There is a little known wall painting from a house at Pompeii (destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 79) that depicts a riot in and around the amphitheater at Pompeii in A.D. 59 (see connection to Acts 19 below images of Pompeii).
The event that is depicted in this painting is a riot that occurred during the games in A.D. 59. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.
This riot is also known from historical sources. It was between the residents of Pompeii and those of nearby town of Nuceria. Notice all the people with raised arms = fighting—both inside and outside of the amphitheater. Note that the lower elite seating area has been vacated, but there is fighting in the upper portion of the amphitheater where the lower classes sat.
The amphitheater was built in 80 B.C. when Pompeii became a Roman Colony. It is the oldest amphitheater in existence!
View of the exterior of the Amphitheater at Pompeii. In contrast to later amphitheaters note that the staircases to the upper levels of the structure are on the exterior, not in the interior of the amphitheater.
The amphitheater measures 432 x 335 ft. and could hold 20,000 people! It was used for sports and gladiator contests, hunts and battles with wild animals! Wall advertisements for the spectacles have been found on the walls of buildings at Pompeii.
View of the interior of the Amphitheater at Pompeii.
Note the high retaining wall to protect the spectators. In this earliest of amphitheaters there were no underground passages nor chambers—as in later structures.
On the left side of the image note that the first five rows are “walled off” and were for the use of the elite of the city. The upper seats were for the use of lower class people and eventually women—who were allowed to go to the amphitheater because of a decree of the Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D.14).
Riots are Punished!! Because of this riot at these games, the Roman Emperor Nero removed the head of the city and his family from office and politics and the city was forbidden to hold gladiatorial games for 10 years! The Romans were not happy with those who rioted!!
Compare the riot in the theater in Ephesus when the apostle Paul was there (Acts 19):
Acts 19:23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way [= followers of Jesus] . . . .
Acts 19:29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater . . . .
Acts 19:32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another . . . .
Acts 19:35 The city clerk quieted the crowd . . . if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”
The Ephesus city clerk knew well that the Roman authorities would act severely against a riot.
Much of the descriptive information on the riot and the interpretation of this painting is from Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City — 13 Riot in the Amphitheater—A.D. 59, by Steven L. Tuck. Produced by The Great Courses, 2010, Chantily, VA. Course No. 3742.