Athletic And Sporting Events in Ancient Roman Times

It must have been exciting living during ancient Roman
times because of all the holidays, festivals, and other gala
events. Spectator sports were very popular back then and
the main form of entertainment. An examination of the forms
of entertainment which were predominant during this period
will provide a better understanding of Roman society during
its glory years.
A look at the origin and purpose of the "games" is an
ideal place to start. Gladitorial combat dates back to very
early times. Primitive people believed blood was the most
precious thing to offer to the gods because it was necessary
to sustain life. This explains some of the human sacrifices
associated with religious rituals. The Roman games were
originally held to celebrate religious festivals honoring
gods and goddesses. As time passed so did the religious
connection to the games. One chief purpose, later on, was
to relieve social tensions by diverting the focus of the
large number of unemployed from their miserable plight.
Their numbers in Rome were as high as 150,000. It was
feared that their anger might be turned onto the government
and its officials if attention was not diverted elsewhere.
At times this plan backfired. Riots would occur mainly as a
result of the masses getting caught up in the frenzy of the
events. Other reasons for holding the games were to benefit
the sponsors, each of which had separate motives.
The government was the biggest sponsor so it could
achieve its selfish motive of keeping the unemployed
preoccupied. This was made easy since admission to all the
spectator sports was free. Some of the sponsors were rich
government offials who used these events to further their
position within the government. Others were the emperor,
himself, and private individuals. All had some selfish
reason, whether it was to increase social prestige or gain
acceptance of the common people. Many promoters of the
gladitorial games would use unequal match-ups between
opponents, weapons, or anything that would get the
spectators excited. The games were an important part of
Roman social life and, therefore, not restricted to Rome
alone. Many local dignitaries supported these events in the
provinces. Consequently, these events were held at many
different sites.
The most splendid of the games were held in Rome. Some
of the games were held in an outdoor building called a
circus. This consisted of a long oval arena with large
seating capacity. The most famous was the Circus Maximus
which seated 250,000. Another type of building used for the
games was the amphitheater. This also was an outdoor arena
but more circular in nature. The most famous of these was
and is the Colosseum. It held fifty to sixty thousand
spectators. Other popular places were the public baths
which had gyms and other facilities in which to work out.
However, the prior two places were the favorites of the
masses and received the most use. This was especially true
on days set aside for celebrating particular events.
There were no typical Sundays or non-business days
during those times. Instead they had holidays. In 80 A.D.
the Colosseum was inaugurated by having games that lasted
100 straight days. By the year 354 A.D. there were 175 days
(holidays) devoted to the games. Races were held from dawn
to dusk on days when the games were held in the circus.
Spectator sports were the main form of entertainment
during this era. There were no team sports. The main
sporting events were chariot racing in the circus or
gladitorial type combat with men and animals in the
amphitheaters. The gladitorial combats were the most
popular but not until the period of the Empire. Chariot
racing was made popular by factions, which were clubs
supporting different teams. The charioteers wore red, blue,
white, or green which represented team colors. These men
were usually slaves or men of lower class. They would drive
chariots drawn by two or four horses. Race cards
advertising horses and drivers were used for betting. The
races consisted of seven laps around the arena which was
about six miles. These races would last all day with other
forms of entertainment used between races. Acrobats,
clowns, brass bands, and processions helped to fill the gap
between races. In