Gladiators and Governments: A fiscal blood bath

Let’s consider the mathematical schematics.  The Colosseum in ancient Rome took 10 years to build commencing 70 AD.  The axis of its elliptical plan is 188m long and 156m wide.  The walls in the outer ring rise 52m above ground and more than 100,000 cubic metres of travertine were used to build it.  Even the metal clamps that held the blocks together weighed more than 300 tonnes.  It had a complex system of passages and underground rooms extended below the arena, with elevators and trapdoors to allow gladiators and beasts into the arena.

Fast forward 2000 years….

The Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated between 15 September and 1 October 2000 in Sydney.  It took 7 years of planning and construction and consisted of the stadium (110,000 capacity), Superdome & Acer Arena (18,000), Skoda Stadium (13,000), Athletic Centre (15,000), Aquatic Centre (17,500), Tennis Centre (16,200), Hockey Centre (15,000), Sports Centre (5,000), and Archery Centre (4,500) + supporting venues, logistics and infrastructure.

100 Days of Spectacles:

During the inauguration of the Colosseum in 80AD, 100 days of celebration took place.  Entry was free and with a 70,000 capacity, Ancient Rome was at an economic standstill.  It was noted that a monumental 9,000 animals and 2,000 gladiators were killed.  The historian Dion Cassius noted a spectacular battle between cranes and 4 elephants and that no less than 5,000 animals were killed in one day.  Similarly, under Trajan in the venationes (hunts), 11,000 animals were killed in 120 days with many other events being held on a quasi-regular basis.

Compare this event to the modern Sydney Olympics, held over 16 days with teams from 199 countries participating and more than 10,000 competitors fought for their gold medals amidst a global audience of 26.3 million global viewers. What was the economic productivity / cost during this time?

The Economics

For the ancient venationes (hunts), elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, hyenas, ostriches, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and crocodiles were employed with increasing velocity and expense.  A lion could cost anything between 125,000 to 150,000 sesertii, a leopard between 75,000 and 100,000 and a bear between 20,000 and 25,000.  To put it into today’s terms, 6 sestertii would run a 3 person household for a day.  According to ASIC, the average family expenditure is $69,166p.a or $189.50 per day in 2012.  Thus, 1 sesertii = $31.58.  So a lion then cost the Roman taxpayer a minimum of $3,947,500, a leopard cost a minimum of $2,368,500 and a bear cost $631,600.  If 11,000 animals were slaughtered over 120 days at an average cost of 50,000 sestertii eachthese games alone cost the Roman Empire a total of $17,369,000,000.  With the entire Roman Empire being circa 57,000,000 people (19% of the world’s population), this equated to $304 head.

Now the Sydney Olympic Games took 7 years of planning and construction and the cost was estimated to be AUD$6,600,000,000.   Many venues were constructed in the Sydney Olympic Park, which failed in the years immediately following the Olympics to meet the expected bookings to meet upkeep expenses. In the years leading up to the games, funds were shifted from education and health programs to cover Olympic expenses.  Australia having a population of 19,153,000 in the year 2000, this equated to $344.59 / head, $40 more per head than the time of the glorious Roman Empire.  On an annual basis and according to Dr James Connor from the University of NSW, it costs Australian tax payers $588 million to pay for the Australian Sports Commission for Olympic Sport.  This does not take into account the money spent at State Level, sponsorship dollars, additional infrastructure and personal investment.  Let’s round to $600m.  That is an additional $26.55 per head p.a.

…Noting that the Roman Empire began to collapse within 100 years of these grandiose gladiator extravaganzas, where does that leave Australia’s fiscal purse in 100 years?

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