Abstract: Roman Spectacle in the Greek East


Since the 19th century the traditional perception has held that the Greek provinces of the Roman Empire were somehow more ‘civilised’ than the Western Provinces, and therefore could not have indulged in such bloodsports as the gladiatorial displays so typical of other parts of the Roman world. And yet there is a wealth of evidence from the Eastern provinces (particularly Greece and Asia Minor) for gladiatorial and other arena displays in the form of epigraphy, sculpted reliefs, and literary notices, as well as remains now of the gladiators themselves, with the discovery at Ephesus of the only known gladiator cemetery. This ‘civilised’ view has been held despite the fact that a large body of the sculptural and epigraphic material was actually published in the 1940s by Louis Robert.  Why should this be?  It is partly because of the hierarchy in which western scholarship since the 18th century has ranked Greek and Roman cultures.  More recently Hollywood has perpetuated this in such films as Spartacus and Gladiator which emphasise the violence and barbarity of the Roman arena with little reference to the original social and political context of the spectacles.

This lecture will review the evidence for Roman Spectacles in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the venues which were developed to accommodate them.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

H. Dodge, ‘Amusing the Masses: Buildings for Entertainment and Leisure in the Roman World’, in  D.S. Potter and D.J. Mattingly (ed), Life, Death and Entertainment in the Roman Empire, Ann Arbor 1999, 205-55

H. Dodge, ‘Amphitheatres in the Roman East’, in T. Wilmott (ed.), Roman Amphitheatres and Spectacula: a 21st-century Perspective, Oxford 2009, 29-46

K. Welch, The Roman Amphitheatre from its origins to the Colosseum, Cambridge 2007

Dig Deeper

Email the AIA Facebook Instagram YouTube Twitter
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

Sign Up!