Roman leaders and sport

Roman politicians from the republican period spent enormous sums to entertain the Roman plebs with gladiatorial games and wild animal hunts in the arena and Roman chariot races. These Roman games were very different from Greek athletics. From the times of Augustus until far into the Byzantine period the Roman games were an important part of the imperial propaganda. The arena and the circus were the places were the leaders and the people could meet each other.

The Roman attitude towards Greeks sport was not very positive in general. Nevertheless Roman emperors took measures in favour of it. They took over the role of the Hellenistic monarchs and organized and sponsored Greek games. The most famous of these are the Actian games on the west coast of Greece, the Sebasta ("emperor games") in Naples, established respectively by and in honour of Augustus, the Neronia of Nero, and the Capitolian games of Domitian. In the first and second centuries AD, the Actian and the Capitolian games even belonged to the periodos.

The Roman emperors had a great influence on Greek sport. As central autority, they made sure that the contest circuit was well-organized, for this stimulated a happy atmosphere in the Greek East. The emperors decided the ranking of the Greek games, they regulated the privileges and rewards for athletes, made sure that the major contests did not overlap, etc. Recently discovered letters of emperer Hadrian show clearly how he was dealing with even minor aspects of the contests. Because the emperor had such an important role, the international athletic guild moved to Rome to be able to lobby at the imperial court.

© KU Leuven, 2012