CHAPTER X. INTERNAL CONDITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
Another essential but demoralizing feature of Roman society, were the games and festivals and gladiatorial shows, which accustomed the people to unnatural excitements, and familiarity with cruelty and suffering. They made all ordinary pleasures insipid. They ended in making homicide an institution. The butcheries of the amphitheatre exerted a fascination which diverted the mind from literature, art, and the enjoyments of domestic life. Very early it was the favorite sport of the Romans. Marcus and Decimus Brutus employed gladiators in celebrating the obsequies of their fathers, nearly three centuries before Christ. "The wealth and ingenuity of the aristocracy were taxed to the utmost, to content the populace and provide food for the indiscriminate slaughter of the circus, where brute fought with brute, and man again with man, or where the skill and weapons of the latter were matched against the strength and ferocity of the first." Pompey let loose six hundred lions in the arena in one day. Augustus delighted the people with four hundred and twenty panthers. The games of Trajan lasted one hundred and twenty days, when ten thousand gladiators fought, and ten thousand beasts were slain. Titus slaughtered five thousand animals at a time. Twenty elephants contended, according, to Pliny, against a band of six hundred captives. Probus reserved six hundred gladiators for one of his festivals, and massacred, on another, two hundred lions, twenty leopards, and three hundred bears. Gordian let loose three hundred African hyenas and ten Indian tigers in the arena. Every corner of the earth was ransacked for these wild animals, which were so highly valued that, in the time of Theodosius, it was forbidden by law to destroy a Getulian lion. No one can contemplate the statue of the Dying Gladiator which now ornaments the capitol at Rome, without emotions of pity and admiration. If a marble statue can thus move us, what was it to see the Christian gladiators contending with the fierce lions of Africa. The "Christians to the lions," was the watchword of the brutal populace. What a sight was the old amphitheatre of Titus, five hundred and sixty feet long, and four hundred and seventy feet wide, built on eighty arches, and rising one hundred and forty feet into the air, with its four successive orders of architecture, and inclosing its eighty thousand seated spectators, arranged according to rank, from the emperor to the lowest of the populace, all seated on marble benches, covered with cushions, and protected from the sun and rain by ample canopies! What an excitement when men strove not with wild beasts alone, but with one another, and when all that human skill and strength, increased by elaborate treatment, and taxed to the uttermost, were put forth in the needless homicide, and until the thirsty soil was wet and matted with human gore! Familiarity with such sights must have hardened the heart and rendered the mind insensible to refined pleasures. What theatres are to the French, what bull-fights are to the Spaniards, what horse-races are to the English, these gladiatorial shows were to the ancient Romans. The ruins of hundreds of amphitheatres attest the universality of the custom, not in Rome alone, but in the provinces.
The sports of the circus took place from the earliest periods. The Circus Maximus was capable of containing two hundred and sixty thousand, as estimated by Pliny. It was appropriated for horse and chariot races. The enthusiasm of the Romans for races exceeded all bounds. Lists of the horses, with their names and colors, and those of drivers, were handed about, and heavy bets made on each faction. The games commenced with a grand procession, in which all persons of distinction, and those who were to exhibit, took part. The statues of the gods formed a conspicuous feature in the show, and were carried on the shoulders as saints are carried in modern processions. The chariots were often drawn by eight horses, and four generally started in the race.
The theatre was also a great place of resort. Scaurus built one capable of seating eighty thousand spectators. That of Pompey, near the Circus Maximus, could contain forty thousand. But the theatre had not the same attraction to the Romans that it had to the Greeks. They preferred scenes of pomp and splendor.
[The circus and theatre.]