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I’ve spent so much time hanging around ancient Rome in the past month, I feel out of costume in 21st century clothes.
For some reason, quite a few TV hours have been devoted recently to the days of togas and tribunes. I’m wondering if some important date is being commemorated. I know it’s not the ides of anything because that only falls on the fifteenth of the month.
For whatever reason, the TV powers that be have been focusing a lot of prime time attention and even more production money on Rome. The effort seems to be primarily British, although the American History Channel has been heavily involved.
The History Channel has been presenting programs having to do with Roman engineering, with some fascinating shows also having to do with Roman morals and mores. There certainly were more mores than morals in the Roman Empire.
While being absorbed with the Roman way of life in the street, so to speak, one is forced to take the time to marvel at the incredible ability of the Romans to build things, like roads, aqueducts, walls, and buildings, not to mention their ways with plumbing. The amazing thing is that many of their achievements are standing after thousands of years. It was amazing to see a water pumping fixture that, with design intact, is used to this day. No one has ever improved on the design.
One big question is, how could a people so gifted been able to build a coliseum, and still be so primitive to enjoy the terrible blood sports “played” therein?
For over 500 years that magnificent arena was the sight of some barbaric goings-on. Contrary to popular belief, Christians were never fed to lions there, but other people were and worse. Christians, apparently, were killed in lesser arenas but not in the big one.
Thousands of wild animals from places Rome conquered and occupied were transported to Rome to be slaughtered in the Coliseum for the entertainment of the people, of all classes. Gladiator fights were some of the most popular events and gladiators were the paparazzi fodder of the time. Even if your favorite fighter were killed, it didn’t keep you from showing up to see the next one get it.
Of all the biggest events, the only one I appreciate is the famous naval battle fought right there in the stadium. In an astounding display of technology, the bottom of the Coliseum was flooded with enough water to support two sailing fleets of warships and an historic naval battle was re-enacted. The crowd must have been excited at those shows. How much entertainment can you be offered, for no admission fee?
The dictum, “Give the people bread and circuses to keep them quiet and obedient”, must have cost a pretty penny or whatever the Roman equivalent.
The British have produced two movies dealing with the good old days of Rome. One was a mini series called, “Empire”, which has run its course. The second, right on the heels of the first, is called simply, “Rome”, and has just begun its 17 episode run, which, apparently, will be extended if popular enough.
“Empire” started with the murder of Julius Caesar. “Rome” started with Caesar’s return from 8 years of fighting and extending Rome’s borders in Gaul. He is about to return to Rome to displace Pompey, and begin the saga of civil war, his murder, and the incredibly insane reign of subsequent emperors until the Barbarians came into play.
If the very high quality of writing, acting, and producing continue I should imagine being able to go along for the whole ride.
I cut my teeth on ancient history. My entire family, except for my mother and one sister were total history buffs. I still have vivid memories of my father’s tutoring on the subject. My mother was only interested in the history of the American musical theater and my sister was into novels and math. Mama was also into sports so I learned a lot about baseball and football icons of her life.
My father was able to live a life’s dream serving in North Africa, Sicily, and Rome, during World War II. He had the chance to sit in the Coliseum, all alone, on a full moon-lit night, probably where the Emperor would have hung out.
I commented to my daughter on the blood thirst of the Roman crowds. She pointed out that we weren’t that far removed. Who hasn’t heard, “I went to a fight on ice and a hockey game broke out?” There’s plenty of blood on ice, on the football field, and boxing matches, not to mention bull fighting. Come to think of it, baseball is the only sport the plebeians in Rome would have booed out of the Coliseum. Too tame.
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