‘Timeline: the rise and fall of the Roman games’

Today (26th November), BBC History Magazine – on Twitter as @HistoryExtra – Tweeted a link to an article titled ‘Timeline: the rise and fall of the Roman games’, which they have posted as a feature on the home page of their web-site. The article was first published in the History Revealed magazine in July 2014 (the BBC History Magazine and the History Revealed magazine are produced by the same publisher). The tag-line of the article reads: ‘Dr Miles Russell reveals the story of the most gruesome spectator sports from the Roman period, from the first-ever races to the final battles …’. The timeline is very interesting. It also covers a long period of time: it starts with the year 753 BC and ends with the year AD 681!

The timeline of the Roman games is mostly about gladiatorial combat, although it kicks off in 753 BC, which is considered to be the year in which the first Roman chariot race was held, when the Romans competed with the Sabines, and which was presented by Romulus himself. The next date is 264 BC, the year of the first recorded gladiatorial combat to the death in Rome. In 174 BC, the Circus Maximus in Rome was rebuilt in stone: this was the greatest chariot-racing track in the Roman empire. In AD 67, apparently, the emperor Nero competed in a ten-horse chariot race in Greece. In about AD 146, the most successful Roman charioteer – Gaius Appuleius Diocles – retired after winning over 1,000 races. The timeline ends with this entry: ‘… AD 681  After centuries of waning popularity, and with the decline of the Roman Empire, gladiatorial combat is officially banned as a sport …’.

From the VROMA web-site: ‘… Possibly the oldest spectacular sport in Rome, chariot racing dates back at least to the sixth century BCE… [In Sicily,] races were associated with funeral games, and in Rome too they had religious ties, particularly to the chariot-driving deities Sol (the sun) and Luna (the moon), and to a god called Consus, an agricultural deity who presided over granaries. Originally chariot races (ludi circenses) were held only on religious festivals like the Consualia, but later they would also be held on non-feast days when sponsored by magistrates and other Roman dignitaries … Chariot racing was the most popular sport in Rome, appealing to all social classes from slaves to the emperor himself. This appeal was no doubt enhanced by the private betting that went on, although there was no public gambling on the races …’ – see ‘The circus: Roman chariot racing’ at www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/circus.html .

A timeline of chariot-racing and circuses would look very different to this timeline of the Roman games. And look out for a future post on this blog which includes a timeline of Colchester’s Roman circus!

Visit the BBC History Magazine web-site at www.historyextra.com/ and read ‘Timeline: the rise and fall of the Roman games’ at www.historyextra.com/article/romans/timeline-rise-and-fall-roman-games . The History Revealed magazine web-site is at www.historyextra.com/history-revealed/current-issue (the current issue, for December 2015, includes a captioned image of Colchester’s Roman circus in the feature titled ‘The Romans are coming!’).

The image shows Colchester Roman circus in the current issue of History Revealed.