What Did the Ancient Romans Do for Fun?

Ancient Romans enjoyed attending public events, such as the gladiator games, the theater and the circus. Common recreational activities also included playing ball games, board games and bathing. Ancient Roman cities were littered with ball-courts called “palaestra,” where children played games similar to modern-day handball, soccer and field hockey.

Board games, such as dice, knucklebones, chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe and backgammon, were also popular. The main public sources of entertainment were the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, the various Roman theaters and the bath houses. The Colosseum was the site of mock battles where gladiators would fight to the death. Sometimes the Colosseum was filled with water in order to conduct mock naval battles that were called “naumachia.” The Circus Maximus was home to many different kinds of events, such as chariot races, foot races, boxing and wrestling.

The late second century gave rise to Roman theater productions and plays. The original Roman theaters were constructed out of wood and were frequently destroyed by fires. The first stone theater was built in 55 B.C. under the direction of the Roman Emperor Pompey.

The Roman baths first began to appear during the second century. They were generally built over hot springs in order to maintain a continuous supply of hot water. Bathing was a luxury during the time prior to the construction of the public Roman baths. The bath houses gave Roman citizens a place to relax, gossip and pass the time.