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May 9, 2005 by AK

Roman Ropewalking Elephants: a nut tougher than Greek Fire?

Although it gets disparaged as pop Roman history in anecdotes, I reread Suetonius from time to time, just for the fun of it. This time, I noticed a most unbelievable type of entertainment mentioned at least twice: elephants walking the tightrope. Suetonius claims Galba introduced elephantine tightrope-walking while in some public office before his principate. According to this charming student paper (“The Display of Elephants in Ancient Roman Arenas” — PDF warning; Google cache here), Seneca wrote of a dwarf who trained his elephans to walk the rope. Seneca (b. 4 BC) being an elder contemporary of Nero’s (b. 37 AD), and Galba (b. 3 BC) about Seneca’s age, those claims, though still dumbfounding, are at least chronologically consistent.

UPDATE: J. Cassian quotes Aelian’s description of a dinner party for elephants, set in early imperial Rome, too.


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