XX. THE ROMAN REPUBLICANS SERIOUS AND GAY.
The games of the Romans range from the innocent tossing of huckle-bones to the frightful scenes of the gladiatorial show. Some were celebrated in the open air, and others within the enclosures of the circus or the amphitheatre. Some were gay, festive, and abandoned, and others were serious and tragic. Some were said to have been instituted in the earliest days by Romulus, Servius Tullius, or Tarquinius Priscus, and others were imported from abroad or grew up naturally as the nation progressed in experience or in acquaintance with foreign peoples. The great increase of games and festivals and their enormous cost were signs of approaching trouble for the republic, and foretold the terrible days of the empire, when the rabblement of the capital, accustomed to be amused and fed by their despotic and corrupt rulers, should cry in the streets: "Give us bread for nothing and games forever!" It was gradually educating the populace to think of nothing but enjoyment and to abhor honest labor, and we can imagine the corruption that must have been brought into politics when honors were so expensive that a respectable gladiatorical show cost more than thirty-five thousand dollars (£7,200). If money for such purposes could not be obtained by honest means, the nobles, who lived on popular applause, would seek to force it from poor citizens of the colonies or win it by intrigue at home.
There were impressive games celebrated from the fourth to the twelfth of September, called the great games of the Roman Circus, but it is a disputed point what divinities they were in honor of. Jupiter was thought surely to be one, and Census another, by those who believed the legends asserting that they were a continuation of those established by Romulus when he wished to get wives from the Sabines. Others think that Tarquinius Priscus, after a victory over the Latins, commemorated his success by games in a valley between the Aventine and the Palatine hills, where the spectators stood about to look on, or occupied stages that they erected for their separate use. The racers went around in a circuit, and it is perhaps on this account that the course and its scaffolds was called the circus (circum, round about). The course was long, and about it the seats of the spectators were in after times arranged in tiers. A division, called the spina (spine), was built through the central enclosure, separated the horses running in one direction from those going in the other.
A variety of different games were celebrated in the circus. The races may be mentioned first. Sometimes two chariots, drawn by two horses or four each (the biga or the quadriga), entered for the trial of speed. Each had two horsemen, one of whom, standing in the car with the reins behind his back to enable him to throw his entire weight on them, drove, while the other urged the beasts forward, cleared the way, or assisted in managing the reins. Before the race lists of the horses were handed about and bets made on them, the utmost enthusiasm being excited, and the factions sometimes even coming to blows and blood. The time having arrived, the horses were brought from stalls at the end of the course, and ranged in line, a trumpet sounded, or a handkerchief was dropped, and the drivers and animals put forth every exertion to win the prize. Seven times they whirled around the course, the applause of the excited spectators constantly sounding in their ears. Now and then a biga would be overturned, or a driver, unable to control his fiery steeds, would be thrown to the ground, and, not quick enough to cut the reins that encircled him with the bill-hook that he carried for the purpose, would be dragged to his death. Such an accident would not stop the onrushing of the other competitors, and at last the victor would step from his car, mount the spina, and receive the sum of money that had been offered as the prize.
Another game was the Play of Troy, fabled to have been invented by Æneas, in which young men of rank on horses performed a sham fight. On another occasion the circus would be turned into a camp, and equestrians and infantry would give a realistic exhibition of battle. Again, there would be athletic games, running, boxing, wrestling, throwing the discus or the spear, and other exercises testing the entire physical system with much thoroughness. One day the amphitheatre would be filled with huge trees, and savage animals would be brought to be hunted down by criminals, captives, or men especially trained for the desperate work, who made it their profession.