Abstract: Death, Mythology, and Ideology in the Arena: Sculpture from the Amphitheater at Capua


The amphitheater at Capua was built immediately following and modeled on the Colosseum at Rome. Its decoration is much better preserved, however, and represents the best evidence we have on the sculpture that decorated an amphitheater in the Roman world. Of the exterior decoration we have 16 busts and 5 freestanding statues all of mythological subjects that demonstrate the sculptural program of the façade. From the interior there are a number of fragmentary marble relief panels dating to the mid-second century carrying commemorative and mythological scenes. The commemorative scenes show a variety of events including sacrifices and multiple images of the pompa, the parade that initiated the events in a day of games. These all share the use of the amphitheater as architectural context for the events establishing them as occurring immediately outside its walls.

The other scenes are mythological and include mythological figures boar hunting, the punishment of Prometheus, and the flaying of Marsyas. The myths portrayed are consistent with what Kathleen Coleman called fatal charades; the hunt may be a themed venatio while the Prometheus and Marsyas reliefs are similar or identical to prisoner executions performed as mythological enactments known from literary sources such as Martial, Strabo, Tertullian and Ulpian.

These self-referential decorations are designed to reinforce the activities in the arena and the value systems behind them while enhancing the experience for spectators.


Suggested Bibliography:

“Spectacle and Ideology in the Relief Decorations of the Anfiteatro Campano”, Journal of Roman Archaeology 20: 255-272, 2007

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