National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Sea Battle in the Arena THE COLOSSEUM was so called not because of its size but because of a colossal, gilded-bronze, "sun-god" statue of Nero which stood close beside it until long after the fall of Rome. Moved on rollers from Nero's House of Gold when that fantastically sumptuous palace was destroyed, the hundred-foot colossus probably was already in place for the inauguration of the gigantic stone and concrete amphi theater which Vespasian began and his successor Titus saw completed (page 587). The ceremonies opening the amphitheater in A. D. 80 lasted for a hundred days of festivals, games, and displays to which flocked city dwellers, provincials, and foreigners. "What race is so barbarous or so remote that a spectator has come not thence to thy city, 0 Caesar!" exclaimed Martial, the Spaniard with a genius for flattering the right people and lampooning the wrong ones. "Sygambrians have come with their hair in knots and Ethiopians with different curl," he continued, and declared that some of the crowd hailed also from Bulgaria, Russia, Egypt, and Arabia. His verses on the games filled a large papyrus roll. Since the huge structure stood on low ground previously covered by a pleasure pond in Nero's gardens, its central area could be flooded easily and converted into a miniature sea for sham naval battles. These spectacles, in which heads were broken, blood flowed freely, and sailors were drowned in the churning water, offered novel interludes among the gladiatorial combats, the displays of bloodthirsti ness in the slaughter of thousands of wild beasts, and the pageants and processions which were the entertainment of fered when the arena wasleft asdry ground. The next emperor, Domitian, repeated the feat, but be cause of difficulties of installation presented the naval spec tacles on artificial lakes dug especially for the purpose. Julius Caesar seems to have been the first todevise and carry out such a project.During the games with which he celebrated his triumphstwo years before hewas as sassinated, fleets of two-,three-, and four-banked vessels, manned by a couple of thousand rowers and bearing athou sand armed marines on their decks, fought and destroyed each other in the sight of the Roman holiday crowd. The last such spectaclerecorded was presented atthe celebration of the thousandth year ofRome's existence, A.D. 248. It was staged in theflooded Colosseum arena. Some fifty thousand onlookers could find sitting room in this greatest of ancienttheaters. Since they surrounded the exhibition and lookeddown onitfrom alldirections and angles, no coherent entertainment could bepresented. Particularly popular were dangerous struggles against wild beasts and dueling matches between trained fighters, one in full armor and theother equipped with only acast ing net and a three-pronged fishing spear. Death instead of mere defeat was the usual outcome for the loser. Mortal combats betweendifferent kinds ofwild animals were loudly acclaimed. Among the human contestants more and more fanciful weapons and equipment were devised. Bassus perhaps outdid allrivals by strolling around the arena defending himself with agolden chamber pot.