Hershel Shanks

Blood sports like gladiatorial contests and animal hunts usually took place in public amphitheaters, such as the one at El Djem, Tunisia (shown here from the outside, compare with photo showing inside of amphitheater). Large colonial amphitheaters were potent symbols of Roman occupation, in which Roman culture and civilization were spread throughout the empire. The games were held in the center of the amphitheater, within a sandy ring known simply as the arena. Here gladiators would battle one another, and animals and criminals would meet their deaths in grisly ritualized hunts and executions. The vaulted chambers beneath the arena floor probably served as holding cells for beasts, slaves and convicts awaiting their gruesome theatrical debuts.