The Venationes: Ita Mortem Homocidiis Consolabantur - 'They Found Comfort for Death in Murder
VanGelderen, Benjamin Frederick
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It is difficult to separate the gladiatorial combats from the venationes because once the venationes became part of the shows, they almost always occurred together. Many of the explanations for the beast fights are shared with the human ones. Their history is intertwined, and this paper will begin by relating that history. It is also impossible to determine the specific popularity of one event separated from the other, so in discussing the popularity of the spectacles this paper will also describe them as one. After that, the paper will move on to information specifically relating to the venationes. Then, it will discuss the difficulty involved with acquiring the animals for the games and the related financial burden involved. After examining the information available about the venationes, it will discuss how the Romans were able to watch the brutal slaughter in the arena without feelings of guilt. They did this in three ways. First, their philosophy and mythology denied animals justice, so there was no moral problem. Second, like any pre-modern society which relied on animals, they saw animals as resources and treated them as such. Finally, the Romans erected a psychological barrier to prevent feelings of outrage or pity from the slaughter. After all this, the most significant questions about the games will be addressed: how did they get so large and why were they so popular? The venationes will be the focus, but again the reasons also apply to the spectacles as a whole. The first reason is a familiar one: panem et circenses. The Roman emperors provided food and entertainment to the Roman people, thus keeping them content. Next, the games by nature had inflationary characteristics because as the games got more spectacular, so did audience expectations. The next two answers explain the popularity of the games. They reinforced the rigid hierarchical structure of Roman society by emphasizing the placement of gladiators and animals beneath the lower classes. Finally and most significantly, it will be argued that these spectacles were a way for man the killer to express an innate enjoyment of violence, death, and killing. In sum, the games got large because they were popular, and they were popular because they were entertaining.