As with the Venationes the imagination was the only limit to the type of show made of capital punishments. The number of convicts to be put to death, the time available and the physical strength and capability of the condemned were determining factors in the type of show to be staged.
The cruelest exhibition of this was possibly Nero’s vendetta against Christians and Jews. It is said he had the victims wounded and sewn into animal skins and left to be savaged by wild dogs or indeed to be used as human torches lighting his gardens. The Colosseum didn’t exist at this time so these events would probably have been held at the Circus Maximus or perhaps on the Vatican hill where Nero’s circus used to stand.
A more frequent form of capital punishment was to be thrown to the mercy of wild beasts such as Lions. This was called “damnatio ad bestias” which even in English sounds quite horrifying. The convict would be undressed, tied up, possibly to a post and the offence made public at which point a hungry carnivore would see to the execution.
In the old days of the Republic, Scipio Aemilianus took on a similar form of punishment as part of the celebratory events for his Triumph. In a manner he had learned from the defeated Carthaginians during the Punic wars all the deserters and cowards of his army were executed en masse by wild beasts.
There was also a note of the ridiculously bizarre which we might term “Gothic horror”. The criminal could be forced act out a mythological event which as well as intended to be culturally instructive was meant to bring the victim to his death. For example reenacting the flight of Icarus complete with false wings, only to be dashed to death on the ground from a high point.
The Colosseum: | Amphitheatres in Ancient Rome| Structure of the Colosseum | The games at the Colosseum | Capital punishment | Organisation of the animal shows | Shows with Wild Beasts | Naval war games Naumachiae | Why the Colosseum? | Gladiators and Christians | Rise and Fall of the Gladiators | Pictures of the Colosseum |