The University of Wisconsin Press

Classics / Sociology / Politics / Sport

The Game of Death in Ancient Rome
Arena Sport and Political Suicide
Paul Plass

Wisconsin Studies in Classics
William Aylward, Nicholas D. Cahill, and Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, Series Editors

“Perceptive and thought-provoking.”
—Times Literary Supplement

Our taste for blood sport stops short at the bruising clash of football players or the gloved blows of boxers, and the suicide of a politician is no more than a personal tragedy. What, then, are we to make of the ancient Romans, for whom the meaning of sport and politics often depended on death? In this provocative, thoughtful book, Paul Plass shows how the deadly violence of arena sport and political suicide served a social purpose in ancient Rome. His work offers a reminder of the complex uses to which institutionalized violence can be put.

Violence, Plass observes, is a universal part of human life, and so must be integrated into social order. Grounding his study in evidence from Roman history and drawing on ideas from contemporary sociology and anthropology, he first discusses gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome. Massive bloodshed in the arena, Plass argues, embodied the element of danger for a society frequently engaged in war, with outsiders—whether slaves, criminals, or prisoners of war— sacrificed for a sense of public security.

Paul Plass is professor emeritus of Classics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of Wit and the Writing of History, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press.


“Smart, interesting, abundant with ideas.”
Classical Journal

“Stimulating and exhaustive.”
International Journal of the History of Sport

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

May 1995
LC: 94-040884 GV
296 pp.   6 x 9   2 figs.

The cloth edition ISBN 978-0-299-14570-5 is currently out of print.

Book icon
Paper $17.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-14574-3
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated 4/30/2014

© 2013 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System