Last Updated on 2022/09/09
The Roman Empire is not only renowned for its historical ambition, the brilliance of its artistic and technological creations and its obvious legacy on our thinking.
It was also notable for its varied forms of leisure, many of which are still present today. Roman leisure (otium) was based on the Greek ideal of promoting values such as freedom, gratuity and satisfaction, although it introduced ethical aspects such as prioritising mass participation to guarantee the common good. The following is a description of the main recreational activities, spectacles, games and competitions that took place in classical Rome, putting special attention on the Imperial period, considered to be the pinnacle of splendour in Roman leisure.
THE GREAT PUBLIC SPECTACLES
There is no doubt that great mass spectacles were the most popular form of entertainment during the Imperial period and the one that has had the greatest presence in later literary and cinematographic reinterpretations. The great public games (ludi publici) were emblematic of the classical Roman vision of leisure as an activity that would both satisfy the people’s desire for escapism and recreation, while at the same time guaranteeing the known established social order. These games were developed during the years of the Republic, but it was the Julio-Claudian imperial dynasty (founded by Augustus) who made them state obligation, i.e. a political measure of a populist nature that exalted imperial values and the status quo.
THE AMPHITHEATRE: A PUBLIC ARENA
These great mass spectacles took place in two characteristic sites: the amphitheatre and the circus. These became centres of recreation and forums for the indirect and controlled exercise of the right to civic participation. Strictly Roman in origin, the amphitheatre was a space intended above all for gladiatorial fights, wild beast hunts and naumachias. It was elliptical in shape and consisted of tiers (the caveas) separated by a wall (or podium) flanking a central area, the arena. The oldest surviving stone amphitheatre is the one at Pompeii, with the most important one being the Colosseum in Rome.
THE CIRCUS: THE PLACE OF THE GREAT RACES
The circus was the largest of all the facilities in Rome to entertain the masses. Its origins trace back to the Greek hippodromes and stadiums, and it consisted of an elongated rectangular enclosure. The longer sides were joined at one end by a semicircle and at the opposite end by a shallow curve. The arena consisted of sand, separated in two by a wall called a spina, where the judges were placed. The circus was mainly used for chariot and horse racing.
A POPULAR AND COMIC THEATRE
Plays performed in theatres during the Republican and the Imperial periods, known as the ludi scaenici, were the ultimate culmination of a combination of Etruscan stage dances, Roman popular theatre (both the atelanas and saturae) and the influence of Greek theatre.
From this mixture came the quintessential Roman genre, Latin comedy, cultivated by authors such as Plautus and Terence. These comedies, which were highly satirical, were performed by costumed actors and accompanied by abundant musical elements, dancers and mimes.
ENTERTAINMENT FOR YOUNG AND OLD
Many Roman children’s games have survived to the present day with hardly any modifications: hide-and-seek, odd or even, blind man’s buff, the swing, the see-saw or heads or tails are just some of the most famous. Also popular was the use of the iron or bronze hoop (the trochus), which was pushed with a rod (the clavis) and had bells or rings that jingled as it rolled. The spinning top, marbles and jointed dolls were also very popular.
On the adult side, games of chance were common in Rome. The most widely played was dice, where you won by getting the highest score, guessing the scores you were going to get, or filling up a board with different scores. The game of dice consisted in throwing several pieces or bones into the air as if they were dice, and you won or lost depending on which side they landed on.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, many of these games spread to all corners of the empire, reaching Middle Eastern countries where they would eventually be passed down and become commonplace traditions for generations. In the midst of 2022, gaming continues to expand as a wide variety of casinos and sports betting houses are available. In some places, these games are banned but experts like Arabianbetting offer the best online casino reviews. Here, users can find information on the safest and most trustworthy casinos as well as the best games to play, and the best methods of gambling. In addition, they have a guide on how to use a VPN to play anonymously and the best bonuses available for players to take advantage of.
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