The Colosseum still stands in central Rome as a ruin, but it is a very imposing one. It isn’t hard to stand there and feel the echos of huge crowds chearing for bloodshed. Not only did people long for the slaughter of men, but also for animals. Elephants were not only used for spectacular parades, but unfortunately often became victims of torture. Striking, cutting, and starving animals was the norm, and received the crowd’s approval.
A typical scene was to tie someone (usually a prisoner) to a post and let a starved tiger swipe at him before the gladiator “heroically” slaughtered the animal with his sword.
But unlike hungry wild cats, elephants aren’t carnivores. They do not hunt for prey, and are far more likely to run away from conflict than embrace it. Even the riled up fans sometimes took pity on them.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, “The Roman audiences cheered these brutal slaughters enthusiastically as a rule, but when 20 elephants were pitted against heavily armed warriors, the screaming of these gentle animals as they were wounded caused the crowd to boo the emperor for his cruelty (Morris 1990).”