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).
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 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.
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.
Update 28 July 2018. It was announced today that a 12 ft. long tombstone, in 7 registers!, of a gladiator was discovered at Pompeii.
Among other important things, it refers to the riot that I wrote about in the following blog.
Osanna said in a statement, ”we have learned very important facts about the history of Pompeii, including a reference to the famous episode narrated by Tacitus that happened in Pompeii in 59 BC [sic AD], when a brawl broke out in the amphitheater during a gladiator show that led to an armed clash. [see below] The event drew the attention of Emperor Nero, who ordered the Senate in Rome to investigate the incident. Following an inquiry by the consuls, reports Tacitus, Pompeii residents were banned from holding gladiator shows for 10 years, illegal associations were dissolved and the organizer of the games – former senator from Rome Livineio Regulo – and all the others who were found guilty of incitement were exiled. The inscription complements the information given by Tacitus and makes reference for the first time to the exile imposed on some magistrates, the duoviri of the city.
See the blog below for a picture of the event and my connecting it to the riot at Ephesus described in Acts 19.