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NAUMACHIA was the name given to the representation of a naval battle among the Romans, and also to the places where such exhibitions took place. These sham fights were sometimes arranged in the Amphitheatre, sufficient water being introduced to float the ships [AMPHITHEATRUM Vol. I. p. 113]; but more frequently in places specially constructed for the purpose, that is, vast basins faced with stone and surrounded by stone seats, like an amphitheatre.

The first representation of a sea-fight was given B.C. 46 by Julius Caesar, who caused a basin to be dug for the purpose in a district called Codeta Minor (Suet. Jul. 39; D. C. 43.23), which, according to Friedländer and Marquardt, was in the Campus Martius. According to Burn (Rome and Campagna, p. 268), the Codeta Major was in the Campus, the Codeta Minor in the Transtiberine region: both derived their name from the abundance of marestail (equisetum) which grew there. The second was given by Augustus, B.C. 2, at the dedication of the temple of Mars Ultor, and for this purpose a basin was dug, 1800 feet by 1200, probably in the gardens of Caesar in the Transtiberine region. It is pretty clear from the wording of the inscription of Ancyra, “Navalis praelii spectaculum dedi trans Tiberim in quo loco nunc nemus est Caesarum, cavato solo,” &c., that the construction was in a new place, and not, as Burn says, an enlargement of Julius Caesar's basin. Even about the site of this naumachia there is some question, since D. C. 55.10 places it in the Circus Flaminius, and in Tacitus there are various readings, cis and trans Tiberim. We may, however, best conclude that (as stated in the Mon. Ancyr. and in Suetonius) the naumachia of Augustus was in the horti Caesaris, on the further side of the river, and that its site is marked by remains recently found. (See Middleton's Rome, p. 291; Burn's Rome and Campagna, p. 268.) This naumachia continued in use after others had been made (the Notitia speaks of five), and was subsequently called vetus naumachia (Suet. Tit. 7). D. C. 61.9 speaks of it as the place where Nero gave a public banquet. The most remarkable naumachia was that given by Claudius, A.D. 52, on Lake Fucinus, to celebrate the draining of the lake (but before the completion of the work), where 19,000 men dressed as Rhodians and Sicilians manœuvred in the fight with fifty ships on each side, the spectators being grouped on the shore and the surrounding hills, as on the tiers of seats in an amphitheatre: the signal for battle was given by a trumpet, sounded by a silver image of a Triton. (Suet. Cl. 21; Tac. Ann. 12.56.) Nero's naumachiae are mentioned by D. C. 61.9, 62.15; but they seem to have been sometimes in the amphitheatre, sometimes in the stagna Neronis, a great basin in Nero's Golden House, on the site where the Flavian Amphitheatre or [p. 2.225]Colosseum was afterwards built (Mart. Spect. 2). Titus used the vetus naumachia of Augustus, but Domitian had a new and larger lake dug below the Vatican ( “in a new place,” D. C. 67.8). He afterwards pulled it to pieces and used the stone to replace the wooden seats of the Circus Maximus which had been burnt (Suet. Dom. 4, 5). Naumachiae were not confined to Rome: on the contrary we can have no doubt that they took place in many provincial amphitheatres. In the amphitheatres at Capua and Nîmes, for instance, the arrangements for flooding the amphitheatre have been traced.

The combatants in these sea-fights, called naumachiarii (Suet. Cl. 21), were captives (D. C. 48.19), or criminals condemned to death (D. C. 60.33), who fought as in gladiatorial contests till one party was killed, unless preserved by the clemency of the emperor (cf. Suet. Cl. 21). The ships were divided into two parties (cf. the domestic imitation mentioned in Hor. Ep. 1.18, 61), and the crews were dressed to represent different maritime nations, as Tyrians and Egyptians (Suet. Jul. 31), Rhodians and Sicilians (Suet. Cl. 21; D. C. 60.33), Persians and Athenians (D. C. 61.9), Corcyraeans and Corinthians (Id. 66.25). These sea-fights were exhibited with the same magnificence and the same lavish expenditure of human life which characterised the gladiatorial combats. In Nero's naumachia there were sea-monsters swimming in the lake (Suet. Nero 12); the magnificence of the naumachia given by Claudius is mentioned above: in the games exhibited by Titus in the vetus naumachia of Augustus, we find on the first day the basin covered with planks supported on piles forming an arena for gladiators and a venatio, on the second day a chariot-race, on the third a naval combat of 3000 Athenians and Syracusans, in the course of which the Athenians landed on an island in the basin and took a fort there. Martial, however (Spect. 24), vaunts the naumachia of Domitian as superior to all that went before. (See also Friedlander, Sittengeschichte, 2.367 ff.; Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, 3.558 f.)

[W.S] [G.E.M]

hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 21
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 31
    • Suetonius, Nero, 12
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.56
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 4
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 5
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 39
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 7
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.18
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