The Colosseum and the desecration of democracy in the Imperial Time

Thu 22 Dec 2016

The Colosseum and the desecration of democracy

Every community is based on a shared series of norms, in which citizens can recognize themselves and for which they can, at times, even die. In the history of our civilization, the Romans have built an actual temple of the law. In the most intense times of violence and impunity, Rome raised the flag of the written law, limiting the power of the aristocracy and the loose interpretation of judges. In ensuring a common law, the Romans were extremely determined and managed to stay way ahead of other cultures.

The Roman population built a city where residents could feel secure and protected (or, at least, more protected than in other cities), guaranteeing a future to their children. This is certainly one of the greatest strengths of Rome. The other is democracy, and in particular a form of mixed democracy that started in Rome at the beginning of the fifth Century BC with the famous agreement (S.P.Q.R.) between citizens and the Roman Senate – the stronghold of the aristocracy. Rome became the city of dreams, a place to which settlers from all across the Mediterranean sought to live in safety and prosperity.

The form of government, the Republic (Res Publica – literally “public thing” or “thing of the public”), and the law all worked together to create a city in which marvellous inventions of engineering and communication were developed. It was in this fertile environment that Via Appia was built, along with the sewage system of the Cloaca Maxima, supported by an increased flux of commerce and trade. The Eternal City became a crossroad of commodities, people, and ideas, growing quickly and developing its political and religious heart, the Roman Forum. It is exactly in the heart of the city that the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill & Colosseum Tour of Through Eternity unwinds, while our passionate guides will reconstruct the political and religious dynamics of the time, along with scenes from daily life and collective rituals.

The Romans, in fact, took part individually in public affairs by participating in assemblies and electing their members to political offices. The Republic wrote and published laws that regulated the access to public offices, town festivals, patrimonies, private property, and many other aspects of the public and private lives of citizens. Through politics and the rule of law, the city of Rome became a myth, as with every myth, was immortalised and imitated in the following centuries by all those who used it to vindicate the ideals of freedom and democracy.

Without doubts, the history of democracy came to an end when Caesar decided to redesign the borders of all lands under the control of the Roman Empire. At the same time he upset the balance of the Republic, assuming roles that were inherently contradictory. Octavian Augustus, then, was able to stave off the civil war caused by Caesar’s uncertain heredity. The story of the founding of the empire is long and articulated, because Augustus himself wanted it to be. In fact, for all his life he made sure to affirm the existence of such an empire. Instead, he tried all he could to dissimulate the transition to the empire, slowly deconstructing the Republic with white lies and promises of a restoration.

Augustus’ successors continued this pattern, when finally a few decades later, the militia and the citizens regularly acclaimed the Emperor, and the Republic was a distant memory. In the meantime, public life had moved from the Forum – the heart of the Republic – to the Colosseum, where citizens met and venerated their idol – the Emperor, always more eccentric and rendered odd by his certainty of a violent end. So in the festivities at the Colosseum, Romans buried the Republic.

The death of thousands of men and animals and the celebration in blood of the Roman omnipotence on exotic lands inhabited by mythical creatures, blinded the audience in the Colosseum and transformed citizens into subjects. The excellent mechanism of passages and elevators that could be found in the undergrounds of the Colosseum was able to turn the fate of a match in no time; also, the futuristic architecture of the exemplar building made the shows spectacularly unbelievable – something unmissable. Even today, in the undergrounds of the Colosseum, one can find clear evidence of its past and reconstruct the dynamics of the gladiator games. This discovery is the purpose of Through Eternity guides in the Underground Colosseum Tour, organized for small groups of maximum 8 people.

Well-trained gladiators, their weapons, the incredible fighting moves, the exotic sceneries, and the oval shape of the building that could envelope spectators into a spiral of blood are only some of the strategies used by the imperial propaganda. In the chaos of blood and fights, any possible, audacious, dissenting voice was muted, and the regret of the Republic was soon forgotten. The shift of history was quickly hidden by the resonance of arena cheering.

~ by Rosario Gorgone ~

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