Are We Rome: Athletes

“To spectators, the stadium was a microcosm of the empire, and its games a re-enactment of their foundation myths. The killed wild animals symbolized how Rome had conquered wild, far-flung lands and subjugated Nature itself. The executions dramatized the remorseless force of justice that annihilated enemies of the state. The gladiator embodied the cardinal Roman quality of virtus, or manliness, whether as victor or as vanquished awaiting the deathblow with Stoic dignity. ‘We know that it was horrible,’ says Mary Beard, a classical historian at Cambridge University, ‘but at the same time people were watching myth re-enacted in a way that was vivid, in your face and terribly affecting. This was theater, cinema, illusion and reality, all bound into one.’ ” Tom Muller, Smithsonian Magazine

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator film still

“In antiquity it was a theatre of ritual death, witnessed by the emperor, Vestal Virgins, and senators, in company with a segregated microcosm of the rest of male Roman society. According to the Calendar of AD 354 the seating could hold 87,000 people, though modern estimates prefer to reduce the figure to 50,000. As in the theatre, the spectators were dressed and seated in accordance with their status and profession.” Claridge, Amanda. Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides) (p. 314). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

AS Roma tifosi (Photo from

“International football is the continuation of war by other means.” George Orwell

“A total of 17.36 million fans attended NFL games during the 2014 regular season and each team welcomed an average total of more than542,000 spectators to their home games across the season. This meant that the league average attendance per regular season game stood at 68,331 for the 2014 season.”

Jean-Léon Gérôme. Police Verso, 1872. Phoenix Art Museum.

“The men have no defensive armour. They are exposed to blows at all points, and no one ever strikes in vain….There is no helmet or shield to deflect the weapon. What is the need of defensive armour, or of skill? All these mean delaying death….The spectators demand that the slayer shall face the man who is to slay him in his turn; and they always reserve the latest conqueror for another butchering. The outcome of every fight is death, and the means are fire and sword.” Seneca, Epistle VII

Mixed Martial Arts (Source unknown)

“I suspect if we staged a gladiator spectacle and we picked the right constituency to staff it—people who are commonly regarded by society as expendable, such as death row inmates—I think we could fill Beaver Stadium.” Garrett Fagan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State University Park.

Gladiator Mosaic. Borghese Gallery and Museum.

“Following the executions came the main event: the gladiators. While attendants prepared the ritual whips, fire and rods to punish poor or unwilling fighters, the combatants warmed up until the editor gave the signal for the actual battle to begin. Some gladiators belonged to specific classes, each with its own equipment, fighting style and traditional opponents. For example, the retiarius (or “net man”) with his heavy net, trident and dagger often fought against a secutor (“follower”) wielding a sword and wearing a helmet with a face mask that left only his eyes exposed.”

“Contestants adhered to rules enforced by a referee; if a warrior conceded defeat, typically by raising his left index finger, his fate was decided by the editor, with the vociferous help of the crowd, who shouted “Missus!” (“Dismissal!”) at those who had fought bravely, and “Iugula, verbera, ure!” (“Slit his throat, beat, burn!”) at those they thought deserved death. Gladiators who received a literal thumbs down were expected to take a finishing blow from their opponents unflinchingly. The winning gladiator collected prizes that might include a palm of victory, cash and a crown for special valor.” Tom Mueller, Smithsonian Magazine, 2011

Portrait of Montanus the Gladiator era Appia Antica. (Photo by Riccardo Frontoni)

“The presence of the inscription with the name—a quite unusual feature—suggests that Montanus was a famous gladiator, beloved by ancient Romans like [how modern sports fans idolize] today’s football stars,” he (Riccardo Frontoni) pointed out.

“Gladiators were living social contradictions,” added Luciano Canfora, a historian and professor of classical philology at Italy’s University of Bari.

“They shared a dangerous and humiliating job, but, on the other hand, low-class Roman people and even noblewomen hero-worshipped them.” Maria Cristina Valsecchi, National Geographic News, 2007.

Oakland Raiders player and fans. (Photo from

“NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell earned $34.1 million in 2014, and he was worth every single penny. Thanks to Goodell’s masterful negotiation of lucrative television rights deals as well as the enhancement of several new league income streams, the NFL’s total revenues are projected to surpass $13.3 billion this year, up more than 50% from 2010.” Jason Belzer, Forbes Magazine, 2016.

“The Amphitheatre at Pompeii, depicting the riot between the Nucerians and the Pompeians”, Casa della Rissa nell’Anfiteatro, Pompeii, Italia

“About this time [AD 59] there was a serious fight between the inhabitants of two Roman settlements, Nuceria and Pompeii. It arose out of a trifling incident at a gladiatorial show….During an exchange of taunts—characteristic of these disorderly country towns—abuse led to stone-throwing, and then swords were drawn. The people of Pompeii, where the show was held, came off best. Many wounded and mutilated Nucerians were taken to the capital. Many bereavements, too, were suffered by parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate the affair. The senate passed it to the consuls. When they reported back, the senate debarred Pompeii from holding any similar gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved; and the sponsor of the show and his fellow-instigators of the disorders were exiled.” Tacitus, Annals (XIV.17)

Feyenoord supporters in Roma (Photo from Youtube)

“New research prompted by increased violence among sports fans in recent years is challenging some long-held notions about the link between some highly competitive games of aggression and the observers they enthrall.

Many psychologists and sociologists now conclude that the violence that often occurs in physical-contact sports has a tendency to spur aggression off the field.

”There is a direct psychological connection between violence on the field and violence in the stands,” said Michael Smith of York University in Toronto, one of many researchers who are studying sports violence.

The emerging view is that the particularly brutal and angry aggression that is a virtually integral part of some forms of competitive athletics increases the likelihood of imitative violence among crowds dominated by young adult males. One theory holds, for ex-ample, that anonymity and excitement allow fans to put aside more readily the inhibitions that would keep them from being openly aggressive in other situations. Violence on the playing field then holds out to them an example they are more likely to follow. Drinking adds to that likelihood.” Daniel Goldman, New York Times, 1985.

John William Bailly 07 February 2022

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