Here Fronto is pointing out that the grain has an impact on the populace on an individual level, however the spectacle can win people over on a collective level. As the Roman games developed through the late Republic and into the empire the Roman games became increasingly more spectacular and more politically charged. Upon the formation of the Empire, Kyle (2007) argues that the Roman people surrendered any freedom that they had and succumbed to autocracy, both of which were substituted for spectacle and free food.
Social control through gladiatorial spectacles could be used to enhance political status, via admiration of the populace and the acquisition of votes. Poliakoff (1987, p109) states that “the arena most clearly displayed the power and control of its organisers”. Fronto (no date, Letters 2.18.9-17), while discussing Trajan, highlights this further, stating that Trajan’s rule was endorsed by the populace as much for the gladiatorial spectacles that he put on as for more serious matters. Fronto also commented on the neglect of both these aspects stated that “serious things are neglected with greater loss, but games, with greater resentment” (Fronto no date, Letters 2.18.9-17).
The abolition of the Republic and formation of the Empire meant there was no longer the need to compete for votes, so the focus of gladiatorial spectacle changed to “fit the Emperor’s agenda” (Futrell 2006, p29). The gladiatorial spectacle provided Emperors with the opportunity to stamp their own authority on the people, Poliakoff (1987, p109) states that the Emperor was “the arbiter of life and death”.
Julius Caesar was fully aware of the power of the spectacle in determining his political status.
Plutarch (75 CE) puts forward that he “entertained the people with three hundred and twenty single combats” and that consequently he “threw into the shade all the attempts that had been made before him”. Spectacle under Julius Caesar was stretched so far that it scared other politicians to the point where they passed legislation that limited “the number of gladiators which anyone was to be allowed to keep in the city” (Suetonius 121 CE, 15). Julius Caesar was also the first person to use only silver and no other metal within the arena (Pliny Natural History 33.53 cited Futrell 2006).
During the reign of Augustus, praetors who performed as editore to gladiatorial spectacles were restricted in terms of resources. This meant that the gladiatorial spectacles that were associated directly with the Emperor would receive greater accolade, and the crowd would “clearly see to whom their gratitude was owed” (Shadrake 2005, p63). This shows that Augustus was aware of the power of the spectacle in enhancing political status, and that in order to increase his own status, stifling other political figure’s control over it was an effective means. Augustus provided eight gladiatorial spectacles in which 10,000 men fought, “thus eclipsing forever the memory of Julius Caesar‘s grand games” (Shadrake 2005, p63)
The reign of Commodus provided a more violent indication of how the games could be used to achieve political status. Cassius Dio (CE 54-211, 73.20) reports that Commodus