Kathleen M. Coleman

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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The spectacles of the arena and the circus, although beneath mention in sophisticated discourse, were a pervasive cultural force in Roman society. More pervasive in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire, although still perhaps seasonally determined, were the informal entertainers (acrobats, tightrope walkers, jugglers, conjurors, fire eaters, strongmen, puppeteers, fortune-tellers, street-musicians, and other itinerant showmen of antiquity). The spectacle par excellence and, requiring the subjugation of a foreign enemy as its raison d'eâtre, the least predictable, was the triumphal procession. Under the Republic, gladiatorial combat remained firmly tied to funerary celebration, an occasion associated also with other types of display. If we are relatively well informed about the careers of charioteers and gladiators, we know almost nothing of the origins, status, and training of the men who fought beasts. This article looks at the participants, sponsors, and spectators of Roman spectacles in ancient times.

Keywords: Roman Empire; spectacles; arena; circus; triumphal procession; gladiatorial combat; charioteers; gladiators; sponsors; spectators

Article.  8976 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical History ; Ancient Roman History

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