The First Amphitheater of Latium at Sutri and its Context
University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Stone amphitheaters appear in Campania by the early 1st century B.C., while Rome did not have a permanent building for gladiatorial spectacles until Statilius Taurus built his masonry amphitheater in the Campus Martius in 29 B.C. Before then, however, a rock-cut amphitheater was already standing only 30 miles North of Rome, at Sutri.
This paper examines how this building reflects the practical purposes of spectacles, on the one hand, and the social and political context of Rome, on the other, during the transition from the republic to the empire.
The absence of carceres and underground rooms, generally used to introduce beasts into the arena, indicates that hunting shows were not yet performed in the amphitheater. It was Caesar who first brought together beast fights and gladiatorial combats within the same show in 46 B.C., thus creating a formula later canonized under Augustus.
The simple circulation, with an annular corridor serving both the arena and the podium, shows a lack of separation between spectators and gladiators. This reflects an early stage of development of the amphitheater type, prior to Augustus's Lex Julia Theatralis, which regulated the seating arrangements in the theater so as to reflect the Roman hierarchical social order. Once extended to the amphitheater, this brought a more complex and segregated circulation, typical of the greatest amphitheaters of the imperial age.
Moreover, this promiscuous circulation might imply a certain affinity between the gladiators and their public, perhaps war veterans of the colony Augustus established at Sutri after 41 B.C. Roman soldiers were in fact well acquainted with gladiatorial techniques, which had been long employed by the army.
Last but not least, a passage in the Codex Iustinianus links Statilius Taurus to Sutri, thus legitimating the idea that the rock-cut amphitheater may have served as a model to its Roman successor.