Are We Rome: Sport

“Rome, like the United States, overcame a monarchy to become a republic. Long after the fall of ancient Rome, its heroes and legends have continued to influence future generations. From the battlefields of the revolution to the chambers of Congress, Rome became a part of America’s foundation.” National Constitution Center

The amphitheater of Pompeii (Photo by Iconem)

“The amphitheatre at Pompeii is the earliest known permanent stone amphitheatre in Italy (and the rest of the Roman world). It was constructed after 70 BC, and belongs to the period of the Roman conquest and colonisation of the town.” (BBC History)

Yale Bowl in New Haven (Photo by Peter Sachs of

“The (Yale) Bowl was based on classical examples, most notably the Roman amphitheater at Pompeii. Designed by engineer Charles Ferry ’71S and architect Donn Barber ’93S, the concept was simple: dig a hole for the field, then use the dirt to shape the elliptical seating area around it (and build 30 concrete portals to get people in and out). The result is an unforgettable space, a kind of Platonic ideal of a football stadium.” (Mark Alden Branch, Yale Alumni Magazine, 2014)

The Arles Arena (Photo by J Malik/Wikimedia)

“It only remains to describe the arena, or central open space for the combatants, which derived its name from the sand with which it was covered, chiefly for the purpose of absorbing the blood. Such emperors as Caligula, Nero, and Carinus, showed their prodigality by using cinnabar and borax instead of the common sand.” (William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875)

Miami’s American Airlines Arena (Photo by David Alvarez/Miami HEAT)

The Latin word for sand, “harena”, is the origin of the term “arena” and the name of many contemporary structures. The Miami Heat plays in the America Airlines Arena…and the court look like sand.

The Flavian Amphitheater. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“Begun in AD 70 by Vespasian and completed up to the third storey before his death in AD 79, the top level was finished off by his son Titus and the whole building inaugurated in AD 80. It is by a considerable margin the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, 189 m (640 RF) long, 156 m (528 RF) wide, and 48 m (163 RF) high. When intact the outer perimeter measured 545 m (1,835 RF), and is estimated to have required 100,000 cubic metres of travertine, with 300 tons of iron clamps holding the blocks together. Equally vast amounts of tufa and brick-faced concrete were employed in the radial ribs and vaults which supported the seating. Although never matched in scale nor in the refinements of its architectural style the basic design was emulated by many amphitheatre builders throughout the Empire.” Claridge, Amanda. Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides) (p. 312). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Yankee Stadium in New York City (Photo by

“In contrast to the circus, the amphitheatre, one of the most characteristic of all Roman buildings, was oval or round in plan and was completely enclosed on all sides. Intended for gladiatorial contests, in which the precise dimensions of the field were of slight importance, the amphitheatre was designed to afford maximum seating capacity and optimum visual facility for spectators. The giant amphitheatre built in Rome in the 1st century CE is known as the Colosseum. After the fall of Rome, amphitheatres survived for some time until the decline of the cities themselves terminated the spectacles that they had held. Nearly two millennia passed before the form was revived.” Lev Zetlin, Encyclopedia Britannica

The Flavian Amphitheater. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“Vespasian knew how to please a crowd, and the Colosseum’s interior confirms his showmanship is still attracting visitors. Their presence underscores the magnitude of this building and explains its continued ability to impress with scale and with what happened there. The animals were caged in the substructures, recently made accessible to tourists, and elevated to the arena using ramps and pulleys. The floor would have been covered with sand and props, and preserved exterior brackets supported poles for the awning (velarium) that shielded some seats from the sun.” Kleiner, Diana E. E.. Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide (Kindle Locations 1632-1636). . Kindle Edition.

Buffalo Bills Stadium. (Photo by Idibri/Wikimedia Commons)

“Beneath the carnival atmosphere lies the fact these fans have gathered to watch young men hit and bruise one another—a violent spectacle that is one of America’s favorite pastimes. Given its nature and its prominent position in our culture, is football the Roman gladiator sport for modern Americans?”

“American football has many similarities with gladiator games, says Garrett Fagan, associate professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State. Most obviously, both involve spectacular, violent displays before a massive, cheering audience. Fans choose sides and strongly identify with their team—just as Roman citizens cheered their favorite gladiators in combat. Do these superficial similarities suggest a deeper connection?” Jesse Hicks, Penn State News, 2009.

John William Bailly 29 January 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: