Another well-known form of entertainment were the Venationes, whose name derives from the Latin word venatio meaning “hunting”. They involved a fight between unarmed or armed men and ferocious beasts. These shows increased in number and importance thanks to the Roman conquest of exotic regions, which allowed for the supply of increasingly peculiar wild animals.
Over sixty panthers and leopards, forty bears and elephants were captured during a hunt held in 169 BC by the Roman generals Scipio Nasica and Publius Lentulus. This form of entertainment, which took place in Roman amphitheatres, consisted of a fight with wild animals. These shows, as a rule, took place in the morning and were intended to prepare the audience emotionally, before the gladiator fights took place in the afternoon.
The organisation of the Venationes was very complex: the arena was often set up with plants and sets that were reminiscent of the territories of origin of the animals.
The animals were kept in underground cages below the arena, from which they would be released during the show using lifting floors and counterweight systems. The venatores, or hunters, trained like gladiators in special schools, wore weapons and clothing typical of the regions of origin of the beasts. The fighters were usually prisoners of war, slaves or people condemned to death and were armed only with a spear and shield.
They were not held in high regard by the spectators, who were much more fascinated by the animal’s unpredictable behaviour and the scenery.