Roman entertainment was of vital importance as it allowed the emperor to control the people of Rome. Rome itself was brimming with all sorts of entertainment for both the rich and poor! The Coliseum would provide gladiator fights and battle re-enactments whilst the many theatres would provide a more cultured form of entertainment. Also the many public baths were available and enjoyed by those of all classes.
The Circus Maximus was an essential part of classical Roman entertainment, the magnificent stadium would display chariot races to a capacity crowd of 150,000 Romans. There were four main chariot racing teams; the blues, greens, whites and reds. Each team would have its own set of racers, and if one chariot racer became successful they would receive fame throughout the chariot racing community. Like today's football teams they would also have their own set of hard core fans, and riots wouldn't be uncommon!
The Coliseum would have provided the many people of Rome with gladiatorial games, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. All Roman entertainment provided in the Coliseum would have been arranged by the Aedile. The Aedile was an elected member of the senate who would organise entertainment and regulate public festivals.
Roman gladiators would fight in arenas around the Roman Empire, and were the most common source of entertainment throughout the Roman Empire; there would have been an amphitheatre in every town. Roman gladiator fights would cost very little for Roman citizens, and seats were affordable for practically everyone. However, the better seats were reserved for Senators, Vestal Virgins and patricians. During events, bread and other items of food were thrown into the crowds.
Roman gladiators were slaves and would consist of prisoners of war and criminals. Some citizens of Rome would volunteer to become gladiators in order to make money. There is also much evidence to suggest that emperors were commonly found in the arena, most noticeably Commodus. The fights he was involved in would always see him victorious, as the opponent would not dare attempt to win in fear of their life.
If gladiators had a successful career then they may be granted their freedom by their master or in the arena. When they were granted their freedom they would receive a wooden sword which would be a symbol of their liberty.
Types of Roman Gladiators
Murmillo: These would fight with a helmet decorated by a fish crest, an oblong shield, and a sword.
Retiaritus: These would be lightly armed with a net, with either a trident or a dagger.
Samnite: These would utilize a sword, helmet, and an oblong shield.
Thracian: These used a scimitar and a round shield.
It would be common for wild animals such as tigers, bears, bulls and lions to be released into the arena to challenge the gladiators. The animals would have been starved before a fight to make them more aggressive.
Theatres were of great importance in Ancient Rome; the first permanent theatre was commissioned in 55BC and had a capacity of 27,000. All of the characters in Roman plays were played by male Roman slaves, including the roles of women! Genres of Roman theatre include comedies, pantomimes and tragedies.
Roman baths played a major role in society and were used not just for bathing but for socialising. The baths were very large complexes; in Diocletian the baths cover 32 acres! The building would be central to a Roman town, and surrounding them there would be a host of conveniences. These include shops, libraries and slave markets.