Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Public Buildings: basilicas, temples, fora, theatres, palaestra, amphitheatres

See: "Enjoying the Spectacle of the Amphitheatre" p.140.

There is no amphitheatre in Herculaneum.


The amphitheatre was built it AD70 made out of stone in an oval shape. It has the ability to seat up to 20,000. There was no roof but an awning provided shade. It was built in the south east of the city “to take advantage of the embankment that ran along the back of the fortification walls” also to avoid the congestion.

There was seating arrangements based on society class with the city authorities and distinguished guests siting at the front and at the back women as ordered by Augustus. There was a wall that acted as a barrier to the front seats that protected them from beats and victims climbing into the crowd. In the amphitheatre there were two paved tunnels, which allowed carts holding equipment to move within the amphitheatre.
There were sponsors of the games, which were expected to finance the production. There were agents, which were wealthy despite it being viewed as a shameful career. It was a hard job, as they have to provide large numbers of gladiators, recruit and train gladiators. The editor commissioned selling of programs advertised on walls and pamphlets distributed. The programs information included:
  • Name of magistrate and official position
  • Reason for spectacle
  • Number of gladiators: Specific names of gladiators not told unless it would increase turnout
  • Other events eg beast hunts
  • Date

The types of sports held within the amphitheatre including boxing, gladiator combats and wild beast hunts were shown in reliefs, inscriptions, mosaic and wall paintings on private and public buildings.

A normal day at the Pompeii amphitheatre would firstly include a procession with musicians in elaborate garments. In the morning there would be animal hunts, which included an animal verse gladiator or animal verse animal including bull, bears and boar. Next the gladiators would warm up in front of the crowd and fight but the death was not necessarily the desired outcome it would be the decision of the emperor who took into account the wishes of the crowd. Some of the gladiatorial contests were associated with funeral rites to honour the dead. The victorious gladiators would receive (shown as vicit or v in the graffiti) a palm symbolic of victory and a sum of money. Due to the reason that the events lasted from dawn till dusk there were drink and food stalls under the portico.
The gladiators would consist of prisoners of war, slaves, freedmen and criminals sentenced to death. In some literary sources it mentioned women fighting. Various graffiti and drawing on walls tells gladiators who had celebrity status and were admired within society. The gladiators who proved themselves would be given a wooden sword to mark the end of a successful career.

In the gladiator’s barracks near the amphitheatre there were weapons found including helmets, shoulder and lower body protection also two bodies of gladiators with their wrists chained to walls.




Benefactors who paid for stone seating during the Augustan period:
  • Titus Atullius Celer, son of Gaius, duumvir, instead of games and lights, saw to the construction of a seating sector, by decree of the town councillors. (CIL X 854)
  • Marcus Cantrius Marcellus, son of Marcus, duumvir, instead of games and lights, saw to the construction of three seating sectors, by decree of the town councillors. (CIL X 857d)

Restoration after the earthquake of AD 62:
  • Gaius Cuspius Pansa, son of Gaius, the son, priest, duumvir with judicial powers. (CIL X 859)

Inscription from the family tomb of the Clodii:
Aulus Clodius Flaccus, son of Aulus, of the Menenian voting tribe, duumvir with judicial power three times, quinquennial, military tribune by popular demand.
In his first duumvirate, at the games of Apollo in the Forum, (he presented) a procession, bulls, bull-fighters, and their fleet-footed helpers, 3 pairs of stage-fighters, boxers fighting in bands, and Greek-style pugilists; also (he presented) games with every musical entertainment, pantomime, and Pylades; and he gave 10,000 sesterces to the public coffers.
in return for his second duumvirate, which was also his quinquennial duumvirate, at the games of Apollo (he presented) in the Forum a procession, bulls, bull-fighters, and their fleet-footed helpers, and boxers fighting in bands; on the next day in the Amphitheatre (he presented) by himself 30 pairs of athletes and 5 pairs of gladiators, and with his colleague (he presented) 35 pairs of gladiators and a hunt with bulls, bull-fighters, boars, bears, and the other hunt-variations.
In his third duumvirate (he presented) with his colleague games by a famous troupe, with extra musical entertainment.


Graffiti on the west side of the building IX. 8 (right):
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius *Celer wrote this* Satirius Valens, perpetual priest of Nero and 10 pairs pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius Valens, his son, will fight at Pompeii on 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 April. There will be a regular hunt and awnings. Aemilius Celer wrote this on his own by the light of the moon.

Graffiti in the House of the Gladiators (V.5.3):
  • The girls’ idol, Celadus the Thracian gladiator.
  • Girls’ heart-throb, Thracian gladiator Celadus, belonging to Octavus, fought 3, won 3.

Stucco relief on the tomb of Festius Ampliatus (?):
At the games of {Numerius Fes}tius Ampliatus on the last day.
This relief was damaged by frost in 1815 and little of it remains today. It records a day's combat in games put on by Ampliatus.


Riot in the Amphitheatre fresco from the House of Actius Anicetus (I.3.23)
Riot in the Amphitheatre fresco from the House of Actius Anicetus (I.3.23)
Tacitus (Annals 14.17) on the riot in the Amphitheatre:
At around the same time, there arose from a trifling beginning a terrible bloodbath among the inhabitants of the colonies of Nuceria and Pompeii at a gladiatorial show given by Livineius Regulus, whose expulsion from the senate I have recorded previously. Inter-town rivalry led to abuse, then stone-throwing, then the drawing of weapons. The Pompeians in whose town the show was being given came off the better. Therefore many of the Nucerians were carried to Rome having lost limbs, and many were bereaved of parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate; they passed it to the consuls. When their findings returned to the senators, the Pompeians were barred from holding any such gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved; Livineius and the others who had instigated the trouble were exiled.