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Entertainment in Ancient Rome

Roman entertainment! Take 1! Lights, camera, action! Just kidding. In the ancient days, entertainment in Rome was very different from what we have today. They did have music and theatre though, and these were pretty significant parts of their entertainment industry back then. There was music at every social occasion they had, including funerals. Music was customary at funerals. They would play the tibia, a Greek woodwind instrument, as they believed it could ward off ill influences. Wait up - did we say Greek?! I thought we were talking about Rome here... (I’m just writing your thoughts out loud here. I know, I nailed it.) But yes, Greek. Many of the instruments they used came from Greece, like the cornu.

Well, the Romans were not very creative or original with their music. Everyone on Google says that, so it must be true. But it is true because the Greek had such great influence on them that they took on the idea of how music reflected the orderliness of the cosmos, and was “associated particularly with mathematics and knowledge”. Sounds pretty Greek-y, right? It’s not just the Greek that influenced them, it was the Etruscans and the Egyptians too. The influence even went on to other arts like the performing arts, mainly drama and theatre.

Back then, the Romans loved typical literary theatres ran by all-male troupes who would wear masks with exaggerated facial expressions.


The masks were worn to show the character’s feelings. Oh, and there was also drag. Yeah, drag. The female roles were played by men. But aside from the literary theatre, what was even more popular among Romans was mimus theatre. It was genre-defying and had “scripted scenarios with free improvisation, risqué language and jokes, sex scenes, action sequences, and political satire.” There was no drag here though, as females themselves played female roles. Unfortunately, entertainers were lowly regarded in those days. They were a little better than slaves, but were equivalent to gladiators. Some of them were “stars", however, so they could enjoy a certain amount wealth and fame. Celebrities would mingle socially and often sexually with the upper classes, including emperors. They were looked down upon, so much so that St. Augustine (apparently) said “bringing clowns, actors, and dancers into a house was like inviting in a gang of unclean spirits.”

Another significant activity that Romans participated in leisurely was going for baths. While the extremely wealthy could afford bathing facilities in their homes, most people bathed in the communal baths thermae. Romans went there not just to get clean, but also to relax in the company of others. Though many contemporary cultures see bathing as a very private activity conducted in the home, bathing in Rome was a communal activity. The baths allow others to keep fit, socialize and do business.


Before going for a bath, Romans took off their outdoor clothes in the apodyterium - which was a room just inside the entrance - and warmed themselves up by doing some stretches. After a swim in the pool, they went into a series of heated rooms. All Roman bathhouses contained a series of rooms that got increasingly hotter, to allow users to sweat out the dirt.


First, the bather shifts into a cold room called a frigidarium, with its tank of cold water.


Subsequently the warm room, tepidarium


And he then finally ends at the bath at the hot room, known as the caldarium

A brazier right under the hollow floor heats the caldarium; the floor had cold-water basins, which allowed the bather to use to cool him down. The bather completes the process by essentially resting and sweating. After going through a series of hot and cold, the bather goes back to the cooler tepidarium. They would usually chat with their friends while sweating, and perhaps have a massage with perfume oil rubbed down their bodies. They would also get a  slave to scrape off the dirt, sweat and oil with a metal scraper called a strigil. Finally, the bather takes a plunge into the cold pool. 

Besides being widely known as one of the most spectacular works of architecture, many public events were held at the Colosseum for the entertainment of the Romans back then.


Gladiator fights were highly popular among the Romans. Gladiators, who were professionals, slaves or prisoners-of-war, were made to fight each other, usually resulting in the death of the loser.

Scientists’ discoveries of gladiator skeletons which reveal that they were killed by deadly weapons such as tridents and foot-long swords testifies to the high level of violence in these games.


Public executions were too, a form of public entertainment. Christians were fed to lions and prisoners were thrown to wild beasts. Animals such as wild cats, bears, elephants were also made to battle each other, get hunted or perform circus acts


While these entertainment acts may appear to be brutal and violent, one should take into consideration the context that Rome was a warring state; hence, they probably embraced a climate of violence and glorified victory and strength through these murderous games that emphasized the devastating consequences of defeat.

So you see, the Romans didn’t have Korean dramas, Tumblr or Netflix, but they sure had their own unique ways to keep them entertained!