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the Colesseum

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25843.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 3:18 am Reply with quote

my first posting - excuse me but i cannot remember hearing the answer to the question about naming the teams at the colesseum.

now i now it was chariot racing, was it the blues and greens or the reds?

25844.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 4:11 am Reply with quote

Welcome aboard.

The question was mainly designed to make the point that, despite the popular belief, there is no record of Christians being pitted against lions in the Colesseum (although it may have happened elsewhere). We didn't really get into what 'right' answer there might be.

In the chariot racing, as you say, the teams were blue, green, red and white. The blues and the greens were the only ones that mattered in the later empire, and they became aligned with political, social and religious factions in a rather interesting way.

25873.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 8:59 am Reply with quote

Somewhat like the blue states and the red states here in the US, perhaps?

25875.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:10 am Reply with quote

please elaborate on the quite interesting manners inwhich chariot racing became political. how would they have identified the blues and greens and red teams by way of horses? dyed mane/tail hair? painted spots?

25877.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 10:08 am Reply with quote

There's a really good account of it on this link.

It appears from this picture: that you could tell the colour of the team by the driver's costume.

The political influence seems to have sprung from clubhouses run by the supporters of each team and the encouragement of politicians of the various factions to back them - rather as if Tony Blair were to be supported by Manchester United's fanclub. However, the satirist Juvenal cynically claimed that the politicians encouraged the people to be concerned only with 'bread and circuses' because it distracted them from important things like voting.

One interesting thing that I wondered after reading that link was whether they actually had chariot racing in the Colosseum at all. The Circus Maximus, which I thought was a completely different building, was built for chariot racing, and I would question whether the Colosseum was big enough or had enough length for chariot teams racing at full pelt. Can anybody who has visited Rome comment on this?

25878.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 10:13 am Reply with quote

It's interesting that the word circus designates a circle, or a course for horse racing - but as far as I can see, all the circuses like the Circus Maximus were actually oval in shape.

25879.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 10:14 am Reply with quote

Interesting in that support of a sports team grew to become a matter of general political affiliation. In the later Roman Empire the circus took the place of a parliament, and a number of revolutions began in the Hippodrome. Anastasius saved his skin by appealing to the people at the circus, but Andronicus I Comnenus was torn to pieces by the mob in the same place.
No matter whether Nero or Marcus Aurelius ruled the world, whether the Empire was peaceful or was rent in sunder by civil strife, whether barbarians crossed the frontier or were driven back by the legions - the only question which seriously disturbed high or low, bond or free, women or men at Rome was whether Blue or Green would win.
(Cassiodorus, 6th century AD)

If the Greens got the worst of it in the Circus, Rome was as much dismayed as after the defeat at Cannae.
(Juvenal, 1st/2nd century AD)

The colours blue, green, red and white were worn by the drivers, on their tunics and caps. Eventually the Greens absorbed the Whites and the Blues absorbed the Reds, and then the minor colours were also worn as streamers.

The Blues were venetoi, orthodox, so I suppose these days we'd call them conservative. The Emperors themselves were aligned with one faction or the other; Nero was a Green, and the sand on which he raced was sprinkled with green to reflect this.

Each team was a club which entered into contracts as a legal enity, and drew its membershp from across the classes and from the countryside as well as the city. Within the towns there were Blue and Green militias. Each team had an elected leader (the demarch), and each was associated with a different religious tendency.

25896.  Tue Oct 04, 2005 1:26 pm Reply with quote

This sounds somewhat similar to the Palio, a somewhat inhumane horse race run in the main piazza in Siena. There, each team (contrada) comes from what used to be the administrative districts of the city. Religious festivals, marriages, and other civil/religious events are split by contrada, and loyalty is almost murderously strong.

The 17 contrada are: Tortoise, Wave, She-Wolf, Goose, Shell, Porcupine, Dragon, Owl, Snail, Panther, Eagle, Caterpillar, Unicorn, Ram, Giraffe, Forest and Tower.

I suppose 17 is rather too many to split into political oppositions, but if there is rivalry, there is politics.

25967.  Wed Oct 05, 2005 7:37 am Reply with quote

and Florentine football

25968.  Wed Oct 05, 2005 7:52 am Reply with quote

Hmm - looks pretty similar to today's game.

25976.  Wed Oct 05, 2005 8:57 am Reply with quote

Although Siena's is the most famous, I think there are quite a few places in Italy that still hold a "palio".

A rudimentary google search turned up these:

25987.  Wed Oct 05, 2005 10:17 am Reply with quote

not to mention The Corsa dei Ceri in Gubbio in Umbria, the maddest race of them all (the winner is the same every year, but that doesn't stop groups of 20 men racing up narrow, steep cobbled streets carrying a 400kg candle!).

33999.  Thu Nov 24, 2005 5:48 am Reply with quote

coliseum isnt it?????????????

34029.  Thu Nov 24, 2005 7:15 am Reply with quote

Gray wrote:

I suppose 17 is rather too many to split into political oppositions

Not in Italy.

Mostly Harmless
34031.  Thu Nov 24, 2005 7:25 am Reply with quote

Juvenal refers to the Roman custom of spectators' voting on the fate of wounded gladiators with their thumbs. You may think a gladiator would appreciate the crowd’s 'thumbs up' (verso pollice), but exactly the opposite is true. Where we give thumbs up as a sign of approval, it meant death to its Roman recipient; much to the crowd’s delight.

Thumbs down, signified 'swords down', which meant the loser was worth more to them alive than dead, and he was spared to make up for his disgrace the next time he appeared in the arena.

Our reverse interpretation of this custom was the result of the work of the French artist Léon Gérôme who apparently understood the Latin verso ('turned') to mean 'turned down', and therefore in his painting Pollice Verso (1873) he presents the death sentence with the thumbs-down gesture. The painting became so popular that Gérôme's mistake became the accepted interpretation and it is unlikely that it will ever be changed back to the meaning that it had with the Romans.

Scholars before Gérôme gave support to the view that 'thumbs down' amongst the Romans meant the hapless gladiator was to be spared, not slain. The gesture meant 'Throw your sword down'. A 1601 translation of Pliny equates the gesture with assent or favour and John Dryden's 1693 version of Juvenal's Satires gives the thumb being bent back, not down, as the death signal.


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