Abstract: Fans, Fame and the Roman Circus


In the first century CE, the funeral for Felix, a charioteer of the Red team, made headlines in the acta diurna—so Pliny reports—when one of his fans immolated himself on his favorite’s funeral pyre. While an extreme example, fan behavior in ancient Rome is not unknown. Yet where charioteers assumed a highly-visible presence in Roman society and have been much studied, the fans whom they inspired remain largely overlooked and poorly understood. This paper draws upon a wide range of literary, artistic and archaeological evidence in reconstructing and reclaiming the interactive experience of the sport’s various kinds of followers. The evidence of material culture—including funerary monuments, game boards and smaller articles (fingerings, game tokens)—is shown to have particular value in offsetting the largely hostile view of fans that emerges from the literary record. Contemporary perspectives drawn from the sociology of sport are also brought to bear. The central aim of the paper is to demonstrate how the study of the sports fan, who sat at the fault line between staged spectacles and everyday life, can enlighten us in new ways about the centrality of the Circus to Roman culture.

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