Lions, bears, tigers, hyenas – and dachshunds? The gladiator fights in ancient Rome are notorious. Rows of wild animals were slaughtered by fighters in front of the well-filled ranks or had to maul themselves. The need for large mammals was so great that many species in the Empire’s catchment area actually became extinct.

In the middle of the bones of big cats and the like, however, researchers also found the remains of small dogs, which it is assumed would be less likely to be led into battle. And yet archaeologists also discovered skeletal parts of dachshunds in the catacombs of the Colosseum, the Parco archeologico del Colosseo reported.

The aim of the excavations was actually an investigation of the sewage systems under the Colosseum. The study began in January 2021, searching around 70 meters of drain pipes and sewers buried under the structure. Some of the team members crawled through narrow trenches that were still wet.

“Our investigation concerned the southern sewer, which has been clogged and more or less out of service since AD ​​523, when the Colosseum ceased to be an amphitheater and became some sort of dwelling house, fortress, hospital, and even a spinning mill war,” wrote Martina Almonte, leader of the project, on Twitter.

It is still unclear which part the dachshunds played in the performances. However, Almonte and Co rather assume that it was a supporting role. They would have been completely defeated in the fight against the big predators: the spectacle would have ended too quickly.

According to the researchers, it is likely that hunting scenes were re-enacted in which the dogs acted as trackers and companions of the hunters.

The study also provided an insight into everyday Roman life. The archaeologists found around 50 bronze coins from the late Roman period and a silver coin from around 171 AD, which commemorates the ten-year reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher and Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Spectators may have thrown the coins into the arena during or after the event, where they would then be washed down the sewers with the blood of the human and animal victims

There was also evidence of the diet of the fighters and the audience: pits from fruits such as figs, grapes and melons as well as traces of olives and nuts were found. An earlier study had already given indications that the gladiators could have had a predominantly vegetarian diet.

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