“New” animals were being discovered as the empire grew across the continent and Mediterranean into territories such as Germany, Gaul, Africa and the Middle East. Wild animals of particular interest were studied as well as employed in a great variety of ways. Elephants could be trained in circus acts and Giraffes used in Triumphal marches. Crocodiles and Ostriches might be put on show for their value as curiosities of nature whilst now extinct varieties of Lions might be pitched against Bears or even Elephants.
The ecological effect of this mass killing is self evident to us nowadays. Even if at that time the number of wild beasts was far higher than today it is certain that a number of varieties of animal became completely extinct as a result. For example North Africa became devoid of elephants whilst Mesopotamia lost its famous lions.
The one practical use of the Venationes was during the Carthaginian wars. Besides his great strategic talent, Hannibal surprised and won against the Romans with his elephants which had never been seen before. The Roman answer to this was to exercise against elephants in the arena so that they might get used to their behaviour in battle. Sure enough the odds were soon turned as the soldiers met the elephant charges in thin columnar formations which allowed them to channel the charge and take the opportunity to throw the elephants into confusion.
The great deal of organisation and effort required for these types of games meant a great expense on a large number of dedicated persons involved in roles ranging from capture of the animals, their transport, feeding, training and so on. For example, the “curator venatiorum
” was in charge of the games’ preparations. The “praepositus herbarium
” looked after herbivores whilst the “adiutor ad feras
” was in charge of carnivores.
The main training school for these events was the “ludus matutinus” which as already mentioned below was one of the four schools employed in the games of the Arena. Specifically trained personnel looked after the animals as well as the humans involved in the actual games as fighters (“bestiarii“) or as assistants (“venatores“).
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 |