Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Project title: The arena at home: Concepts of the body and violence in mosaic depictions of amphitheater events in the Roman Empire
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Heide Frielinghaus, Apl. Prof. Dr. Annemarie Ambühl
At amphitheater events such as gladiatorial combats, venationes, or executions, the presentation of violence played a significant role, regardless of whether a given event was shown to the masses as a symbolic struggle between civilization and nature or barbarism, as a public display of Roman virtues, or simply for pleasure. The state-orchestrated entertainment program is known to have enjoyed wide popularity, and it also had effects on the design of private space, as can been seen, for example, in the use of moveable objects decorated with related scenes, or in stationary depictions in the form of murals or mosaics. In my PhD project, concepts of the body and violence will be examined using mosaics containing amphitheater themes. The focus will be on depictions from the mid-imperial and late imperial periods, from the northwestern, North African, and eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.
Depictions related to amphitheater events can be found beginning in the second century AD on floor mosaics. Some of these mosaics show images of individual figures such as gladiators in combat or exotic animals, while others present a full-fledged amphitheater program.
In my PhD project, the mosaics will be analyzed from two perspectives. First, I will examine the way in which the depiction of violence – in details (e.g. blood, lethal stab wounds, body posture) and in composition (e.g. the way in which a defeat is addressed and the form it takes) – is placed into the image, and the functions served by depictions of violence in the spatial contexts in which they occur (domus/villae, type of space; other factors to consider include, for example, combinations of images). Another related question is whether the depictions changed over the course of the imperial period, and whether variations can be observed within the individual provinces in the selection and chronological provenance of certain scenes or details of the scene design.
Second, the mosaics allow inferences to be made about the contemporary society. Violence – against gladiators, animals, and those sentenced to execution – for spectators’ pleasure was a societal norm. In the context of the instrumentalization of the body, what was the significance of the ambivalent perception of the gladiator, the bloody slaughter of animals, and the defenselessness of the damnati? To examine these questions, writings by classical authors (including Cicero, Seneca, and Tertullian) will be considered alongside the archaeological material.