The Worst Things That Happened in the Roman Colosseum


The great amphitheater that we know as the
Roman Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian around 70-72 AD. Like any big stadium, it was for the public’s
enjoyment, where folks could watch various games. Except the games were quite different at times
from the kind of games we watch these days. Today the crowd is thrilled when a ball flies
through the air, back in the ancient Roman days at times that object might have been
someone’s freshly severed head. This bloody entertainment enthralled the crowds
and these games were sometimes said to be the “bread and circuses” that pacified
the masses and directed their energy away from life’s difficulties. Today we’ll look at just how far the Romans
went in entertaining the often bloodthirsty people, in this episode of the Infographics
Show, The worst things that happened in the Roman Colosseum . As Steven Pinker writes in his book, “The
Better Angels of our Nature”, the past was brutal at times. Today we eat pizzas that come in boxes decorated
with the Roman Colosseum , says Pinker, hardly thinking about the total depravity that happened
in there. And so, if tomato sauce drips onto the print
of the amphitheater on your pizza box, it’s fitting in a way, as the place was often soaked
in human and animal blood. Pinker writes that large audiences would cheer
when naked women were tied to a stake, physically violated, and sometimes ripped apart by wild
animals that the Romans had acquired. A man acting the part of Prometheus would
be tied to a rock, but the myth got real when a trained bird would actually rip out his
liver. The crowd was delighted! People fought to the death, and the fight
wasn’t always fair. Pinker reckons about half a million people
died horrible deaths inside the Roman Colosseum . But let’s see what others say. Thrown to the beasts Live Science tells us that the Romans had
a contraption that these days we call a seesaw. This was called a “petaurua” and it was
said to raise the people sitting on it about 5 meters (15 ft) into the air. Now, that’s not such an exciting game, but
of course the seesaw was only the beginning of the entertainment. What would happen next is wild animals, such
as bears, wild boars, leopards and lions, would be let into the arena, sometimes through
trap doors so it looked as if they came from nowhere. The men, both naked and with their hands often
tied together, would bounce frantically so as not to be the man on the ground. Oh, what fun. It was easy pickings for the starving animals,
who would in the end rip both men apart. But part of the enjoyment was putting a bet
on which guy would last the longest. For the spectators this was quite the spectacle,
as entertaining as the Superbowl or the World Cup is to people now. Believe it or not, this spectacle known as
“damnatio ad bestias” was just the half time entertainment between the other games. It happened to men condemned to death, a capital
punishment, often handed down to runaway slaves, criminals, and enemies of the state. To think people now get Justin Timberlake
for the halftime show. When we say we “get thrown to the beasts”
this is taken from something that literally used to happen. Did anyone ever survive this? Well, there are stories, but who knows. One such tale says that a slave called Androcles
was thrown to a lion, but the lion didn’t want to eat him, or even nibble. This wasn’t because the lion was full that
day, but because the slave said he had met the lion while in North Africa and pulled
a thorn from its paw. What goes around, comes around. The terrible Emperor Commodus This emperor was known as a bit of a megalomaniac
and he would often go into the arena to fight in front of the crowds. Except of course the fights were not fair
and he always won. You probably know him as being the bad guy
in the movie “Gladiator.” As the fights were not fair, the Roman people
were not too keen on them, but they had no choice but to cheer lest they die a horrible
death themselves. It’s said Commodious slaughtered 100 lions
(some say bears) in the colosseum. He decapitated a helpless giraffe, also an
ostrich, which can’t be hard seeing as he had a lot to aim for. He killed many other wild animals, too. As for humans, he would fight them in the
arena but always spare their lives. This was seen as him having a better side,
but in private it’s said he would finish his competitors off. Possibly his worst feat was to take people
in the arena that were missing feet due to accident or illness, and then slay them all. Commodus didn’t much like disabled people
or people born differently from how he expected people to look. Another of his spectacles was to scour Rome
for dwarfs, arm them with cleavers and let them fight to the death. The recreation of myths Steven Pinker wrote that people would be sent
into the arena to play the part of mythological characters, such as Prometheus. He was a trickster type of Titan who created
man from clay, gave him fire, and pretty much defied the Gods in doing so. His punishment was to be tied to a rock for
eternity, except each day would be Groundhog day and an eagle, really Zeus in animal form,
would rip out his liver. That liver would come back the next day and
the scene would take place ad Infinium. The Romans would play this out with a trained
bird, according to Pinker, while other sources say the man’s stomach would be cut open
and any number of wild beasts would come and feast. He didn’t get to do it again the next day
like in the myth though. The Smithsonian writes that the myth of Orpheus
would also be played out. Orpheus was kind of like one of those people
on the cover of Jehovah Witness Watchtower magazines, as he could sit among wild animals
and feel only love from them. In fact, it’s said he could charm anything
that lived just by playing music with his lyre. The Romans put a little bit of a dark bent
on this story when it was reenacted in the coliseum. Instead of charming the wild animal with his
lyre, the man playing Orpheus would be ripped to shreds by a wild bear. We are not sure if this was supposed to be
ancient Roman satire. Just slaughter The Smithsonian tells us that at times the
entertainment didn’t involve much human blood being spilled, rather the fun was just
slaughtering wild animals – the more exotic the better. This was because showing the people what strange
animals they had found symbolized just how powerful the Romans were. They could travel to distant lands and bring
back prizes that looked like monsters to the public. These animals didn’t have a chance as they
were up against “venatores”, the best Roman hunters dressed in lots of armor and
holding long spears. The favorite animals to be killed were anything
with big teeth, such as lions, tigers and leopards. But other slaughter included elephants, bears,
ostriches, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and giraffes. The Smithsonian writes that emperor Titus
had 9,000 animals killed in the arena. Emperor Trajan had 11,000 of these wild beasts
killed. Women Too One of the great spectacles, for some people
at least, was to see women fighting to the death. This didn’t happen anywhere near as often
as men were forced to kill each other, but it happened. As the women were usually weaker, they might
be pitted against a dwarf, each armed with a club or a knife. Sometimes the women were highly trained gladiators,
at other times they were just victims being harshly punished. “And sometimes it chanced that someone had
specified in his will that the most beautiful women he had bought must fight among them,”
wrote Nicolaus of Damascus. Septimius Severus banned women fighting in
200 AD. Squashed Another form of animal-related capital punishment
was being squashed to death by an elephant. Historian Alison Futrell wrote in her book
“Blood in the Arena” that army deserters would sometimes be marched into the arena,
after which an elephant killed them by sitting on them. It’s written that getting elephants, or
other wild animals, to fight or follow orders in front of thousands of screaming people
was not easy. Imagine training a bird of prey to rip out
a liver! To do this, they had to be trained by what
were called “bestiarii”. The word also meant the people who would be
fighting with the animals. There was even a school where people were
trained to fight with these beasts, called the bestiariorum. I’m not going in As you can imagine, the prisoners that were
about to be sent to a horrid and painful death were not keen on dying this way in front of
cheering spectators. So, many took their own lives before they
were sent in. It’s written that there was a mass suicide
of Saxon prisoners. 29 men strangled each other before they could
be killed by the beasts. Roman historians wrote that one man thrust
his head into a moving cart wheel, breaking his neck, a better way to go than being eaten
alive by a lion. Another man forced a toilet sponge down his
throat and choked himself to death. Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote
about that, saying, “What a brave fellow! He surely deserved to be allowed to choose
his fate! How bravely he would have wielded a sword!” If you’ve read this philosopher, you’ll
know part of his philosophy is about accepting life’s hardships and looking death straight
on. Easy for him to say, he never experienced
the prospect of being chewed on by a hungry bear. Carpophorus It’s said that this bestiari was one of
the best animal fighters ever seen in the arena. The story goes that he fought and killed 20
wild beasts in one day. It’s also said he was a bit of a Dr. Doolittle
and was a great animal trainer. Some historians say this might not to be true,
but there are sources that tell us he would train wild animals to violate women. He did this by waiting until female animals
were in heat and then collect that smell which makes them attractive to the male of the species. He would then rub that on female slaves and
the spectacle of an animal, even a giraffe, violating a woman in the arena would be greeted
with loud cheers from the crowd. In the book, “Those about to die” it is
written, “Carpophorus used up several women before he got the animals properly trained
– with a bull or giraffe the women didn’t usually survive the ordeal.” Apparently, such a spectacle was to represent
myths, as the God Zeus was said to have done such things when he had taken the form of
an animal. So, do you think you could stomach the Roman
Colosseum and its grotesque attractions? Would you rather kill yourself than be subjected
to that in front of jeering crowds? Why do you think people enjoyed this, what
kind of mindset did they have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other episode
called Why Living During The Middle Ages Sucked. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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