The popularity of sporting competition in the modern society reflects that of the ancient Roman Empire’s vision for its society. Entertainment was an important aspect of the daily life of Roman citizens, hence their interest in sporting games and events. Most of today’s sporting games can be traced back to these games, albeit with a few or major changes. Games such as horseracing, ball games, board games, and the gladiator fights, which began in Rome, are still enjoyed in different parts of the world.
Several aspects of sporting events in ancient Rome can be observed today, for example, the similarity of gladiator contests to organized modern sports (Ow, para. 1). Gladiators were trained in special schools using methods are still used in training today’s professional athletes.
Several aspects of the gladiatorial games can be readily observed in today’s football, hockey, boxing, and wrestling contests in these events, the opponents dress in some form of armor, use game weapons, attract huge crowds, adopt fancy names and titles and frequently gain much popularity and prosperity (Hicks, para. 3).
Even the stadium architecture used back in the day is still in application. Modern-day horse and vehicle racing competitions exhibit great resemblance to the Circus-Maximus in Rome, where horses competed and the chariots crashed into each other to the delight of crowds.
Sporting events and activities in ancient Rome were very popular among the natives. The Colosseum in Rome, where most sporting events were held, was a huge showground that could hold more than 45,000 people. It was here that the Romans came to watch the violent and sometimes bloody battles that associated with the Romans. Events consisted of battles between gladiators, and even between gladiators and wild animals such as lions (Oracle, para. 8).
Another favorite sport was chariot racing. This sport exhibited stiff competition and often ended in injury or death of the participants or their horses. Roman charioteers, most of whom were slaves, were referred to as aurigae and would partake in this sport to become prominent, earn sufficient money, and buy their freedom. Chariot racing was one of the most popular sports in ancient Rome, it later spread to other parts of the world and is a favorite sport in some nations.
Sporting events turned into a show of display with fierce competition as the winners were rewarded and became popular and were subject to favors. To ensure that the games attracted huge numbers, the authorities spent a lot of money on the games but entrance, in most cases, was free. Publicly financed games also continued into the provinces with each region having its own amphitheater. Amphitheaters were the most common venues for sporting activities, the first of which was built at around 29 BC.
The amphitheater was oval or elliptical with sloping seats and supported on solid rocks. They were initially carved out of earth but this changed and the Romans started using cement to strengthen them.
A velum protected the crowd from elements of weather and in larger structures, underground floors were constructed to hold animals before a battle (Oracle, para. 10). The stands offered a spectacular view of the arena and with the crowds cheering on their favorite teams or individual, the view from the stands must have been a wonderful experience for anyone who attended.
Despite borrowing heavily from the ancient Roman, today’s sporting events are not about competition anymore, rather, they are focused on making profits. Competition is an integral ethos of the game as it creates fervor within the spectators, just as it was in ancient Rome. It is common to hear of match fixing and game cheats aimed at making some teams win through unfair tactics that were devoid in the ancient events.
The architecture of the Roman amphitheaters can be easily recognized in today’s stadiums. The amphitheaters were elliptical or near-circle in shape. The most famous of these was the Colosseum which covered almost six acres and with a height of 48.5 m. The structure is classical template for today’s stadia; the sloping seats, retractable roof, elliptical shape… all these borrow from the ancient Roman architecture.
Modern sports has not only borrowed in the sphere of architecture, it has also borrowed aspects such as pre-game rituals and names. For example, the University of South California’s stadium is referred to as The Coliseum, even though the stadium is larger than the real Coliseum, it borrows from the Roman architecture, similar to most stadia.
The Romans developed cement by mixing volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius with slaked lime, this created a product that could harden when mixed with water and they used this to make building foundations to most of their structures, including the Coliseum. This has been replicated in the construction of modern stadia.
Despite the Romans’ dexterity in construction, historical evidence suggests that the stadium construction began in Greece, the word itself comes from the Greek word “stadion”, a measure of length equal to 200m. The Romans just emulated what had begun years earlier.
Gladiators were trained in special institutions initially run by private individuals, but later possessed by the imperial state to avoid the emergence of a private military. The fighters were trained like athletes, similar to modern day training of professional athletes (Meijer, pp. 67).
They were given medical attention and were served food thrice a day. They were trained on the usa of various weapons (Ablemedia, para. 1). Successful gladiators became respectable and were famous among the low and high in the society and their role as entertainers was honored in valuable and commonplace items all over the empire.
The athletes stayed in cells within the training school and a typical day would have begun with a breakfast followed by some light warm-up exercise. Immediately, they would go into full training in the presence of their trainer, only breaking at lunch, and resuming in the afternoon. This is unlike modern athletes who hire a private coach and return to their residential areas after training, besides, today’s training procedure is more structured and everything is done according to book.
The Romans have had had a huge influence in today’s sporting activities and events. Their contribution is not only in field events, it can be seen in other outdoor activities such as horseracing, called Chariot racing in ancient Rome. The Romans participated in boxing, ball games and Greek-style athletics too, all popular sports today.
However, it can not be said that the more common sporting activities have their origin among the ancient Romans, but they definitely adopted them with so much zeal that laws had to be enacted to control them!
Ablemedia. Gladiatorial Training & Combat. 2007.Web. December 03, 2010.
Hicks, Jesse. Probing Question: Is Football the Gladiator Sport for Modern Americans? September 14, 2009. Web. December 3, 2010.
Meijer, Fik. The Gladiators: The Deadliest Sport. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2003.
Ow, Yong-Ling. Violence and the Romans: The Arena Spectacles. 1994. Web. December 3, 2010.
Oracle. Daily Life. 2010. Web. December 03, 2010.