What did Romans do for fun?

These days we use the internet for much of our entertainment, but until recently this was unavailable. So what on earth did people do 2,000 years ago, before the developments we rely on so much today, were invented? 

The destruction of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D blotted out the ancient city of Pompeii. Prior to its tragic end, Pompeii was like any other roman city, filled with the rich and the poor, all going through their day to day life without a care. And like all of us, these citizens had a number of ways to pass the time after work or on the weekends. With a range of different activities and entertainments that depended on their class, gender, or workload.

  • Amphitheatre Games

    Undoubtedly the most famous and popular entertainment of Pompeii was the public events at the amphitheatre.

  • Chariot Races

    This was ancient Romans form of car racing, involving a driver, a chariot, and multiple horses thundering around the looping racing track. However, this sport was a lot more violent and bloody, with little to no safety for the drivers or their horses. The small carriage only had room for one standing driver, leaving them fully exposed to the rough terrain. The fierce race was notorious for death and injuries, with the more bloodshed the more entertaining the race.

  • Executions

    This sounds a very weird thing to entertain people, but back in the day, the ancient Romans took great joy in this activity. The executions were mainly for criminals, traitors, and Christians, with the method of killing depending on the crimes done. If the criminal was a Roman citizen, the execution was by beheading, as it was seen as the more honourable way to die and was the mandatory punishment for all Romans. If the offender was a salve, crucifixion was typical, although sometimes they were burnt alive.

  • Animal Hunts

    The Romans were fascinated with exotic animals, and one of the main reasons was to use them in their amphitheatre’s animals’ hunts and battles. Wild animals were captured from Africa or Asia and brought to the games to be displayed to the audience. First, the hunter for the easier animals was done, with stunning peacocks and fragile zebras chase around until maimed. Next, the dangerous leopards or tigers were brought out and put against either one gladiator or a group of human fighters. The larger and more ferocious the beasts were, the better the games.

  • Gladiator battles

    Probably the roman’s most famous entertainment, the fights between the iconic Gladiators of Rome. These professional fighters were either free men fighting for glory and riches or salve fighters forced to fight until their death. There was a range of different games, from lightly armed fighters, to heavily armed, to lastly the traditional gladiator style fights. It was quite common for the dead or injured fighters to be dragged to the side after their loss to make room for the next fight.

  • Swimming

    For the Roman boys of Pompeii, swimming was all the rage. The boys headed to the coast’s seas, nearby rivers, or even in the plunge pools at many of the Roman baths. Swimming and diving through the water with ease. There are only a few women shown in history that were able to swim, but they said the majority did not learn.

  • Hunting

    Hunting was one of the oldest sports among the richer citizens. With the elite men and their sons of Pompeii heading out to expeditions. Fishing was also common in Pompeii due to their close proximately to the water.

  • Wrestling

    Wrestling and boxing were popular sports back in the day, with it being a fitness activity as well as to build strength to impress others. As there were no such things as boxing gloves back then, they merely used layers of cloth to wrap their hands.

  • Board Games

    Board Games were a favourite for poor citizens, joining in on a game in work breaks or after. Majority of the games used counters and dice including a type of checkers, Tic-tac-toe, and sometimes even chess.

  • Theatre

    Many different people went to Pompeii’s theatres for entertainment. Performances of comedies and tragedies were common, with the actors wearing different coloured masks and costumes to illustrate what type of person they were.

  • Baths

    Bathing has changed quite differently since ancient times, with the practice once a social activity. Instead of private bathrooms with individuals bathing separately, bathing was a group activity. With large Roman Baths able to hold hundreds of people at once. Citizens came here to relax with their friends, and gossip while they scrubbed the dirt away. Although it was not entertainment, the Roman citizens enjoyed their bathing ritual immensely, seeing it as a break from their work and stresses.

  • Running

    This again was only activity boys could participate in. It was a competitive sport, with many boys contesting in foot track races.

  • Horseback Riding

    Horse riding was a typical activity, with the majority of citizens, most particularly wealthier Romans know how to ride. Horses were used for leisurely rides, hunting, competitive races, and in war. Making horse riding a common activity to learn for the majority of people.

  • Ball Games

    The sports games we know today have been around for a lot longer than we think, with the ancient Romans participating in a variety of handball, soccer, field hockey, and even dodgeball games. Although they have obviously transformed since ancient times, the basic rules and structure still remain.

  • Dinner Parties

    For the wealthy citizens of ancient Rome, nights were spent holding exclusive dinner parties for their friends and business associates. The dinners were used to show off the host’s wealth and style, serving up expensive and exotic dishes, with the more foreign the food the more expensive it was. The dinner was similar to a lavish party, with endless jugs of wine and food offered for all.

  • Brothels

    To let off some steam, Roman men would frequently visit the legal brothels lining the ancient streets. These stores offered small, dim lit rooms, with a curtain dividing them from the main room, in each room the men were welcomed by one of the brothel’s workers. Large frescos were painted on the walls, displaying the services offered within. Women were typically not able to enter these establishments, but the wealthy ones were known to indulge in these services in other areas.

Related article: How did the people of Pompeii enjoy themselves?

Previous article:
Language »