Pre-Christian Rome’s Dark Entertainment

800px-The_Christian_Martyrs_Last_PrayerThe ancient world is often misrepresented as a time of enlightenment. Although there is much that this world did contribute to the rise of the West, and civilization in general, there are dark chapters that are forgotten.

One of these is the extent of the killing of slaves and citizens in ancient Rome in the name of “entertainment.” Those attending Roman circuses saw the killing of millions of people. Such spectacles were only banned with the rise of Christian emperors in the fourth century.

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Historian Rodney Stark cites, as an example, one particular celebration in 108-109 AD in which the Emperor Trajan employed 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild animals in a wild killing fest that lasted 123 days.

Stark continues his commentary by putting the matter in perspective. He notes: “It is credibly estimated that at least 200,000 people died in the Coliseum. It seems quite conservative to estimate that an average of at least 10,000 would have died in each of the other 251 amphitheaters, or another 2.5 million. All of this for amusement!”

Those killed were not only slaves or criminals, but they could be just about anyone. For his entertainment, Nero forced the wives of senators to fight and die as gladiators. Stark cites another example of one spectacle in which the supply of condemned criminals to be killed by wild beasts ran out. “The Emperor Caligula ordered that the first several rows of spectators be thrown to the beasts and so they were.” (Rodney Stark, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity, ISI Books, Wilmington,


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Delaware, 2014, pp. 54-55)