Rome-lovers are deeply informed about the endless array of feasts, rituals and
celebrations which used to take place in Rome for any specific season, however
not many people have come across the famous Naumachia and what role
played in the ancient roman empire’s liturgy.
Naumachia is the recreation of naval battle which occurs to emulate and celebrate historical events happened before.
The first Naumachia was held at the Colosseum for its opening, however, due to some technical shortcomings, represented by the huge volumes of water to be pumped into the arena, it became necessary to move to new areas which were adopted instead for this purpose.
The Naumacarii were considered exactly like gladiators but on a vessel; along with theme there were big crowds of actors, rowers and jugglers to create a more striking visual impact.
This kind of shows was formerly known as navalia proelia. Originally those shows spanned over one day only, however when national celebrations were extended for further 177 days the duration of the naval battles got extended also.
It is said that a total of 9 naumachie took place over one century, most of them falling within the Nero and Flavi’s period. Usually, there was a gap of 9 years before a new show was put on and this was due to the complex hydraulic systems in use.
The first show of was hosted around the Trastevere area by Julius Caesar in the 46 b.C (naumachia Caesaris).
An artificial lagoon 12meters- deep was built in a spiral-like shape so to guarantee the continuous flux of water while allowing the boats to float.
Thanks to a complex engineering operation, the water was circulating from the Tevere river in the lagoon and because of its shape, it was able to flow back to the river creating a perfect water tide. The first show was imposing: Cesare requested over 6000 actors on the stage to picture a scene that was the more realistic possible.
In fact, the magnitude of this event was so incredible, that Svetonius reported more than 1000 deaths occurring from stampede: all the people from all the surrounding colonies were invited to take part to this celebration.
The fleet involved in the first naumachia was formed by bireme and trireme vessels with 2000 Naumacarii distributed on the outer side of each boat alongside 4000 rowers who were never involved in the battle. This show recreated the naval fight between Egyptians and Phoenix.
Naumachia grew in popularity and became one of the most awaited events and
Augustus was well aware of it. Naumachie Augustii were hosted in the Septa, a
wide space not very distant from Tevere river where quite often monuments and
artefacts from conquered countries were displayed.
Augustus’ lagoon was inaugurated in the 2 b.C: a 1000 square-feet wide space which got connected to the river through Alsietine aqueduct sprawling for more than 30.000 meters, originated from the Martignano Lake.
Over 300 vessels and 4000 fighters participated to the show which was a celebration of Salamina battle. A special bridge known as pons naumachiarius; was created in order to allow the ships participating to battle to the designated areas of actions.
Subsequently, those shows were gaining less and less momentum till they disappeared due to the historical turmoil, the end of the empire and also the hydrogeology of the areas
where major changes occurred in terms of soil and water availability.
The last naumachia of the history was indicted by the Vatican in a space known as Ager Vaticanus, not far from the Tevere River. The show was significantly reduced in volume and grandeur as it was merely to celebrate the power of the Vatican over the centuries and its connection to the glorious past of Rome.
Indeed Romans, pretty much like the Superball, knew how to impress viewers and spectators alike.
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