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Mass Entertainment in the First Century

Mass Entertainment in the First Century

 Mass Entertainment in the First Century

Countless injuries and many deaths, including those of some children, were caused by a riot between rival sports fans from two neighboring cities in southern Italy. As a result of this tragedy, authorities ordered the closure of the amphitheater for ten years.

REPORTS of riots like this one do not sound out of place in today’s newspapers. But this particular incident occurred almost 2,000 years ago during the reign of Emperor Nero. Roman historian Tacitus described this riot, which took place in the amphitheater of Pompeii during a gladiatorial contest when Pompeians clashed with sports fans from the neighboring city of Nuceria.

In the first century, entertainment had a great hold on the masses. Important cities of the Roman Empire had theaters, amphitheaters, and circuses, and some had all three. “The games,” says Atlas of the Roman World, “involved frantic danger and excitement . . . [and] systematic bloodletting.” Charioteers wore distinct colors, and each team represented a certain group in society, either political or social. Supporters erupted in a frenzy when their favorite team appeared. Charioteers became so popular that people adorned their houses with their portraits, and the charioteers were paid enormous sums.

Cities also staged bloody gladiatorial fights and fights between men and beasts, the men sometimes being unarmed. According to historian Will Durant, “condemned criminals, sometimes dressed in skins to resemble animals, were thrown to beasts made ravenous for the occasion; death in such cases came with all possible agony.”

Those who enjoyed such ungodly entertainment truly were “in darkness mentally” and “past all moral sense.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) In the second century, Tertullian wrote: “Among [Christians] nothing is ever said, or seen, or heard, which has anything in common with the madness of the circus, the immodesty of the theatre, [and] the atrocities of the arena.” Today, true Christians too are careful to avoid exposure to violent entertainment, whatever the medium​—literature, television, or computer games—​remembering that Jehovah hates “anyone loving violence.”​—Psalm 11:5.

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Mosaic of a victorious charioteer

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Fresco of a man fighting a lioness

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First-century Roman theater

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Ciudad de Mérida

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Top and bottom left: Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida