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Bread and circuses were what the Romans demanded of their emperors, and for more than 500 years spectacular events in amphitheaters, circuses, and theaters were the most important leisure activities of the masses in all parts of the Roman empire.
In Rome itself, public holidays featuring magnificent and costly shows occupied more than half the year. Comedies and tragedies, pantomimes and bawdy folk plays were staged in the theaters, while in the arena of the Colosseum, opened in a.d. 80, gladiators fought in pairs or with wild animals to satisfy the blood lust of the crowd, and hundreds of thousands of race-goers packed the stands of the Circus Maximus to enjoy the thrills of chariot racing.
The organization of games came to be part and parcel of electioneering in towns and cities and was increasingly used as a means to consolidate the power of the reigning emperor. Like the sports stars of today, the top gladiators, charioteers, and actors were folk heroes, and the power of their universal appeal was recognized and exploited by politicians and emperors alike.
Two thousand years later, the Roman games may seem remote, but, as this superbly illustrated book shows, they satisfied the same need for excitement and hero-worship that gives rise to the intense media coverage of sports in our own time.
Posted November 11, 2009
Although much of our knowledge of classic Roman culture comes from artifacts, statues, friezes, mosaics and sculpture, even these provide us with a tantalizing view of this great age of civilization. In Gladiators and Caesars, the authors first lay the groundwork for the adventure, surrounding the reader in the Caesarian succession, the rise of Roman aristocracy and public games, leading to the first gladiatorial games.
The authors also go into exquisite detail of each type of gladiator, his or her weapons and manner of fighting, as well as the use of beasts in the arena, naval contests and other variations designed to pique the crowd's interest. Although becoming a gladiator was frequently a death sentence, some succeeded in winning their freedom, continuing on in a life filled with honor.
These well trained men and women were some of the first extreme athletes. The gladiatorial games were the foundations for our modern marathons, Olympic Games and wrestling matches. This book, with its incredible photographs, provides brief glimpses into this beautiful and brutal time in human history.