Arenas for Ancient Roman Spectacles
Ancient Romans utilized the foundation of Greek theater by borrowing the open air, semi-circular structure, while also innovatively altering the physical space to include an expanded stage. They also adopted the performative tradition of comedies, tragedies, and satires. However, two genres of Greek origins—mime and pantomime—became the most popular forms of drama during the Roman Empire. These theatrical performances were often accompanied by singing choruses and music performed by an orchestra of various instruments such as flutes, pipes, and cymbals.
Romans also created new "forms" of spectacle, many of which were held in the amphitheater, a Roman invention. A typical day at this arena would have included a slew of staged animal hunts (venationes), followed by violent public executions of criminals (damnationes ad bestias), and concluded with the highly anticipated grand finale of bloody gladiatorial contests (munera). Among the featured attractions, exotic or wild animals like hippopotami and bears were displayed as reflections of the successful colonizing efforts of the Roman Empire.
Roman public spectacles played a pivotal role in the social, cultural, and political development of the Empire, encouraging pride and social cohesion through a culture centered around viewership, entertainment, and shared experience.
(B. Wrubel ’21)