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Monday, April 1, 2013

#24.3—Truth, Beauty, and The Market

The Roman Forum was ancient Rome's market. It's right across the street from the Colosseum and wasn't just for buying and selling, although there was a lot of trade traffic with booty and goods brought in from the provinces. But there was also the old Roman senate building and the rostrum (to the left in the picture below) where Cicero ranted about the corruption of wealth and power.

The rostrum is also where Marc Antony offered Julius Caesar the crown, which he hypocritically refused. The rest was history. Every day someone leaves flowers inside the memorial to Caesar.

I first saw the ruins from the Capitoline Hill overlooking them. It was way vaster than I had imagined with triumphal arches, temples to gods, temples to politicians, and the formerly bustling market place in the grassy center below.

To the right in the following photo are the columns of the Temple to Saturn. The senate building is barely visible, just behind the big rectangular walls of the Arch of Septimus Severus. Carved in the arch are reliefs showing the defeated "barbarians" being marched back to Rome in humiliation. At the other end of the forum is the Arch of Titus celebrating the defeat of Judea in 70 a.d., a defeat so complete that all that the Romans left was what is today called The Wailing Wall.

You can walk down the Via Sacra, the main road of the market, where you now walk on the same stones Caesar Augustus walked.

It was just two years after the defeat of Judea that Vespasian began building the Colosseum, which was completed eight years later. Rome was a bustling place with eople buying and selling stuff coming in from all over the Roman world.
Trajan's market is right across the street. Trajan became emperor in 98 A.D. It was under his command as a general though, that the empire reached it's greatest sprawl.

At the far end of Trajan's Market is a 140' column with a relief spiraling upward with images of his conquering of Dacia (now Romania).
Empire brought a lot to the people of Rome. The emperors spent a lot of money maintaining support by keeping the people happy.
It was said by a writer of the time that Romans "liked food and games."
When the Colosseum opened in 80 A.D., the games went on for 100 days. I believe something like 7,000 exotic animals were killed for sport. Being a gladiator was a big thing. But not like you see in the movies. Gladiators, both slaves and free men, were highly trained. They fought only two or three times a year because the emperors who paid the trainers didn't want to lose too many gladiators. If a gladiator survived, slaves were freed after six men after three.

And oh yea, about the thumbs up, thumbs down...Yes, thumbs up did mean the compromised gladiator would live. But instead of thumbs down, it was thumbs sideways. The thumbs, you see, represented the gladiator's legs. Up, meant he could walk away. Sideways, he was lying down, a goner.
There were doors at either end of the Colosseum. One for the winners to leave. The other for the losers. These high doors were also used to bring in elephants. Generally, the crowd was down for slaughter. Except for the day the elephants being killed started crying out. Although the people protested, no one in the crowd did anything to stop it.

Tigers and lions came up from under the Colosseum floor in trap doors covered by sand so no one knew where they might suddenly and dramatically appear. Tens of thousands of animals were killed in the games and used to kill prisoners. It was eerie and distressing to imagine these dark tunnels lighted only by small oil lamps where animals were kept in cages and hoisted up through elaborate pulley systems, then set free for the slaughter.

What is there about empire that loves blood so much?
The emperors curried favor with the people by providing the games. There were prizes galore. Round wooden balls were thrown into the grow. Depending on the marking on the ball, the poor citizen might receive a slave or bread for a year. No cheap T-shirts or keychains back then.

I left the old market places and sports arena wondering what might be said in 2000 years about Wall Street, our malls, and our Super Bowl stadiums. How might they come to ruin? For surely they will.

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