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Exotic animals in Rome

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Exotic animals on Romain mosaic
Exotic animals on Romain mosaic

Animals were delivered from distant parts of the Roman Empire to show the crowd the size of the conquest and show the wonders brought from distant lands. Those were sent by provincial administrators, and even by kings or noblemen of still unconquested lands, eg. from India. Menagerie – vivarium was located near the Porta Prenestina.

The animals involved in the venatio were predominantly wild predators, although there were also exceptions. Popular were: lions, tigers, elephants, bears, deer, wild goats, dogs, camels, rabbits. Some of the animals were trained and showed tricks instead of fighting. Wolves were not usually used to fight in the arena, mainly for religious reasons.

Gnaeus Pompey kept wild animals in his gardens, which he brought via Sicily to Italy. Animals were not always used solely as victims and assassins in various kinds of massacres in the arena. Some of the performances involved showing animals trained and tame. Pliny the Elder and Martial mention the panthers pulling the cart, the elephants kneeling in front of the imperial box, or the tame lions that grasped and let go of the intact hare.

Acquiring animals from distant corners of the empire was a sign of richness and power of emperor for inhabitants of Rome, as well as a measure of the authority of the empire over the world of people and animals. For many Romans it was also a unique opportunity to see exotic animals.

  • J. Carcopino, Widowiska, p. 227

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