If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. — Mark Twain

Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

Roman Amusements

The Romans by this time had entirely forgotten their old simple ways. As their lands increased with each new victory, so did their wealth and their pride. Instead of comprising only the city on the seven hills, and a few neighboring villages, the Roman republic now extended over most of Italy. The Roman provinces, moreover, which were governed by officers sent out from Rome, included large territories in Spain, Africa, and Asia Minor, besides Greece, Macedonia, and northern Italy.

From these conquered countries the Romans had brought home all the spoil they had been able to gather together. They thus had vessels of gold and silver, jewels of all kinds, fine cloths, beautiful furniture, and gems of painting and sculpture. They began to rival each other in the magnificence of their houses, and dress, and in their delicately spread tables.

There were more than three times as many slaves as freeborn citizens, owing to the many prisoners that were taken during these wars; so all the rich Romans had plenty of servants, and soon learned to be idle and hard to please.

Some of these slaves were far better educated than their masters; for, with the conquest of Greece, many teachers and philosophers had been brought from there to instruct the Roman children. These men taught their pupils how to read Greek, so that they could enjoy all the fine and interesting things which had been written in that language; for the Romans had been so busy fighting until now, that they had had no time to write histories, stories, poems, and plays of their own.

The Greek slaves, moreover, translated many of the masterpieces of their own literature into Latin, the language spoken by all the Romans. Thus the Romans soon learned all about the heroes of Greece, read the teachings of their philosophers, and listened to their tragedies and comedies, which were played in the Roman theaters.

From the countries they had conquered, the Romans had also brought back statues of the gods, and priests to serve them. These statues were later placed in a fine building, called the Pantheon, or home for all the gods, where the Romans worshiped them as well as their own divinities.

You have already heard that the Romans delighted in processions and shows, so you will easily understand that they encouraged their priests to celebrate the festivals of these foreign gods, too. Then the Romans themselves took part in all these processions with as much zest as if they had been in honor of their own gods.

Another change which had taken place was that the Romans had become harsher and more selfish. They had made war so long that they now delighted in cruelty and excitement. To satisfy this craving, they built great circuses, with raised seats all around the pit or arena, and came in throngs to watch their slaves fight against each other or against wild beasts.

To make the show more exciting, some of the rich citizens had their slaves carefully trained for these combats. As they fought with a short sword, which in Latin is called gladius, they were known as gladiators, or swordsmen. These poor men were well fed, and comfortably housed, but only so that they might grow handsome and strong and excite more admiration when they appeared in the arena to fight. They were also taught to bow, and walk, and even to fall and die gracefully, so as to afford the cruel Romans still more pleasure.

The Gladiator Condemned.

When a gladiator fell after a brave resistance, the people sometimes wished to save his life, so that he could recover and come and amuse them again. As a signal to his opponent to spare him, they clapped their hands and waved their handkerchiefs. But if the poor gladiator had failed to please them, they ruthlessly turned their thumbs down, and thus condemned him to instant death, which they viewed with great indifference.

Androclus, a slave, was once sent into the arena to fight a lion. The people were surprised to see the beast fawn upon, instead of attacking, him. But when Androclus explained that once when he was in the desert he had drawn a thorn out of the lion's paw, they were so pleased that they bade him go free, and gave him the lion.


Front Matter

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire