Those who scrum salute you

A computer generated image of Wellington's stadium as a Roman colosseum.
A computer generated image of Wellington's stadium as a Roman colosseum.

Two thousand years after Romans flocked to big arenas to watch the gladiators, Kiwis are heading to stadiums in the hope our gladiators, the All Blacks, will win us a world title.

Two award-winning lecturers from Victoria University have decided to explore the similarities and differences of those two times and places in a two-part public lecture tomorrow.

Associate Professor of classics Matthew Trundle will look at the complex relationship Romans had with gladiators and the allure of big arena events.

Dr Trundle says a huge business sustained the arena spectacles of ancient Rome - much like rugby today. "As Rome grew and the power of Roman elites grew with it, the shows put on for the urban poor became more elaborate and bloodier. But the gladiators had a much more complex relationship with their fans than the modern-day All Blacks.

"Gladiators were the ultimate outsiders, unmentionable slaves, yet central to Roman identity. Their blood was said to cure epilepsy; their touch brought fertility."

Associate Professor of Psychology Marc Wilson will talk about the importance of rugby to New Zealanders and speculate on what could happen if we won or lost the World Cup.

Dr Wilson says a major focus of the lecture is how these two forms of sport differ or connect.

"[Dr Trundle] would argue that they might look the same, but actually the gladiatorial games were just not about the sorts of things I think rugby is about.

"It's a lot about religion. They weren't put on for people, they were put on for the gods."

Dr Wilson says rugby is central to many New Zealanders' sense of self-worth.

"One of the reasons is that we are good at [rugby] and psychologically how we value ourselves benefits from associating ourselves with things that other people think are good.

"Therefore we get a boost to our own self-esteem from identifying with the All Blacks. Of course, the downside is that when you lose our self-esteem takes a massive blow as well."

The lecture starts at 5:30pm tomorrow at Rutherford House, Victoria University. If you would like to attend, email rsvp@vuw.ac.nz with Rugby Wellington in the subject line or call 472 1000.

The Dominion Post