Naufragia was the name Romans gave to crashes during a chariot race, the shocking pileups of man, machine and thrashing horses. Naufragia is the latin word for “shipwreck,” which conjures the shocking destruction and tangled ruin that so dismayed—and ultimately delighted—the screaming spectators of the Circus.

Naufragia-stoneworkNaufragia was ultimate disaster, an end not only to hopes of victory but to lives, careers, destiny. A favorite champion could be undone in an instant—every moment of a chariot race was fraught with potential disaster. The extremes of emotion provoked by collisions and near disasters shocked spectators into wild states of euphoria and despair.

A crash was the ultimate calamity for a chariot, but with the growth of the spectator sport Rome twisted the calamity into attraction. The shock of destruction that punctuated the spectacle drove spectators into frenzy, and became a catharsis for the tensions surrounding the race. Spectators grew addicted to the emotional drama of the Circus, filling their increasingly empty lives with it’s loud distraction as their society declined.

Fate was capricious and all of life was subject to naufragia! Honor, duty, love, courage, all one’s hopes, all effort, all resources—naufragia!—gone in an instant.

Naufragia was the point of distraction. As the lives of ordinary citizens were drained of promise by their darkening Empire—they cheered for naufragia! Deprived of property and rights, they cheered—naufragia! And in the end, distracted, frenzied, caught in its own social dysfunction and spectating madness, Rome itself became the grand metaphor of its own distraction—naufragia!

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