The Roman games have been a source of interest for many years and were part of Ancient Roman life throughout the Roman Empire for several centuries. The opinion that they were 'cruel and degrading' I think is without doubt if we consider them only from a modern western perspective, however, if we are to seek their justification or otherwise we need to examine further the tradition and it's place in Roman society. The games were an integral part of life within the Roman Empire, a forum in which all social circles could join together with the emperor or leader and see myth and legend come to life, the eradication of wild beasts who threatened their existence and law and order being exercised, and even play a part.
If we look at the Colosseum and the displays that are reported to have been hosted there, we can infer that many of the 'shows,' were, by today's western standards, unacceptable the poet Martial in his 'Book of Shows', written in celebration of the Colosseum's opening, describes one display that was put on during the Colosseum's grand opening.
Martial describes the re-enactment of the legend of the Minotaur and says 'Believe that Pasiphae was mated to the Dictaen bull,' meaning that a female convict was forced to mate with a bull, this grotesque spectacle however is not greeted with distaste, but with further praise, he says of the act 'the old legend has won credence,' due to the re-enactment of this legend the emperor has given validity to the story and made it a reality.
Martial also gives us an example of the cruelty that animals endured as he describes the fate that meets a pregnant sow in the arena, he says she is 'made parent by a wound' and...