Statuette of a Gladiator, about 50 AD, Roman Empire. Bronze. Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, The J. Paul Getty Museum. Image: Bruce White Photography

The Virtues of Violence: Amphitheaters, Gladiators, and the Roman System of Values



Violent spectacle—from gladiatorial combat to public executions—was a cultural symbol that the Romans exported to the furthest reaches of their empire. While modern audiences regard such shows with unmitigated revulsion, the Romans exhibited much more complex attitudes towards them. Kathleen Coleman, Harvard University, identifies some of the social and cultural preconceptions and practices connected to the displays, and discusses how intricately they were woven into the fabric of Roman society.

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