Sit Where the Romans Sat, See What the Romans Saw
The magnificently preserved Roman City of Gerasa located about fifty minutes drive north from Amman is the exciting backdrop to a colourful demonstration of Roman military capability, gladiator fights and that most Roman of all sports, chariot racing.
At Jerash, the newly restored hippodrome, Circus Gerasa, with its original stone seating and carceres (starting gates) provides an ideal arena for a thrilling spectacle such as the citizens of the Roman Empire would have been able to see some twenty centuries ago.
As you walk through the colonnaded streets and the great oval piazza letting your imagination create a scene peopled with the sounds of toga wearing crowds, suddenly there is a brassy blare of trumpets and the tramp of marching feet together with the rattle of shields, swords and armour. This is not your imagination at work though, but real, as into view comes a large body of Roman legionaries moving swiftly through the city towards the hippodrome, signalling that shortly, the performance will begin.
Now take your place on the very seats, on which the Romans sat and prepare to watch the show!
A half century of legionaries, VI Legion Ferrata the Ironclads named for the legion that was stationed in the provinces of Arabia and Judea, arrive at the hippodrome to the beat of martial music. They present their equipment and demonstrate battle tactics such as were actually used throughout the Roman army, throwing pilae (spears) and wielding the famous short stabbing sword, the gladius.
Suddenly, the Centurion cries out in Latin, "Are you ready for war?" and the legionaries’ roar echoes around the hippodrome, "Ready, ready, ready." The legionaries attack through the lines and defend the vexillum forming the testudo and the wedge.
The Greek with sword and spear, the Trojan with his sword and spear, Retiarius with net and trident, Secutor with shield and gladius, Thracian with curved sword and shield…criminals facing death penalty or slaves fighting for freedom.
Gladiator games were savage, but immensely popular during the reign of the Roman Empire.
Ave, imperator, morituri te salutant!
With the words "morituri te salutant", "we who are about to die salute you", four pairs of gladiators with classical weapons enter the fight.
Cheer your favourite. The fate of the loser depends on you and on the Magistrate with thumbs up or down.
A Roman General in a triumphal chariot, drawn by four horses, a quadrigae accompanied, as was the custom, by a slave who reminds him of his mortality with the words, "Memento mori." heralds the next event.
Three chariots with two horses (bigae) each appear in a whirl of dust, one for each of the fiercely supported factions, the Reds, Blues Greens and Whites. Having paraded before you, they take up their position in the carceres. The starter is announced by a fanfare of trumpets and as he drops a white handkerchief the race takes off. The chariots burst forward into the first of seven laps, jostling for position at each turn. Choose your favourite colour and give them the most vocal support you might even be able to hear a faint echo coming down the years!
The winning charioteer receives the plaudits of the crowd and is covered with the victor's laurels passing before you bearing a palm frond, the classical symbol of triumph.
This is what the hippodrome was built for and you will be reliving a moment in the life of people who were sitting in your place nearly two thousand years ago!