Daily Life: Entertainment

The theatre

Fight club: the importance of the amphitheatre

Aside from the daily bathing ritual, the spectacles of the amphitheatre were the most popular form of entertainment in Pompeii. Pompeii’s amphitheatre was built sometime after 80 BC, making it the oldest known example of its kind in the Roman world. The contests Pompeians enjoyed were ultra-violent even by today’s standards, ranging from gladiator versus gladiator combat to fights that pitted men against various dangerous animals.

 Spectacles took place in the arena of the amphitheatre and often lasted two or three days. They were highly publicised and well attended, not only by the citizens of Pompeii but also by people from neighbouring towns, and sometimes became just as rowdy as modern sporting events. In 59 AD a riot broke out in the amphitheatre between Pompeian fans and the people of nearby Nuceria, and as a result the amphitheatre was closed for ten years – a hefty penalty for the crime. The riot is celebrated in a graffito found on the facade of the House of the Dioscuri, which portrays a triumphant gladiator carrying a palm of victory and saying, "Campanians, you perished with the Nucerians in our victory." (The region surrounding Mount Vesuvius was called Campania). Other Pompeian graffiti have been found depicting gladiatorial contests and listing the victories of favourite gladiators. These gladiators were often foreign slaves, and both men and women idolised them; one graffito reads: "Celadus the Thracian makes all the girls sigh."

Theatrical performances were another, gentler form of popular entertainment. Pompeii’s theatre was an old one, built in the second century BC in the Greek style and then enlarged and modernised in the Augustan period to make it more like a Roman theatre. Comedies and rustic farces were performed there, as well as mimed re-enactments of mythological scenes. The dramas of ancient Greece must also have been popular, judging from the wall paintings depicting the famous Greek playwright Menander. A small roofed odeum, or concert hall, was built next to the theatre in about 75 BC to provide an additional venue for musical entertainment.

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