Lost Ancient Sports: Part 3


Sports are such an ubiquitous presence in our daily lives that it is hard to imagine a time when they didn’t exist. While modern sports can usually only trace their roots back a hundred years or so, ancient humans had their own games which pitted teams against each other, often with bloody results. So lets take a look at some sports that are lost in the tide of time.


We all know very well about the popular events of the gladiatorial games that used to be held in ancient Rome. The events were held several times a year. On the morning of these events, the animal-hunting sport known as Venatio (which translates to ‘’A HUNT’’ in English) was played. This was a sort of warm-up event for the main event of the day, which was the gladiatorial game, played during the afternoon.

Strong athletes known as ‘’Bestiarius’’ were poised against ferocious wild animals like lions, rhinoceroses, bears and most notably elephants. Thousands of Elephants used to be imported from North Africa, Syria etc. However, the animals were not always ferocious or carnivorous. Sometimes dogs, rabbits, goats, deer etc. were used as well.

The animals used to be starved and treated harshly to make them even more ferocious when they encountered the Bestiarius, in order to increase the excitement of the games. In most cases, the Bestiarius succeeded in killing the animals, though at other times, they ended up as the prey.

In the most common form of Venation, one or two of the Bestiarius were poised against approximately 30 angry elephants. This was the most brutal of all forms of the game where thousands upon thousands of elephants were killed. Since most of these elephants were imported from North Africa, the great North African elephants soon got.

The majority of the Bestiarius were criminals condemned to death or prisoners of war. These games were a method of execution of these criminals that also served as a source of entertainment for the bloodthirsty Roman crowds.

The Gladiatorial Games

Gladiators were armed athletes in Ancient Rome who were employed to participate in mortal combats in front of thousands of spectators in large stadiums that we now refer to as amphitheaters.

The gladiatorial games started as a religious rite, when the death of a Roman king was honoured by holding an all-out death match between four warriors during his funeral. From then onwards, the gladiator matches were regularly held during funerals of important persons in the Roman Empire. But due to their rising popularity, the process of holding these death matches during funerals was gradually stopped, and the process of holding them at staged arenas began.

The participants were normally prisoners of war or criminals condemned to death. Sometimes civilians voluntarily left their civil life to become Gladiators in order to solve their financial problems. There are also some historical evidences suggesting the rare participation of women in the games.

Gladiators would face off against each other in one-on-one duels. With weapons such as swords, axes, spears etc. they fought gallantly in the arena until one of them killed the other and claimed victory.

The games were held in big amphitheaters one of which was of course the Colosseum. It was as tall as an 8-story building and had the sitting capacity of modern football stadiums.

Gladiators were very popular. The way they were treated by the citizens of Rome is not so different from how modern athletes are treated today. They were heralded as superstars and their popularity sometimes superseded that of the Roman emperors themselves. But the only difference between the treatment shown towards the Roman Gladiators and the athletes of today is that the Gladiators were often seen as disposable as animals, meaning the common citizens were more respectable than them. But nevertheless, these warrior athletes were superstars who were very popular and much loved by the mass people.