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The Naval Games at the ColosseumAspects of Rome: | Religion and Mithras | Schools | Literature | Games, Sport and Pass-times | Food | Social Structure and Class | Government & Law |Shopping | Economy of Ancient Rome | Roman Coins | Building and Engineering | Art | Dress and Clothing |Early Christianity |  The Gladiators | Christian Persecutions | The Vestal Virgins |

The Colosseum: | Amphitheatres in Ancient Rome| Structure of the Colosseum | The games at the Colosseum | Capital punishment | Organisation of the animal shows | Shows with Wild Beasts | Naval war games Naumachiae  | Why the Colosseum? | Gladiators and Christians | Rise and Fall of the Gladiators | Pictures of the Colosseum |

The Naval Games at the Colosseum

Ancient_Rome_naval_gamesrostrum from a Roman shipThe naval games which in a few occasions were also held at the Colosseum were called Naumachiae. The first Naumachiae shows date back to the first Punic war against Carthage during the days of the Roman Republic. This was the time when Rome first developed its naval skills for military use. In a sense we can imagine them as an early form of naval exercise although it is likely that at times no actual battle was engaged in what we might consider more of a rowing contest.

A ship used in naval battle gamesThe later naval battles involved filling an arena with several feet of water. The "Gladiators" would be placed in flat bottomed boats mimicking proper ancient roman ships and the different vessels would then attack each other. As with Gladiatorial combat it was frequent to stage an actual historical event in which the Romans themselves had participated at some point in their history.

One of the earliest naval battle shows was organised by Julius Caesar in 46BC in a specially dug lake in the Campo Marzio area whilst his successor Augustus dug out a basin on the side of the Tiber. The antique map, left, seems to place it closer to the Pons Sublicius.

A particularly well remembered event was organised by emperor Claudius. Claudius had decided to undertake an enormous civil engineering project to drain the Fucine lake. The project required 30,000 workmen 11 years to dig the drainage channels required. Before finally letting the water out in 52AD of the lake he organised an enormous celebratory open-air naval battle involving 100 ships and almost 20,000 men. Soldiers around the rim of the lake ensured no-one escaped the battle whilst the public was seated on the surrounding shores watching and enjoying the show.

Roman ship battleIn a similar vein, a couple of Roman ships dating back to the time of Caligula (just before Claudius) have been found buried in the mud at the bottom of a lake in the Alban hills near Rome. It is thought that these ships, found in an exceptional state of preservation, were actually intended for this kind of exhibition. Although the two ships were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War a perfect reconstruction allows them to be visited today.

Ancient roman shipThe most celebrated Naumachiae were those organised under the reign of Emperor Domitian - who amongst other things completed the Colosseum. Suetonius tells us that in 80AD Domitian employed enough vessels for these games to form two complete armadas. On that particular occasion it seems Domition also offered a show of women dancing swimmers.

The most extravagant of these events is probably only a myth written by Lampridius. It relates that the young emperor Heliogabalus or Elagabalus (218-222AD) organised a naval battle in a channel filled with wine rather than water. My personal guess is that it was probably the colour of blood…

 The Colosseum: | Amphitheatres in Ancient Rome| Structure of the Colosseum | The games at the Colosseum | Capital punishment | Organisation of the animal shows | Shows with Wild Beasts | Naval war games Naumachiae  | Why the Colosseum? | Gladiators and Christians | Rise and Fall of the Gladiators | Pictures of the Colosseum |

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This page about Rome history was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com - Rome apartments