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Public Spectacles in Roman and Late Antique Palestine

Public Spectacles in Roman and Late Antique Palestine

Zeev Weiss
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Public Spectacles in Roman and Late Antique Palestine
    Book Description:

    Wishing to ingratiate himself with Rome, Herod the Great built theaters, amphitheaters, and hippodromes to bring pagan entertainments of all sorts to Palestine. Zeev Weiss explores how the indigenous Jewish and Christian populations responded, as both spectators and performers, to these cultural imports, which left a lasting imprint on the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72662-8
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Leisure activities—whether theatrical per for mances or shows of athletic prowess—are common in modern society. They are what the masses engage in when seeking light diversion from their mundane tasks. Human nature was no different in late antiquity, and then, like now, there were always pockets of society that looked askance upon contemporary fads. In the ancient world, public spectacles comprised four categories—agonistic competitions, circus races, theatrical performances, and amphitheatrical shows. Athletics, music, and other performing arts were competitive; some events, such as gladiatorial combats,venationes, and chariot races, contained competitive aspects, while mime, pantomime, and other...

  5. 1 The Beginning: The Introduction of Public Spectacles and Competitions into Ancient Palestine
    (pp. 11-56)

    The reign of herod, the builder-king, is characterized by large-scale construction that dramatically changed the face of ancient Palestine. Appointed king of Judaea by the Roman Senate, Herod initiated, planned, and constructed the buildings in his realm. His edifices were commensurate with the ceremonial lifestyle in his palaces, as were the public buildings he constructed for the inhabitants of many cities in ancient Palestine, some of which he himself had founded. The king’s personal involvement in these projects stemmed from his particular interest in architecture, his strong ambition, and his need to establish a foothold for the royal dynasty at...

  6. 2 Shaping the City’s Landscape: Buildings for Mass Entertainment in Their Urban Context
    (pp. 57-116)

    The introduction of buildings for mass entertainment—the theater, hippodrome, and amphitheater—along with other monumental buildings, reshaped the urban landscape of the cities of ancient Palestine. Their splendor could be seen from afar, and their massive presence could be felt by all who walked past them on the main streets of the city. Built over a period of three hundred years, these monumental buildings undoubtedly served as a source of pride for the local inhabitants and had a significant impact on their daily life; however, none of the available literary and material evidence informs us about what transpired in...

  7. 3 Entertaining the Crowds: Performances, Competitions, and Shows
    (pp. 117-170)

    Herod the great was the first to establish competitions in ancient Palestine. These events were based largely on Hellenic tradition, which included agonistic contests, competitions in the performing arts, and horse and chariot races into which the king also introduced Roman spectacles. Alongside the official festivals and games conducted at regular intervals and according to a fixed program were performances and competitions for pure entertainment held throughout the empire. These included an assortment of scenic performances, chariot races, and amphitheatrical shows conducted on various occasions and intended to amuse the masses.

    With the introduction of public entertainment in ancient Palestine,...

  8. 4 Financing, Organization, and Operation
    (pp. 171-194)

    Buildings for mass entertainment were constructed in the cities of ancient Palestine so that its local inhabitants could enjoy the same per for mances held throughout the Roman world. It was Herod the Great who initially introduced Roman public spectacles and competitions in ancient Palestine; however, the cultural repercussions were distinctly felt in the entire region—including the cities of the Decapolis and Arabia—only in the second and early third centuries ce, when every city boasted at least one monumental building for such per for mances.

    The organization of competitions, performances, and spectacles, as well as the responsibility for...

  9. 5 Adopting a Novelty: Jewish Attitudes toward Roman Spectacles and Competitions
    (pp. 195-226)

    Public spectacles in theaters, hippodromes, and amphitheaters were immensely popular in ancient Palestine, as elsewhere in the Roman East, and attracted large urban populations who attended them regularly. At first they were held in only isolated places and few came, but with time they gained popularity among most inhabitants of the ancient Palestinian cities, who viewed these shows with a sense of pride and local patriotism. Dignitaries, ordinary people, women, and slaves streamed to the performances, yet even those who did not frequent the buildings for mass entertainment sensed the festive atmosphere enveloping their city. Noise, excitement, and commotion were...

  10. 6 Public Spectacles and Sociocultural Behavior in Late Antique Palestine
    (pp. 227-254)

    The local population of late antique Palestine had largely assimilated the cultural habits of the empire, including the popular Roman spectacles. The urban authorities were keen to satisfy the growing demand of their fellow citizens for such shows and consequently constructed buildings for mass entertainment in their cities. With the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity by the fourth century ce, Byzantine society’s attitude toward public entertainment gradually changed, influencing the extent and nature of the shows. The glamour of the Roman competitions under the supervision of gods and Caesars waned, making way for performances now intended for pure...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 255-260)

    The public spectacles and competitions in the Roman East of Herod’s day were revolutionary. Not only were the physical appearance and monumental character of the facilities innovative features, but the various performances held in them introduced the local population to a new cultural behavior that was completely foreign to their tradition and culture. The reactions of the indigenous population toward this novel cultural lifestyle were presumably diverse, but one thing has become evident: in constructing monumental buildings for mass entertainment and in conducting various performances, whether in his private palaces or in the cities throughout his kingdom, Herod changed the...

  12. Abbreviations
    (pp. 261-262)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 263-346)
  14. Source Index
    (pp. 347-352)
  15. Subject Index
    (pp. 353-361)