Why Did Roman Emperors Hold Gladiator Battles & Chariot Races?
History and Tradition
- Gladiator combat and chariot racing were adapted from similar games the Romans encountered within other cultures, according to the VRoma website. The first officially recorded gladiator contest in Rome was a set of three battles in honor of deceased emperor Junius Brutus in 264 B.C. Both gladiator combat and chariot racing were commonly held as funeral games to honor important members of society and fallen leaders, though they were also sometimes held purely for sport.
- Roman emperors saw such games as effective tools to keep the masses content and prevent uprising and civil unrest. As part of the government's strategy to keep public favor, chariot races, gladiator fights and similar sports were typically free to attend, and sometimes attendees were even given free bread.
- History shows that Roman emperors themselves often frequented these events. Officially recognized sporting events were usually the only place to legally bet in Rome, and many emperors, including Augustus, Nero, Claudius and Commodus, were well known for their love of gambling.