You grab some of your closest friends, make a trip to the local arena, and watch your favorite athletes do battle along with many thousands of others. You chant, cheer, and have fun. This will sound familiar to everyone who attends XFL games, but it would sound just as familiar to people living in Ancient Rome. Only those people wouldn’t have been cheering along to football; instead, they’d be watching two gladiators battle it out.
While there are some pretty significant differences between the gladiators of Rome and today’s football, there are also plenty of overlaps between the two. So what are they? Let’s take a closer look.
We wouldn’t compare the gladiators with, say, modern tennis players. There’s an element of physicality that just can’t be ignored in the brutal world of ancient Rome. Today, the most obvious comparison would be boxing, but the overall culture of gladiators is more in line with the culture of football than boxing. And there’s no denying that there’s a big physical component to football, too. Indeed, you have to imagine that many defensive line football players would do pretty well in ancient Rome!
The Fan Culture
Is being an XFL fan all so different from being a gladiator fan? The lives of Romans and Americans might seem worlds apart, but when it comes to following competitions, there are plenty of similarities. Romans would support their favorite gladiator just like today’s XFL fans support teams. People would congregate in large stadiums and unite as a crowd. There’s even evidence that suggests Rome was the birthplace of sports betting, with fans betting on the outcome of a fight. Today’s fans predict the outcome of games in much the same way.
There’s also the matter of the stadium. If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’ll have stopped by the Colosseum; if you haven’t, take a look at some photos. It won’t take you long before you notice that there’s a pretty strong similarity with modern football stadiums! Many have essentially copied the style. The Colosseum could fit more than 50,000 people inside, which is in line with what many football stadiums hold.
Some people are destined to perform in an arena – but that’s not the case for most. The majority would rather be watching the action than working up a sweat themselves. There’s a lot of enjoyment that can come from taking part, but there’s a lot of value in sitting back and watching other people do things. This seems to be especially the case with sports and activities that most people consider “high risk.” The gladiators of ancient Rome did, of course, take on a lot more risk than modern footballers, but anyone who has watched any amount of football knows that there’s always a chance of taking a big hit. And that’s something that connects with audiences on a primal level.
Finally, let’s think about the most obvious overlap between gladiators and XFL: they both function as a way to give masses of people entertainment. Throughout history, there have always been things that people have done to unwind and relax. Today, they may look forward to attending a football game at the weekend. Back in ancient Rome, people would head to the Colosseum for the same purpose.
No one’s going to say that gladiator battles and the XFL are the same; there are obviously massive differences between the two. But, on a broad level, there are plenty of similarities, which is somewhat surprising given that there are nearly 2000 years between the two. Perhaps humans don’t change as much as we think!
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