Wild Animals at the Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

'The Roman Colosseum'

History, Facts and Information about Wild Animals at the Colosseum

The Wild animals that were shown at the Colosseum were displayed as either clever circus acts where animals had been trained to do tricks or they were destined for death in the arena. Animals such as zebras and ostriches were trained to pull chariots.

Ultimately their own death when the wild animals were  fought by the gladiators, or used as targets in staged animal hunts, but they were also put in the Colosseum to attack and kill defenceless prisoners. The more exotic the animal, the better the fight and the better the quality of the 'games'

Wild Animals at the Colosseum - Symbol of Power
The Romans loved a spectacle and they loved to be surprised. Showing exotic and strange wild animals provided Romans with novelty and also demonstrated the power and extent of the Roman world. These wild animals originated in all parts of the Roman Empire and conveyed the extent of the lands that had been conquered by the Romans.

List of Wild Animals at the Colosseum
A massive selection of wild animals were transported from their natural habitats to be slaughtered at the Roman Colosseum. The very architecture of the Colosseum allowed for tall animals such as giraffes to pass through the tall gates of death. The following list of wild animals shown at the Colosseum is not exhaustive but will provide an indication of the sheer numbers and types of animals which were shown.

Wild boar


Wild Animals at the Colosseum - Extinction of Wild Animals
The inauguration games in 81AD at the Roman Colosseum, lasted for one hundred days and during this time over 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered. During just one festival in 240 AD a staggering: 2,000 gladiators, 70 lions, 40 wild horses, 30 elephants, 30 leopards, 20 wild asses, 19 giraffes, 10 antelopes, 10 hyenas, 10 tigers, 1 hippopotamus and 1 rhinoceros were slaughtered. So many wild beasts were killed in the Colosseum and other Roman arenas that some exotic animals became virtually extinct. The Hippopotamus were captured from the River Nile in Egypt but following the Roman era they disappeared from this habitat. Many of the great wild animals from Africa and Asia such as elephants, lions and tigers were hunted to the point of extinction. Entire species of animals disappeared from their native habitats. And the Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), the European Wild Horse (Equus ferus), the Aurochs (Bos primigenius primigenius) and the Eurasian lynx became extinct.

Wild Animals at the Colosseum - The Animal Traders
The trade in wild animals was highly lucrative. Animals were sourced from the far reaches of the Empire especially Africa, Egypt and Asia. The natives of these areas would have captured and caged these animals. The animals would then have been sold to animal traders who arranged for their transport to Rome and also to other amphitheatres throughout the Roman Empire. The animals were then delivered to the Beast Masters.

History of Wild Animals at the Colosseum - Ludus Matutinus
The display of exotic wild animals were an important part of the games. Originally the wild animals appeared as trained animal acts or to replicate hunting exploits. The types of animals used for these hunting shows were wild boar, bulls, bears deer, stags, dogs, wolves, goats and antelopes. These shows were called called venationes and the animal hunters were called venatores. The venatores were trained at a special training school called the Ludus Matutinus. The term Ludus Matutinus originated from the Latin for 'morning school' as the beast shows were originally scheduled as morning events at the Roman Colosseum. The Ludus Matutinus, or 'morning school', was established by the Emperor Domitianwho was himself a great hunter. A Lanista was in charge of the training at the Ludus Matutinus Training school and procuring the animals.

Wild Animals at the Colosseum - The Venatores
The venationes or hunting shows were shown in a variety of different formats. Herds of wild animals were let loose into the arena and were slaughtered by archers. Emperors who wanted to demonstrate their hunting prowess and safely participate in the shows would join in this type of hunt. The venatores would hunt on foot or on horseback. To provide the audience with more of a spectacle great stage sets were used creating hills and using trees, bushes and packs of hounds to give an impression of reality.

History of Wild Animals at the Colosseum - The Emperor Commodus
The Emperor Commoduswas infamous for his exploits in the arena. Such was his prowess in the slaying of wild animals, that he once pierced an elephant with a pole, pierced a gazelle's horn with a spear and and was able to kill mighty beasts with a single blow. It is said that he engaged in 735 gladiatorial bouts. Commodus then ordered the Romans to worship him as a second Hercules based on the fact that he had killed wild beasts in the amphitheatre.

Wild Animals at the Colosseum - The Bestiarii (Bestiarius)
The Bestiarii was the term given to those gladiators who fought Wild Animals at the Colosseum. These gladiators had their own school as did the other gladiators and had their own traditions, professional slang, weapons and uniform. Both slaves and volunteers were trained to fight with wild beasts. The schools were called the scholae bestiarum or the bestiariorum.

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