The histories of the Roman Republic (established in 509 bc, though Rome's Forum and the Circus Maximus were laid out in the later years of the seventh century bc) and of the Roman Empire (the last emperor of the western empire relinquished power in ad 475 when Byzantium became the new seat of the empire, in the east) include the recognition of the cultural, social, and political significance of sport. Sport had particular ceremonial uses and meanings at various points of Roman history, sometimes linked to religion, but always and increasingly linked to networks of political power and social status. Political figures such as the military leader and political dictator Julius Caesar and the Emperor Nero used sport to boost personal reputations and bolster political power; and sport and the provision of sporting facilities affected much prominent architecture, such as the Colosseum, at which gladiatorial games were staged; or the Roman baths, where a more genteel form of physical culture and sporting endeavour was manifest.
Given the longevity of Roman civilization it would serve no purpose to provided an overview of sport in ancient Rome. It is more productive to focus upon particular sport-related institutions of ancient Rome, such as those cross-referenced here, and to point to some general features characterizing sport's place in that culture. Sport was more violent in ancient Rome than in classical Greek culture, and developed as politically motivated forms of spectacle. The increasing influence of Christianity undermined the cultural and cognitive basis of combat sports, if not chariot racing, and leaves one with the question: what were the sources of and influences upon the sporting morality of a culture in which the sporting spectacle was of a kind that many cultures and societies, both before and since, have considered as cruel and inhuman? One answer might be to look closely at the cultural commentators of the time, such as poet and satirist Juvenal.
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.