Published: June 22, 2020

Most people today get their news through the internet. How did people get it in the past? Gossip worked well enough for small, face-to-face communities, but what about ancient cities? In a recent paper, Social Reactors Project researchers Jack Hanson and Scott Ortman argue that mass spectator events were an important way the ancient Romans did it. Hanson and Ortman examined the seating capacities of theaters and amphitheaters in Roman cities, relative to their resident populations, to show how the news of the day percolated down to everyone. They found that the increasing connectivity of individuals in larger and denser cities counteracted the declining fraction of people who could attend public games and events so that everyone still got the information no worse than second-hand in the end. The paper is published in the American Journal of Archaeology and is available here