In many modern books written about Ancient Rome and her people, the Romans are often portrayed as brutal and unforgiving people who enjoyed violence and thought it was amusing to see people being injured and killed to the point of obsession. It is my aim to establish whether this classification of the Romans is justified or if it is simply and exaggeration of what a small group of people believed.
While it is known that in Rome there were gladiatorial fights, public beatings and the keeping of slaves, it is also important to understand just exactly how advanced the Romans were. The Longman Dictionanary of the English language defines civilized as of or being peoples of nations in a state of civilization. And then defines civilization as a relatively high level of cultural development; specifically the stage of cultural development at which writing and the keeping of records is attained. By this definition the Romans were civilized, the educated being able to write and detailed records being kept by many historians.
The Romans also had written law s and government, including an assembly for the poorer classes. In fact, their system of law was actually quite advanced The idea was accepted that a man s intentions ought to be taken into account, and there was less importance attached to what he did and what he meant to do. The next thing to become established was the notion that all men must be treated equally. This way of thinking was very advanced and not barbaric or uncivilized at all, in fact the same notion all men should be treated equally was not established in America, Australia and other countries for many years.
It is now common knowledge that in ancient Rome, people often attended and enjoyed gladiatorial fights to the death, wild beast hunts, naval battles and chariot racing, all of which often had religious origins. During the reign of Caesar, thousands of men and animals were butchered just to make a roman holiday! The Romans also enjoyed pantomimes and plays which too were often very violent in nature It was not uncommon for a condemned criminal to be executed on stage as part of a play.
In modern sources, it is often portrayed that slaves were treated more harshly than was actually the case. Slaves in Rome actually did have some benefits It is clear that slaves owned land, property, ships, interests in business concerns, even slaves of their own, and that their rights were protected by law. In most cases, slaves were citizens of conquered land who had been spared and put into slavery instead of being executed. This in itself was a benefit. Often slaves were trained by their masters in a craft, giving them skills and again benefiting them. For a man from a backward race might be brought within the pale of civilization, educated and trained in a craft or profession, and turned into a useful member of society. Although this extract is clearly written by someone not a slave, it proves that a slave may learn a lot and actually benefit from slavery. In fact, Satricon of Petronius, who was once a slave actually said, Thank heavens for slavery, it made me what you see today. Although this only the account of one man, it shows that at least some people actually recognized the benefits that slavery brought them.
On the other hand though, some slave masters treated their slaves very poorly. In the eyes of the roman law, a slave was the absolute property of his master and the master could inflict any kind of punishment that he chose. Beating, torture and the murder of slaves were common, some slaves for the most minor and trivial reasons. Farm slaves often toiled in chain gangs, living like animals and in constant fear of the whip or the cross. It was common in criminal cases for slaves evidence to be given under torture and the law of the Imperial Age was explicit on how to do so.
These poor, undersized slaves. Their skin was black and blue with bruises, their backs covered with cuts from the whip. They were covered with rags, not clothes, and it was hardly enough to make them decent. They had been branded on the forehead and half of their hair was shaved off. On their legs they wore iron chains.
Although many slaves were treated very badly, there were many masters that treated them well and sometimes even respected their slaves, who were often more talented at a particular craft than their master. Many slaves were often released by their masters. It was discovered that, the nearer the lot of a slave approached a free man, the more useful he was. This realization helped slaves invariably.
Although much of the evidence portrays the Romans as brutal, unforgiving and obsessed with violence, we must look at exactly why this is thought. When writers try to prove that the Romans were obsessed with violence, they often refer to: gladiatorial fights, chariot racing, wild beast hunts, and the keeping of slaves. However, when you look at this list of entertainments you see that they are all similar to things that have been/are done in the modern world. Consider boxing although the rules are more stringent and the boxers do not fight to the death, they do beat each other, causing long-term damage to both. This isn t all that different to gladiatorial fights! Chariot racing is very similar to motor racing, and today, people pay to hunt drugged animals in confined parks. Needless to say, the keeping of slaves continued well into the 19th century. And although it can be said that the Romans watched these entertainments to see violence and death, the same can be said about the people of the modern world. There is only one reason that people watch boxing to see people getting hurt, and the highlights of the motor racing are always the spectacular crashes.
Therefore, the Romans were no more violent as a society than our own. We have the same sort of entertainment and enjoy the same violent things. I think that it is very unfair to say that the Romans were obsessed with violence when we ourselves partake in the same sort of things they did.