Visum est spectaculum 

The gladiator games in interplay with military and public security (part 2)

Christoph Ebner


In the first part of the essay, the influence of the gladiator games and their protagonists on the army reform at the turn to the 1st century BC, as well as on the Roman army of the republic and the early Imperial Era, was described. In the following, the further connections and interactions of entertainment industry with the state and the military will be the focus of this analysis. For centuries, the entertainment industry in the form of gladiator games crucially influenced the legions as well as the Roman security policy. It was only by this connection, the discarding of reserves, and the readiness for innovations, of the individual commanders, that the Roman machinery of war was given the finishing touches. The interplay of these two fields does not surprise at all, as since the Republic a close connection had existed between warfare and mentality, which also manifested itself in the gladiator games. Even in the Imperial Era, when the greater majority of the citizens were not involved in the raids at the borders or even in the very centre of the empire any longer, the ideology of the old Rome was maintained by organizing munera both in Rome and in the provinces. The population was thus supposed not to forget that it had been the sword which had founded Rome’s power and was still securing it. In this way, the fencing plays made an important contribution to the military education of the population. Although the slave rebellions – especially the one led by Spartacus – made the dangers of the exuberant industry visible, the arenas together with their infrastructure were to cause a converse effect in the later centuries, and even to help to reduce similar riots. If one finally looks for parallels with the present time, one will find out that especially the political and military representation has influenced the 20th century more than any other century before. The straight connection of the rulers with the military – in the case of the ancient times discoverable by the interplay of the legions and the games – was another characteristic of the totalitarian reigns of the last century. As comparable with Rome in the Imperial era, in Austria of the 21st century less and less people are entrusted and emotionally aligned with military tasks. For this reason, the correspondent institutions are far too often considered futile and traditional. For such a purpose, like in Rome, the military representation should be “touchable” and emphasize the special achievements of the correspondent institutions, also in scientific areas. Eventually, with the reader the history of gladiators is supposed to cause the awareness that many phenomena occurring in the 20th and 21st centuries already had existed in past times. Thus, the gladiators of the Republic and of the Imperial Era as well, as commercially organised violent actors, can be compared with the likewise private security companies of today, which engage the “best fighters” and virtually fulfil semi-governmental functions. If nothing else, questions concerning the motivation of the soldier, the individual bond with the respective commander, and with the state as well, have not lost any relevance up to the present time. Especially at a time of upheavals they have to be revived time and again. Whereas discipline in its modified form is still relevant today, the confidence in the superiors to make decisive innovations is not required to the same extent any longer in modern times. One reason for this may be that the importance of an individual bond between commander and soldier is disesteemed by the state.