The Emperor Domitian became leader of Rome when he was thirty years old and he ruled with great passion for fifteen years, eventually assassinated by the senators he had excluded.
He left important traces of his commitment to beautify the city with monuments and buildings for athletic contests.
He completed the construction of the Colliseum and the Imperial Baths , then he started the reconstruction of the Circus Maximus after a fire damage and he built the self named stadium whose ruins are still today in Piazza Navona in the historic center of Rome (Unesco Heritage).
Like his father and brother, Titus and Vespasian, and like Nero before him, Domitian was well aware that by entertaining the people, he could gain high approval and at the same time maintain social peace.
The importance of the Stadium is represented by the desire of the Emperor to increase the interest of the Romans in athletics, the highest of the sports, in order to induce them to prefer athletics against violent sports.
In the history of the ancient Rome, it is the first and only example of masonry Stadium, built to celebrate the Certamen Capitoline Iovi, five-year race established in 86 AD, as a copy of the Greek Olympic competitions.
The stadium was primarily intended for athletics, especially foot-races, hence the name from the Greek “stadion”, which means race-track; the track where the races were held was in fact one stage long, a measure of distance corresponding to 600 feet.
The word athlete comes from “athla“, which in Greek means prize: it indicates the person who runs for the prize.
Indeed, the Stadium was built in order to import in Rome the Greek athletic games appreciated by Domitian, but scarcely loved by the Romans, because the games were not tough and violent enough, but at the same time they also considered them as immoral; as a matter of fact, it was a mix of sports and artistic competitions where the clothing was rather lascivious. A visionary project with the purpose of “Romanize” the Greek Olympics.
The building, which measured 275 feet long by 106 wide, could hold about 30,000 spectators (the Colosseum 50/60.000).
The games were called agones and the name of the square from ” agon” became “in agone“, “innagone“, ” navone ” and then “Navona” .