The Romans included physical activities based on those of the Greeks, in their culture. The ancient Romans used gymnastics as part of their military training to improve the strength, balance and flexibility of soldiers.
Gymnastics Training for the Roman Legions
The Greek city-state Sparta required that both sexes be physically fit. Women needed strong bodies so they could bear strong, healthy children. The Romans followed the Spartan example, to a point. The gymnasium was basically a training place for the legions of the Roman army.
Wooden Gymnastics Horse
Among the apparatus the Romans introduced was the wooden horse. Mounting and dismounting were considered desired military skills, especially by members of the cavalry. The wooden horse was used to train soldiers to mount and dismount quickly. However, the Romans had little interest in sport for sport’s sake, and the Greek practice of nude exercise was viewed with distaste, as leading to the vice of homosexuality.
Gymnastics Sport Into Warfare
The Romans were a battle hardened people who conquered the known world. After their successful conquest of Greece, they adopted gymnastics as their own, and developed it into a more formal sport. Gymnastic systems designed to give strength for military combat were used extensively by the Romans. Their practical nature turned sport into warfare.
Gymnasts Into Gladiators
Like the Persians before them, the Roman Circus practiced horsemanship and chariot racing in a circle (hence the term circus). Originally designed as a sporting event where Roman soldiers could match their skills and prowess against one another in a true Olympic fashion it eventually evolved into gladiator carnage. The bloodier the arena spectacle the more popular it became and was used as a distraction for the Roman population. The gladiator spectacles included people killing people, animals killing animals, animals killing people (throwing the Christians to the lions).
The gymnasiums were still used to train their legions for warfare, but with the decline of Rome, interest in gymnastics also dwindled and gymnastics would have been lost completely if it were not for the Medieval Gypsies who maintained many aspects of gymnastics as entertainment.