The lethal spectacles at the Roman Coliseum—and especially the gladiators—were definitely seen in a favourable light in mainstream Roman culture of the time. Martial writes about how the Coliseum puts every other wonder of the world to shame (Bailey 13) and the rest of his text goes on to, in very glorious terms, related all the sorts of violent spectacles that took place within the structure. Cobb lists “courage, strength, reason, and justice,” (Cobb 2) as traits closely associated with masculinity, and there are certainly innumerable accounts of strength and justice in Martial’s descriptions of gladiators fighting beasts and each other. Giving that criminals were often killed via arena spectacle (which Martial mentions as well), there also seems to be an element of ‘justice’ associated with the structure. This brings to mind Foucault’s ideas of spectacle, where the public execution of spectacles served to reinforce the ruler’s authority and supreme justice. Cicero highlights the ‘manliness’ of gladiators, emphasising how “well-disciplined” they are and how they “prefer to accept a blow than ignominiously avoid it” (Cicero 2.4)
Seneca, in contrast to the positive few, has a very different opinion of the arena—especially its crowds. Again, Foucault’s come to mind as Seneca’s writing criticises the crowd for their savage bloodlust. “In the morning they throw men to the lions and the bears; at noon, they throw them to the spectators,” (Seneca Ep 7) Seneca writes, and this immediately evokes the cases of mob participation and intervention during execution which Foucault wrote about. In this way the Emperor’s power and criminal sentences is not only displayed to the general public, but their eager participation (either cheering at the scene or, apparently, partaking in the killing themselves) in the show serves to legitimise the power claim being shown to them, allowing the state to draw power from the masses to bring to bear against the individuals.