus he gave a sham sea-fight first. But when the combatants cried out: “Hail, emperor, they who are about to die salute thee,” he replied, “Or not,” and after that all of them refused to fight, maintaining that they had been pardoned. Upon this he hesitated for some time about destroying them all with fire and sword, but at last leaping from his throne and running along the edge of the lake with his ridiculous tottering gait, he induced them to fight, partly by threats and partly by promises. At this performance a Sicilian and a Rhodian fleet engaged, each numbering twelve triremes, and the signal was sounded on a horn by a silver Triton, which was raised from the middle of the lake by a mechanical device.

Claudius, however, enjoyed the games and their bloodshed too much:

Both great and small events showed he had a vicious and bloodthirsty nature.He always tortured witnesses and demanded the punishment of parricides at once and in his presence. When he was at Tibur and wished to see an execution in the ancient fashion,[17] after the criminals were tied to the stake no executioner could be found. He sent for one from Rome right away and continued to wait for him until night. At any gladiatorial show, either his own or another’s, he gave orders that even those who fell accidentally should be killed, in particular the retiarii, so that he could watch their faces as they died. When a pair of gladiators had fallen by mutually inflicted wounds, he at once had some little knives made from both their swords for his use. He took such pleasure in the combats with wild beasts and of those who fought at noonday, that he would go down to the arena at daybreak and after dismissing the people for lunch at midday, he would keep his seat and in addition to the appointed combatants, he would for trivial and hasty reasons match others, even from the carpenters, the assistants, and men of that class, if any automatic device, or stage machinery,[18] or anything else of the kind, had not worked well. He even forced one of his pages to enter the arena just as he was, in his toga.

Suetonius, Claudius 34.1.2

Claudius’ successor Nero was enthusiastic about the games; for more on him see Case Study I: Nero. After Nero’s suicide the Flavian dynasty took power under Vespasian, who reigned from 69-79 CE. As Nero seems to have bankrupted the empire, Vespasian got a reputation for stinginess; that, however, did not stop him offering spectacles:

At the plays with which he dedicated the new stage of the theatre of Marcellus he revived the old musical entertainments. To Apelles, the tragic actor, he gave four hundred thousand sesterces; to Terpnus and Diodorus, the lyre-players, two hundred thousand each; of several a hundred thousand; while those who received least were paid forty thousand, and numerous golden crowns were also awarded.

Suetonius, Vespasian 19.1

He did, importantly, begin the construction of the Colosseum, using funds from his victory in the Jewish War:

He also undertook new works, the temple of Peace hard by the Forum and one to the Deified Claudius on the Caelian mount, which was begun by Agrippina, but almost utterly destroyed by Nero; also an amphitheatre in the heart of the city, a plan which he learned that Augustus had cherished.

Suetonius, Vespasian 9.1

View of the Temple of Peace in the Roman Forum by George Loring Brown

His son and successor, Titus gave a number of games including inaugural games for the Colosseum (later finished under Domitian).

He took away nothing from any citizen. He respected others’ property, if anyone ever did; in fact, he would not accept even proper and customary presents. And yet he was second to none of his predecessors in munificence. At the dedication of his amphitheatre and of the baths which were hastily built near it he gave a most magnificent and costly gladiatorial show. He presented a fake sea-fight too in the old naumachia, and in the same place a combat of gladiators, exhibiting five thousand wild beasts of every kind in a single day.

Suetonius, Titus 7.3

Titus’ behaviour at the games seems to have been exemplary in Roman terms:

The whole body of the people in particular he treated with such indulgence on all occasions, that once at a gladiatorial show he declared that he would give it, “not after his own inclinations, but those of the spectators”; and what is more, he kept his word. For he refused nothing which anyone asked, and even urged them to ask for what they wished. Furthermore, he openly displayed his partiality for Thracian gladiators and joked with the people about it with words and gestures, always however preserving his dignity, as well as observing justice. Not to omit any act of condescension, he sometimes bathed in the baths which he had built, in company with the common people.

Suetonius, Titus 9.2

Domitian, Titus’ brother, came to the imperial throne in 81 CE. He was particularly noted for his lavish spectacles.

He constantly gave grand costly entertainments, both in the amphitheatre[19] and in the Circus, where in addition to the usual races between two-horse and four-horse chariots, he also exhibited two battles, one between forces of infantry and the other by horsemen; and he even gave a naval battle in the amphitheatre. He also gave hunts of wild beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well. He was always present too at the games given by the quaestors, which he revived after they had been abandoned for some time, and invariably granted the people the privilege of calling for two pairs of gladiators from his own school, and brought them in last in court outfits. During the whole of every gladiatorial show there always stood at his feet a small boy clad in scarlet, with an abnormally small head, with whom he used to talk a great deal, and sometimes seriously. At any rate, he was overheard to ask him if he knew why he had decided at the last appointment day to make Mettius Rufus prefect of Egypt. He often gave sea-fights almost with regular fleets, having dug a pool near the Tiber and surrounded it with seats; and he continued to witness the contests amid heavy rains.

Piazzale della Minerva, named after the winged statue of Minerva (Winged Victory). Minerva was the favourite goddess of Domitian.

He also celebrated Secular games, reckoning the time not according to the year when Claudius had last given them, but by the previous calculation of Augustus. In the course of these, to make it possible to finish a hundred races on the day of contests in the Circus, he diminished the number of laps from seven to five. He also established a quinquennial contest in honour of Jupiter Capitolinus of a threefold character, comprising music, riding, and gymnastics, and with considerably more prizes than are awarded nowadays.[20] For there were competitions in prose declamation both in Greek and in Latin; and in addition to those of the lyre-players, between choruses of such players and in the lyre alone, without singing; while in the stadium there were races even between maidens. He presided at the competitions in half-boots, dressed in a purple toga in the Greek fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown with figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while by his side sat the priest of Jupiter and the college of the Flaviales,[21] similarly dressed, except that their crowns bore his image as well. He celebrated the Quinquatria too every year in honour of Minerva at his Alban villa, and established for her a college of priests, from which men were chosen by lot to act as officers and give splendid shows of wild beasts and stage plays, besides holding contests in oratory and poetry. He made a present to the people of three hundred sesterces each on three occasions, and in the course of one of his shows in celebration of the feast of the Seven Hills gave a generous banquet, distributing large baskets of food to the senate and equestrians, and smaller one to the people; and he himself was the first to begin to eat. On the following day he scattered gifts of all sorts of things to be scrambled for, and since the greater part of these fell where the ordinary people sat, he had five hundred tickets thrown into each section occupied by the senatorial and equestrian orders.

Suetonius, Domitian 4

The following texts relate to a number of emperors, all of whom gave elaborate spectacles. The dates given are those of their reigns:

Trajan (98-117 CE):

[Trajan produced] nothing spineless or flabby, nothing that would soften or break the manly spirit of the audience, but gave a spectacle that inspired the audience to noble wounds and to despise death, since even in the bodies of slaves and criminals the love of praise and desire for victory could be seen.

Pliny, Panegyricus 3.1

Upon Trajan’s return to Rome a huge number of embassies came to him from various barbarians, including the Indi. And he gave spectacles on one hundred and twenty-three days, in the course of which some eleven thousand animals, both wild and tame, were slain, and ten thousand gladiators fought.

Cassius Dio, Epitome of Roman History 68.15.1

Hadrian (117-138 CE):

In almost every city he built buildings and gave public games. At Athens he exhibited in the stadium a hunt of a thousand wild beasts, but he never called away from Rome a single wild‑beast-hunter or actor. In Rome, in addition to popular entertainments of unbounded extravagance, he gave spices to the people in honour of his mother-in‑law, and in honour of Trajan he caused essences of balsam and saffron to be poured over the seats of the theatre. And in the theatre he presented plays of all kinds in the ancient manner and had the court-players appear before the public. In the Circus he had many wild beasts killed and often a whole hundred of lions. He often gave the people exhibitions of military Pyrrhic dances, and he frequently attended gladiatorial shows.

Historia Augusta[22] 19.2-8

He also constructed theatres and held games as he travelled about from city to city, dispensing, however, with the imperial insignia; for he never used these outside Rome.[23] And yet he did not see his native land, though he showed it great honour and bestowed many splendid gifts upon it.

Cassius Dio, Epitome of Roman History 10.1

Other emperors gave games, of course. For Commodus, see Case Study II: Commodus. The Severan dynasty, which took power in 193 CE, used games as a way to cement its power. The second emperor in that dynasty, Carcalla, was noted for his lavish games and fondness for chariot racing:

The emperor himself kept spending the money upon the soldiers, as we have said, and upon wild beasts and horses; for he was for ever killing vast numbers of animals, both wild and domesticated, forcing us to furnish most of them, though he did buy a few. One day he slew a hundred boars at one time with his own hands. He also used to drive chariots, wearing the Blue costume. In everything he was very hot-headed and very fickle, and he furthermore possessed the craftiness of his mother and the Syrians, to which race she belonged.[24] He would appoint some freedman or other wealthy person to be director of the games in order that the man might spend money in this way also; and he would salute the spectators with his whip from the arena below and beg for gold pieces like a performer of the lowest class. He claimed that he used the Sun-god’s method in driving, and prided himself upon it. To such an extent was the entire world, so far as it owned his sway, devastated throughout his whole reign, that on one occasion the Romans at a horse-race shouted in unison this, among other things: “We shall do the living to death, that we may bury the dead.” Indeed, he often used to say: “Nobody in the world should have money but me; and want it to bestow upon the soldiers.” Once when Julia chided him for spending vast sums upon them and said, “There is no longer any source of revenue, just or unjust, left to us,” he replied, exhibiting his sword, “Be of good cheer, mother: for as long as we have this, we shall not run short of money.”

Cassius Dio, Epitome of Roman History 78

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • Gorrie, Charmaine. “Julia Domna’s building patronage, imperial family roles and the Severan revival of moral legislation,” Historia 53 (2004): 61-72.
  • Gorrie, Charmaine. The Severan Building Programme and the Secular Games. Pavia: Ammistrazione de Athenaeum Universita – Pavia, 2002.
  • Köhne, Eckart, Ewigleben, Cornelia, and Jackson, Ralph. Gladiators and Caesars: the Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  • Wiedemann, T. Emperors and Gladiators. London: Routledge, 1992.


  1. The Circus Maximus, usually used for chariot racing.
  2. For more on this battle see here.
  3. The lusus Troiae was a complicated set of quasi military maneouvers on horseback, which apparently could cause many injuries.
  4. Sent by Parthia as part of a deal by which Augustus regained military standards lost by Marcus Licinius Crassus at Carrhae in 53 BCE.
  5. Julius Caesar, who had adopted him iin his will.
  6. Mullet was a fish the Romans prized very much; it was as a result very expensive.
  7. The stone amphitheatre in the Campus Martius build in 29 BCE by Statilius Taurus.
  8. As Rome had no public lighting system at night, it could get very dangerous when dark.
  9. To match the colours of the Reds and Greens respectively.
  10. Of the houses surrounding the Circus Maximus.
  11. This was a location in the South of Italy.
  12. One of main roads leading into Rome.
  13. King of Persia in the 5th century BCE, he invaded Greece; to move his troops to Greece he bridged the Hellespont in 482 BCE.
  14. Fillets are wool headbands; these were worn by priests and sacrificial animals.
  15. This is hard to explain, but roughly a genius in a Roman context was a man’s guardian spirit (a woman’s was called her Iuno). Households worshipped the genius of the paterfamilias which was also thought to protect the entire household and ensure its continuity; Romans also worshipped the genius of the emperor .
  16. Palumba is the Latin for dove; Claudius jokes that Palumbus might suddenly fly away given his name. It wasn’t even a very good joke in the 1st century CE and time has not improved it.
  17. This, according to Suetonius’ Nero (49.2) had the prisoner tied by the neck and hands to a v-shaped fork which sat on their neck before they were beaten to death with rods.
  18. Here Suetonius refers to the pegma, tower-like piece of stage machinery from which gladiators fought or which might be set on fire or used otherwise in games.
  19. The newly built Colosseum which was called the Flavian Amphitheatre.
  20. These games were modeled somewhat on the Olympic Games, but included artistic competitions, which the Olympics did not.
  21. This was a college of priests dedicated to the worship of the deified Flavian emperors, Titus and Vespasian.
  22. This, it should be pointed out, is an incredibly unreliable source. It is, however, often very entertaining, which is some recompense.
  23. Hadrian was born in Spain; he was notable for his extensive travelling throughout the empire, and especially in the east.
  24. Cassius Dio, like many other ancient writers was prejudiced about certain groups – in his case easterners. Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, came from Leptis Magna in North Africa; his mother Julia Domna was from a fabulously wealthy Syrian family, which had been incorporated into the Senate.


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