Few cultures can boast the influence on the modern world that ancient Rome can.
Popularizing precedents in aqueducts, roadbuilding, surgery, and much more, the ancient Romans were busy people, but this didn’t stop them from enjoying a little time off. Similarly famed for their culture of entertainment, Romans knew how to have a good time, and that much holds true even today.
Of course, the forms that this entertainment now takes have evolved significantly over the years, even if the base idea is the same. Taking a look at a few key standouts, we want to explore a few classic Roman pastimes, and how their ancient incarnations have been adapted to the modern-day.
Essentially acting as a fusion of racing and ancient destruction derby, it’s perhaps no surprise that chariot racing was one of ancient Rome’s most beloved forms of entertainment. One of the most famed stadiums developed to house these races, the Circus Maximus, was constructed somewhere around the late 7th and early 6th century BC. Later additions would extend the stadium to the point it could hold more than 150,000 spectators, an impressive feat given the technology of the time.
As noted by Britannica, racing was often a dangerous pursuit, resulting in serious injuries or death for both horses and men, but that was considered part of the thrill. Naturally, today’s variants of chariot racing aren’t quite as unsafe as their classical counterparts.
Though not as full-contact or as widely loved as traditional chariot racing, modern harness racing remains a popular sport in many countries. This new form revolves around either trotting and pacing, where running at full-speed is rarely allowed. Still, we have to assume the drivers appreciate the safer pace.
Back before the advent of cards, the Romans would have struggled to play a few hands of snap or gin rummy, but this doesn’t mean they were completely lacking in smaller home games. Most commonly, Romans enjoyed two famous dice games called Tali and Tesserae. Each of these used different scoring schemes analogous to ancient poker systems. Naturally, these would eventually find their place as gambling games.
The lack of cards highlights how limited they were as these have allowed games such as poker and blackjack to flourish. However, arguably the most popular casino games are slots due to the sheer range of options in this area as online casinos compete with each other to attract new customers. As it can be tough for consumers to find the options most suitable to them, sites such as Casinos.co.za provide links to the online casino with the best offer for a specific title. Unsurprisingly, gambling games have developed considerably since the times of Tali or Tesserae and technological advances have been at the heart of that.
Dating back as far as the 8th century BC, wrestling was a mainstay in the Roman sporting and entertainment arenas. In its classic forms, wrestlers weren’t allowed to touch the legs of their opponents, or involve any sort of tripping technique. Matches were divided into two parts, wrestling while upright and wrestling while on the ground. Rather than using a scoring system, victors were often decided based on who could make their opponent quit. Given that these competitions were often held while nude and greased up, we imagine they must have been quite the spectacle.
Unlike the other types of entertainment listed above, there are modern forms of Greco-Roman wrestling that persist in remarkably similar forms to the originals. Though modern forms have scoring systems and clothed competitors, they still forbid holding below the waist, which sets this form of competition apart from its freestyle wrestling contemporary.
The More Things Change
Despite being more than 1,500 years since the last Roman emperor died as we explored on WeirdItaly, much of the spirit that drove ancient Roman hobbies and entertainment remains the same. We still love to go fast, we still love games of chance, and we still love physical competitions of strength, skill, and stamina. Though our lives are practically unrecognizable by ancient standards, we still find ourselves connected through the elements that amuse and excite us.
The way these diversions played out might be a little weird to our modern sensibilities, but we’re willing to bet that from the perspective of an ancient Roman, we’d be more than a little bizarre too. Looking towards the distant future, this gives us a real sense of direction for what might come next. The form of entertainment might change, but the soul will persist, and there’s comfort in this knowledge, as we relate to those who follow in our footsteps.