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Main Functions of the Games in Ancient Rome

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Main Functions of the Games in Ancient Rome

The 2 main kinds of games that took place in ancient Rome were those

of ludi scaenici (theatre and plays) and those of ludi circenses

(sports). This evaluation of Roman games will concentrate on the

sports side of Roman entertainment due to their much higher popularity

i.e. chariot racing and the gladiators.

Chariot racing is one of the oldest spectator sports in Rome dating

back to at least 6BC. The races started to celebrate religious

festivals, the very first recorded one was the festival of to consus,

this festival known as the Consualia was celebrated on the 21st August

in Rome, which happened to be the local Derby Day, the main event of

the racing calendar. The underground granary where the shrine to

Consus where the opening sacrifices took place was located in the

center of the Circus Maximus where the racing took place.

Like racing, gladiators probably originated as funeral games, with

religious significance attached to what in affect was the ritual

sacrifice of the gladiators themselves. The first recorded gladiator

fight was in 264BC, when 3 pairs of gladiators fought to the death

during the funeral of Junius Brutus. The gladiator fights were known

as munera as they were originally 'duties' paid to dead ancestors.

They gradually lost their connection to funerals under the Roman

Empire and became an important stage for emperors and leaders to put

on spectacles for their own reasons.

The games in ancient Rome have a long and colorful history, and were

an incredibly large part of the culture of the great empire. For the

purposes of this essay, 3 main functions of the games w...

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... the games could be effective by proving the armies

absolute power and to divert political opinions. Quote (p 169)'

[A]ttendance at munera subjected emperors to pressure from the people,

rather than diverting potential expressions of political will in other

directions.' This book explains how Tiberius tried to keep away from

the games to escape the pressures, but it was so unpopular that later

Emperors didn't make the same mistake. Quote (p 169)' When an emperor

was at Rome, then his personal presence at munera was expected. An

emperor who was unpopular might be criticized either for being too

interested in these games, or not interested enough: the tightrope

which each emperor had to walk was a necessary consequence of the

ambiguous position of the emperor as both autocrat and servant of the

Roman people. . . .'
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