Sunday, September 18, 2011

Welcome to Amphitheatrum ad infinitum...

The focus of Amphitheatrum ad infinitum is the cultural use and reuse of the Roman amphitheater and gladiator from antiquity to the present day. I'm particularly interested in how the Colosseum in Rome and the figure of the gladiator have become cultural icons and how they have been appropriated to construct meaning in literature, art, architecture and beyond throughout history. I'll be blogging about things old and new related to the Roman amphitheater.

The recent news about the discovery of a gladiatorial ludus, or training facility, at the ancient site of Carnuntum in Austria seems like an appropriate place to start things off.
On September 5th, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI-ArchPro) revealed their recent discovery of a gladiatorial training complex at the Roman town of Carnuntum, located about 35 km southeast of Vienna. The site was discovered through the study of aerial photographs and the use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). No excavation has been undertaken yet, but according to LBI-ArchPro, the 2800 m2 complex includes administrative and living space for the lanista, the manager of the school; living quarters for the gladiators; a heated, indoor training room; and small, circular training area. The complex is located near to a local amphitheater that was constructed ca. C.E. 100-150 and there is evidence that the two structures were connected by a walled passageway. From an archaeological perspective this is an amazing find and will undoubtedly provide important new information about the life of Roman gladiators. Very few training complexes are known from their archaeological remains.

As interesting as this archaeological discovery is, the thing I find most interesting is the press coverage of the Carnuntum ludus. It was managed in such a way as to create suspense and play on the modern fascination with gladiator-related things. A statement was released on August 30th by the Carnuntum Archaeological Park about a "sensational discovery" that came across in news reports as the discovery of an amphitheater (for example herehere and here. Details about the site were withheld until a September 5th press conference. The fact that this pre-press conference announcement was picked up by some many news agencies demonstrates the extent of popular interest in the gladiatorial world. Erwin Pröll, the governor of the Lower Austria province, is quoted by the AP as saying that the discovery is "a world sensation, in the true meaning of the word." Other comments by Pröll, reported in a press release from the Carnuntum Archaeological Park, make clear the financial benefits that such a discovery can have. "This discovery brings considerable stimulus...and is proof that our investments in Canuntum are both justified and will have a lasting effect." Carnuntum is the host of a special Lower Austrian regional exhibit this year, still running through November 15th: "Erobern - Entdecken - Erleben im Römerland Carnuntum" (Conquer, Discover, Experience in the Roman Land of Carnuntum). The cost of organizing the exhibit was 42 million euros. The exhibit was expecting its 300,000 visitor at the time of the press conference; it would be interesting to track what effect the announcement of the gladiatorial ludus has on visitor numbers this fall and even into next tourist season.

Are you planning a trip to Carnuntum since this new discovery was announced? Or, like me, have you at least added it to your wish list of places to go?

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