Latin for ‘‘the hunt’’, this game was played in Rome in the first century AD where slaves would have to hunt and slay wild animals before they were slain themselves.
Hunts were held in the morning prior to the afternoon main event of gladiatorial duels.
Often using only spears, the gladiator-like slaves would roam around the coliseum or other arenas until they found their target, or it found them.
The Romans would commonly use up to 20 elephants against one competitor or multiple lions and then have them fight until the death.
Eventually, the Romans became so fascinated by this sport that over 9000 animals were killed in the coliseum alone and more often than not the slaves would share the same fate as the beasts.
Once the game spread to other regions of Europe and Africa, the North African elephants were unfortunately driven to extinction and other wild beasts such as ostriches and leopards had to be used in their place.
Following the venatio in the order of daily events were the execution of convicted Roman citizens of lower status, the humiliores. Usual forms of execution included burning at the stake, crucifixion, or ad bestias (when the prisoner is left alone in the ring with one or more wild animals).
Needless to say, with only a 2 per cent survival rate, you wouldn’t want to be a Roman slave at the time of this lethal ancient sport!