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Rome, Italy

Ancient War Games: Sport and Spectacle in Greece and Rome

Global Temple Conference

Course Number: 
Greek and Roman Classics
Semester(s) Offered: 
Summer 2023
Credit Hours: 

Every four years the world stages athletic contests that are based on the practices of ancient Greece. Every year the NFL assigns a Roman numeral to the Super Bowl and suggests its players are modern gladiators. Greek athletic games and Roman gladiatorial battles developed from the practice of warfare in their societies. American sports may be viewed as the descendants of these ancient "war games." This class examines the similarities and differences in such sports and the societies that enjoyed (and enjoy) them. The Greek games replaced the blood of the battlefield with dramatic displays of military physicality, while the Roman games replicated this blood with armed combat before crowds of thousands. We begin by examining the origins, events, architecture, and rules of the Greek games, from Homer's funeral contests to the development of the circuit of athletic festivals. Next we look at the "re-foundation" of the modern Olympics and its romanticized mythology in several important films. Then we turn to Roman blood-sports (animal fights, gladiatorial contests and spectacular criminal punishments) and chariot-racing, considering also the filters of modern Hollywood. We end with the rise of modern spectator sports, especially football.

Why take this course in Rome?

This course investigates sport and spectacle in the ancient world through an immersive experience of studying in Rome, one of the major seats of political power in antiquity. Ancient War Games at Temple Rome fully embraces the different types of evidence for sport such as archaeological sites and artifacts, artwork, and literary and historical texts. Whereas Ancient War Games at Temple introduces literary and historical evidence through assigned class reading and discussion, and archaeological evidence through visual aids during lecture, Ancient War Games at Temple Rome weaves these sources of evidence together through on-site lectures which will be delivered at major archaeological structures like the Roman forum or Colosseum or at museums which contain important artifacts that directly tie into our course. Students will have first-hand accounts of sport on hand while they visit archaeological sites (such as chariot racing at the Circus Maximus). Being able to experience Rome in real life will challenge students to understand how ancient sport is a product of its social, political, and religious environment. Students will also be able to contrast their personal experience of these venues with preserved accounts of the competitors and spectators. Students will come away from this course with a firm knowledge of ancient sport and its practices, the political and historical context which created these sports, and most importantly, a geographical understanding of how specific venues, objects, and accounts are integrated into the history of Rome over the course of a thousand years (500 BCE-500 CE).

Special Notes: 

This course fulfills the Human Behavior (GB) requirement for Temple students under GenEd.

This course is a special offering in Summer 2023 only.

Course Theme & Academic Area: