chapter  5
38 Pages

A Brief History of the Arena Hunt

The earliest recorded venatio was given in 186 BC by the general M. Fulvius Nobilior, who had vowed to the gods that he would give ludi in return for victory in the Aetolian war. The ludi consisted of dramatic presentations (by Greek actors, a special treat), an entertainment typical of ludi, and two innovations. The first was athletic contests in the Greek style (most likely the combat sports: boxing, wrestling and pankration) and the second, a venatio. Livy merely says: ‘a venatio of lions and leopards was given’.1 He does not elaborate on what exactly went on in this spectacle. Were they for display or slaughter? Most likely, they were for both. Lions and leopards were probably enough of a novelty in Rome in the early second century that just their appearance was something of a sensation. Although Livy does not include the number of animals involved in these games, the quantity of animals eventually became a crucial piece of information in the reporting of venationes, like the number of gladiators in a munus. This can be seen in Livy’s report of ludi given by the aediles in 169 BC, in which sixtythree lions and leopards, forty bears and an unspecified number of elephants

appeared.2 Despite Livy’s reference to ‘the appearance’ of these animals, the large number of the animals suggest that they were killed by venatores and bestiarii. Livy also points out that this venatio was presented ‘with growing magnificence’, that is, surpassing previous venationes in the variety and in number of exotic wild animals. Already in the first half of the second century BC, the venatio had achieved considerable popularity in Rome. When the Senate issued a ban in 170 BC on the importation of African wild animals, the Roman people led by a people’s tribune quickly reacted with a plebiscite that counteracted the ban, but only in the case of venationes.3