Roman Sports

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Last updated: April 6, 2019

I chose Roman sport because there are many Roman sports all of which are very interesting. For example chariot racing a violent but exciting sport. From the name you would imagine a horse and chariot going round and round a course but it was more than that : they rammed each other hoping to smash the other racer’s chariot. In each lap you never knew what might happen. I also chose roman sport because I think gladiatorial fights would have been amazing to see and I know quite a lot of information on them.

Due to my interests in the fights I have watched many documentaries and read many books on them.The sports I will write about are gladiatorial fights and chariot racing. In both I will be discussing the rewards, the dangers, which people were involved, the many different participants, the equipment involved and the popularity of each. I will also compare them to modern sports.Chariot racingStadiumChariot races were held in places called circuses which they were calledbecause of their oval shape. The Circus Maximus was one of the biggest.

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The building was by the time of Emperor Augustus 620 metres long and 140 to 150 metres at its widest point. The fact that it was built in a valley stretching between two hills gives you an idea of its size. At first there were no buildings, just a rough sandy track with provisional markers. The viewers of the races had to sit on the hills on each side of the track.

Eventually as popularity rose they developed it into a larger venue as can be seen today. It could seat approximately 150 000 viewers while modern racing venues can support up to 300 000 spectators. Roman circuses would have been very ornate, they would have statues and wall paintings which I would have loved to have seen. Modern stadiums are not as good-looking as Roman circuses and feel as if the person who built them didn’t care about looks, just how much it would have cost to build it.The teamsThere were four different teams and each team had its own stables, trainers and backers, who made great profits out of their investments. The four different groups were the reds, the whites, the blues and the greens. Each would have its own different set of supporters including emperors sometimes, who often became fanatic. Often fans would announce their loyalty to a group e.

g. “partisans of the blue” in the same way some people today would call themselves the fans of the blues (Rangers) in football.Chariots and CrewRomans chariots were constructed carefully specially to be fast. They made sure the chariots were as slim and weightless as possible. Unlike roman army chariots which were larger in size and reinforced with metal racing chariots offered little or no protection at all and were reinforced with wood alone.Drivers had to balance themselves on the axle because there were no handles or bars to hold onto. The chariots themselves were usually pulled by four horses but it was not unheard for them to be pulled by six or seven horses. The horses pulling the chariots were of course very highly trained and if they were very fast would be worth a lot of money and often got as much praise as the drivers.

The racesBefore the games were ceremonies in which there was an elaborate procession headed by the person who was sponsoring the games followed by the charioteers and teams, musicians and dancers and priests carrying depictions of the gods who were watching the races. In modern times we do not have processions before the races as we do not see them as a something special and they happen very often. The usual number of races was originally twelve, though later it was doubled undoubtedly by an enthusiastic emperor. The charioteers drew lots to decide which position they would be placed in. Then the starting signal was given by the games president or sometimes the emperor which was the dropping of a white cloth.

At this signal the gates which the charioteers were behind would be lifted and the charioteers would come racing out onto the track.The drivers’ aim was to slow down at the start so as to not tire out the horses and to try to stay as close to the barrier as possible without hitting it. There were plenty of ways to foul your opponents, the most common being to poison the horses. Spectators could follow the race by watching the egg or dolphin counters which would be turned for each lap done. When the race was finally over the magistrate or emperor would present the victor with a palm branch and a wreath. The money was presented to them later. Modern races are counted by computers and we have technology that the Romans didn’t have for example we have machines that, if two horses finish at the same time, show us who crossed the finishing line first.PopularityChariot racing is possibly the oldest spectacular sport in Rome , chariot racing dates back at least to the sixth century BC.

It had always been popular: we know this because there are many wall paintings and mosaics depicting charioteers. Many drivers had fan clubs and graffiti were sometimes written to show their popularity. Also horses were adored as well, one Emperor liked a horse called Incitatus so much he gave it a marble statue, an ivory stall, purple blankets, a jewelled collar, a house and slaves. It is also said he intended to make the horse a consul (a kind of prime minister). This is of course an extreme example, which I think was a bit over the top because a horse would definitely not make a good consul.

In modern times we have fan clubs as well but we don’t have anyone as fanatic as that emperor.Gladiatorial fightsStadiumsGladiatorial fights like chariot racing were originally held in large outdoor spaces but as popularity grew they built buildings called amphitheatres to hold the different fights in. Early amphitheatres were built with wood but later stone was found to wear better. Like Roman theatres , amphitheatres were freestanding.

Because they didn’t need hills, as Greek theatres did, they could be built anywhere. The grandest of all amphitheatres was the Colosseum it could hold 50 000 people.Types of fightsThere were three different types of fights that happened at the arena. The least well known was naval battles. This seems very unlikely but it did happen. The arena was waterproofed and ships were built to re-enact famous naval battles. This was a desperate attempt to get the popularity of the fights back as people were losing interest.

These sea battles did not go on for long.The other two types of battles were beast fighting and gladiator fighting. These were the regular types of fights that happened frequently. I would have loved to see the naval battles as the sheer scale of the battles is hard to believe and its as close to seeing a real naval battle as is possible.Beast fightsAnimals for public shows were big business in ancient Rome.

The publics appetite for animal hunts and acts was enormous, and the supply of animals was a profitable trade. The empire was searched for wild and exotic animals and no expense was spared. The most sought after animals were lions, boars, bulls, bears and elephants. The “entertainment” in a Roman animal show was a hunt to the death – either of animals by the other animals or of animals by trained hunters called bestiarii or beast fighters. Not all beast fighters were men some were women, one woman Maevia is famous for killing a Tuscan boar.

The number of animals killed in the Roman amphitheatres is almost unbelievable. The Emperor Augustus boasted of having had 3500 animals killed in his shows. Seventy years later, Titus had 5000 killed in one day. An obvious waste of the animals’ lives.

I agree that the Romans killed too many animals, but that isn’t what really bothers me, what does is that they made no attempt to breed the animals back: they obviously didn’t care about making a species extinct.Types of gladiatorsThe hoplomachus was probably the most heavily armed and well protected of all the gladiators. And heavily armed is what the word hoplomachus means in Greek. A term that is probably derived from hoplite the name for a Greek infantry man. The hoplomachus fought with the usual straight stabbing sword favoured by the secutores and defended himself with a small shield of the type associated with the Macedonian pikemen. He wore a large crested helmet with a visor , a single thigh greave on one leg and a segmented arm guard on the leading arm. The murmillo may have evolved from earlier Gallic types, prisoners of war who were made to fight as gladiators during the Roman republic.

Their name is taken from the Greek word for a type of fish and although there are contemporary descriptions of murmillo wearing a fish emblem on their helmets there is curiously little archaeological evidence to support this. The murmillo originally did the battle with the hoplomachus or Thracian gladiators in matches designed to reflect the rivalry between the Greek east and the Roman west , but was later paired with the retiarus . In addition to the distinctive helmet the murmillo carried a large rectangular shield (scutum) and wore protection on his right arm and left leg. There were several other types of gladiator in the imperial age but because there are so few references to them in the records that survive very little is known about them.

The crupellarius was a very heavily armed Gallic gladiator clad entirely in iron according to Tacitus , who provides us with the only written description. Apparently the armour these gladiators wore was so heavy and cumbersome that they could not get up after they had fallen. The dimachaerus crops up a few times in the literary sources but apart from a Greek name implying that he carried two swords nothing else is known about this gladiator. The laquerarius is another little known type. His name seems to be derived from the Latin word meaning noose and some scholars take this as an indication that he was a defensive type of fighter like the retiarus and used a lasso instead of a net.

The Sagittarius was an archer and he probably appeared in the wild animal hunts. Pictorial representations show him armed with a reflex bow similar to those by auxiliaries in the Roman army.The essedarius was a charioteer whose name is derived form essedum, a light chariot of a type that Caesar and Claudius would have encountered in Britain and possibly the type that Boudica would have used. Archaeological remains found in burial tombs in Britain have allowed these chariots to be reconstructed with some authenticity. Caesar gives a vivid description of British warriors standing on the yoke bars of their chariots as they charged into battle and then jumping of in order to fight.

The romans figured that this style of combat would make excellent entertainment for the arena, and after the Claudian conquest the essedarius appeared regularly at the games. There are several references to female gladiators in the ancient literary sources and some epigraphal evidence too. The writer Petronius who satirized Nero and his hangers-on , mentions a female chariot fighter, an essedarius who must have been brought to Rome from Britain soon after the Claudian conquest. Women fighters were generally despised or treated as a joke and they seem to have been exploited mainly for their novelty value.Domitian made women fight at night by torchlight and the poet Martial lauds another of his spectacles where women fought against dwarfs .

Nero loved to see female gladiators and he even encouraged noble women to appear in the arena. Ever the cruel showman Nero once organized a spectacle for the Armenian king Tiridates in AD66. All the gladiators were Ethiopian and he sent women and children into the arena alongside the men. There are two female gladiators represented on a marble relief from Halicarnassus dating from the first or second century AD: named Amazon and Achilla they would appear to be armed as murmillones wearing a segmented arm guard on the right arm and carrying the traditional rectangular legionary shield.

The inscription says that they had been given their freedom. The rest is conjecture. In 200AD Emperor Septimus Severus passed a law banning female gladiators altogether.Some gladiators who volunteered were noblemen : they were frowned upon as they had to give up their rights to fight in the arena.PopularityGladiatorial fights were very popular as there are many wall paintings, mosaics, statues and busts depicting scenes or certain gladiators. It must have been appealing to join as a gladiator because many civilians joined just so they could become famous in Rome.

There is a lot of graffiti in Rome saying how much they liked certain warriors and there is lots of writing from girls who are writing about their heartthrobs. In modern times we have boxing matches and wrestling matches which are both less violent than gladiator fights but shows that sports with violence are still popular although people don’t like to think so.ConclusionI have found out a lot of things I didn’t know: for example that there were another seven types of gladiator I had never heard of before as only recently has evidence of their existence been found, how fanatical people could get about the sports and how many animals were killed in total. I have found writing this to be more interesting than I had expected.

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