GLADIATOR TYPES, EVENTS AND STYLES OF FIGHTING

GLADIATOR EVENTS AND STYLES OF FIGHTING

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gladiator mosaic
A variety of gladiator contests were staged. The combatants fought in specific categories, each with certain rules, weapons and armor. Opponents were usually chosen by lot and armed according to their respective categories. Retiarii carried a net and Neptune-like trident and lithely danced around the arena. Murmillones were the equivalent of heavyweight boxers. They carried heavy swords and shields. Samnites carried a large oblong shield, a sword or spear, and were protected by visored helmets, greaves on their right leg and a protective sleeve on the right arm.

The fights were often to the death. In one particularly unfair competition, an unarmed man was pitted against an armed man. The armed man of course usually won, but before he had a chance to savor his victory he was stripped of his weapons, which were given to another gladiator, who usually defeated the former victor. This process continued until every competitor was dead except for the last man.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “ Gladiators fought usually in pairs, man against man, but sometimes in masses (gregatim, catervatim). In early times they were actually soldiers, captives taken in war , and so naturally fought with the weapons and equipment to which they were accustomed. When the professionally trained gladiators came in, they received the old names, and were called “Samnites,” “Thracians,” etc., according to their arms and tactics. In much later times victories over distant peoples were celebrated with combats in which the weapons and methods of war of the conquered were shown to the people of Rome; thus, after the conquest of Britain essedarii exhibited in the arena the tactics of chariot fighting which Caesar had described several generations before in his Commentaries. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“It was natural enough, too, for the people to want to see different arms and different tactics tried against one another, and so the Samnite was matched against the Thracian, the heavy-armed against the light-armed. This became under the Empire the favorite style of combat. Finally, when people had tired of the regular shows, novelties were introduced that seem to us grotesque; men fought blindfold (andabatae), or armed with two swords (dimachaeri), or with the lasso (laqueatores), or with a heavy net (retiarii). There were also battles of dwarfs and of dwarfs with women. Of these the retiarius became immensely popular. He carried a huge net in which he tried to entangle his opponent, always a secutor, dispatching him with a dagger if the throw was successful. If unsuccessful he took to flight while preparing his net for another throw; or if he had lost his net, he tried to keep his opponent off with a heavy three-pronged spear (fuscina), his only weapon besides the dagger. |+|

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Gladiator Armor and Weapons

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Gladiator helmet
Gladiators wore armor on their heads and other parts of the body, scholars believe, because battles in which gladiators were quickly put down with a blow to the head were not be very interesting for spectators to watch. The armor prolonged the battles and made the contest more challenging and sporting.

The armor, often weighing 30 pounds or more, was specially designed for gladiator events. The helmets, with their fearsome-looking face guards, were extremely heavy but well balanced so they didn't put too much strain on the neck. Shields were made of wood because they were lighter than metal ones. They were often lined with felt to absorb the shock of the blows. The leg and arms guards were protected with linen or wool and felt linings were put under the helmets for the same reason. Peter Conolly, a historian and expert on gladiators, told Discover magazine: “The metal won't protect you from the blow, and this is particularly so with helmets. If someone belts you on the head, the helmet might stop the blow but it will knock you out." The main problem with the lining was it made the armor extremely hot.

About a dozen different weapons were used, some of which were based on weapons used on the battlefields against the Roman legions by their different enemies. Short swords were often preferred to long ones because they were more maneuverable and ideal for slashing. The fighting was less like a fencing match than a free for all with wild swings and wrestling. Swords were often kept behind shields until a move was ready to be made. Other weapons included pitch forks tied to the ankles, whips, clubs and the cestus, an iron-studded leather thong which could cause death if landed squarely on the temple. Sometimes combatants had one arm tied or were bound to metal plates. Sometimes one combatant was given the advantage of a shield, a piece of armor or a helmet that his opponent didn't have.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The armor and weapons used in these combats are known from pieces found in various places, and from paintings and sculpture, but we are not always able to assign them to definite classes of gladiators. The oldest class of gladiators were the Samnites. They had belts, thick sleeves on the right arm (manicae), helmets with visors, greaves on the left leg, short swords, and the long shield (scutum). Under the Empire the name Samnite was gradually, lost, and gladiators with equivalent equipment were called hoplomachi (heavy-armed), when they were matched against the lighter-armed Thracians, and secutores, when they fought with the retiarii. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“The Thracians had much the same equipment as the Samnites; the marks of distinction were the small shield (parma) in place of the scutum and, to make up the difference, greaves on both legs. They carried a curved sword. The Gauls were heavy-armed, but we do not know how they were distinguished from the Samnites. In later times they were called murmillones, perhaps from an ornament on their helmets shaped like a fish (mormyr). The retiarii had no defensive armor except a leather protection for the shoulder. Of course, the same man might appear by turns as Samnite, Thracian, etc., if he was skilled in the use of the various weapons. |+|

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Gladiator Fighting Styles


Provocator versus Murmillio

Professor Kathleen Coleman of Harvard University wrote for the BBC: “The rules were probably specific to different styles of combat. Gladiators were individually armed in various combinations, each combination imposing its own fighting-style. Gladiators who were paired against an opponent in the same style were relatively uncommon. One such type was that of the equites, literally 'horsemen', so called because they entered the arena on horseback, although for the crucial stage of the combat they dismounted to fight on foot. [Source: Professor Kathleen Coleman, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Some of the most popular pairings pitted contrasting advantages and disadvantages against one another. Combat between the murmillo ('fish-fighter', so called from the logo on his helmet) and the thraex or hoplomachus was a standard favourite. The murmillo had a large, oblong shield that covered his body from shoulder to calf; it afforded stout protection, but was very unwieldy. The thraex, on the other hand, carried a small square shield that covered only his torso, and the hoplomachus carried an even smaller round one. |::|

“Instead of calf-length greaves, both these types wore leg-protectors that came well above the knee. So the murmillo and his opponent were comparably protected, but the size and weight of their shields would have called for different fighting techniques, contributing to the interest and suspense of the engagement. |::|

“The most vulnerable of all gladiators was the net-fighter (retiarius), who had only a shoulder-guard (galerus) on his left arm to protect him. Being relatively unencumbered, however, he could move nimbly to inflict a blow from his trident at relatively long range, cast his net over his opponent, and then close in with his short dagger for the face-off. He customarily fought the heavily-armed secutor who, although virtually impregnable, lumbered under the weight of his armour. As the retiarius advanced, leading with his left shoulder and wielding the trident in his right hand, his shoulder-guard prevented his opponent from striking the vulnerable area of his neck and face. |::|

“Not that all gladiators were right-handed. A disconcerting advantage accrued to the left-handed; they were trained to fight right-handers, but their opponents, unaccustomed to being approached from this angle, could be thrown off-balance by a left-handed attack. Left-handedness is hence a quality advertised in graffiti and epitaphs alike. |::|

“Originally the different fighting-styles must have evolved from types of combat that the Romans met among the peoples whom they fought and conquered - thraex literally means an inhabitant of Thrace, the inhospitable land bordered on the north by the Danube and on the east by the notorious Black Sea. Subsequently, as the fighting-styles became stereotyped and formalised, a gladiator might be trained in an 'ethnic' style quite different from his actual place of origin. It also became politically incorrect to persist in naming styles after peoples who had by now been comfortably assimilated into the empire, and granted privileged relationships with Rome. Hence by the Augustan period the term murmillo replaced the old term samnis, designating a people south of Rome who had long since been subjugated by the Romans and absorbed into their culture. |::|

Types of Gladiators

Susanna Shadrake wrote in “The World of the Gladiator”: Provocator: “The essential element of the provocator was his tradition of reflecting a military origin,“The provocator in the later imperial period sometimes wore a crescent shaped short breastplate, rather than a rectangular one, and the open helmet of legionary type became a visored one, as the cheek-pieces were expanded to meet in the middle, then hinged at the sides, and eye-grilles were added to enclose the face. All other items of equipment remained broadly the same. Depictions of Provocators usually show them fighting each other and no other variety of gladiator.” [Source: “The World of the Gladiator” by Susanna Shadrake \=/]

Eques: “Like the provocator, the evidence is that eques only ever fought another eques. A mounted gladiator equipped with lance, sword and the traditional small round shield of the republican cavalry, the parma equestris, he was distinctive for his uncrested round brimmed helmet with its feathers at either side, and for the fact that he did not wear a loincloth unlike the other categories of gladiator. In earlier images of this gladiator, they were shown in scale-armour, though this changed to knee-length tunica in the imperial age. Imperial eques: Depictions of later, imperial equites usually portray them wearing capacious tunics, sometimes brightly coloured and decorated.” \=/


retiarius versus secutor


Crupellarius: “The crupellarius was an extremely heavily armed gladiator whose origin was Gaul. They are first mentioned by the first century A.D. historian, Tacitus. In an account of the revolt of Julius Florus and Julius Sacrovir in AD21, the crupellarii, heavily armoured Gallic gladiators fought against the Roman legionaries. Tacitus gives a colourful account of the outcome: “Completely encased in iron in the national fashion, these crupellarii, as they were called, were too clumsy for offensive purposes but impregnable in defence……the infantry made a frontal attack. The Gallic flanks were driven in. The iron-clad contingent caused some delay as their casing resisted javelins and swords. However the Romans used axes and mattocks and struck at their plating and its wearers like men demolishing a wall. Others knocked down the immobile gladiators with poles or pitchforks, and, lacking the power to rise, they were left for dead.” [Tacitus Annales III. 43] Gladiators with that amount of heavy armour were unknown elsewhere in the Roman empire, but a small figurine found at Versigny, France, fitting the description of a crupellarius, shows a ‘robotic’ looking gladiator clad almost entirely in plate armour from head to foot. The helmet has a perforated bucket appearance.” \=/

Thracians and Samnites

A Samnite was a Roman gladiator who fought with equipment styled on that of Samnite warrior from Samnium (a region of Southern Italy): a short sword (gladius), a rectangular shield (scutum), a greave (ocrea), and a helmet. Warriors armed in such a way were the earliest gladiators in the Roman games. They appeared in Rome shortly after the defeat of Samnium in the 4th century BC, apparently adopted from the victory celebrations of Rome's allies in Campania. By arming low-status gladiators in the manner of a defeated foe, Romans mocked the Samnites and appropriated martial elements of their culture. Samnites were quite popular during the period of Roman Republic. Eventually, other gladiator types joined the roster, such as the murmillo and the Thraex. Under the reign of Emperor Augustus, Samnium became an ally and integral part of the Roman Empire (all Italians had by this point gained Roman citizenship). The Samnite was replaced by similarly armed gladiators, including the hoplomachus and the secutor. [Source: Wikipedia]

Susanna Shadrake wrote in “The World of the Gladiator”: The Thracian: This older category of gladiator was so popular, it did not disappear or mutate into another named type; however, the thraex did acquire new elements as time went on. Fashions changed in the arena, but it is possible to recognise the distinct armature of the thraex, whatever the date. The thraex carried a small square or rectangular shield, of wooden construction, planking or ply with a covering of leather, known as the parma or its diminutive, parmula; from examples depicted, it appears to have been emphatically convex rather than flat, and tended not to have a boss. From this shield, the thraeces got their popular nickname, parmularii, just as their opponents with the curved rectilinear shields were called scutarii. Because the shield was small, about twenty four inches by twenty inches, and offered little protection below groin level, the thraex wore greaves, ocreae, on both legs, which reached up as far as mid-thigh, and is often depicted wearing a form of leg protectors above them, from at least knee to groin, which appear to be padded or quilted fabric wrappings around both legs. On the dominant arm a manica was worn. The primary weapon of this category was the curved bladed sica, depictions of this vary from dagger to sword length. [Source: “The World of the Gladiator” by Susanna Shadrake \=/]

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Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic

“The most instantly recognizable feature of the thraex was his brimmed, crested helmet with its distinctive griffin’s head. In all but a very few depictions of thraeces, the griffin is shown on the crest of the helmet, aiding identification. The significance of this particular mythological creature in a gladiatorial context may stem from its role as a guardian of the dead, or from a reputed association with Nemesis; four griffins were said to draw her chariot. As a symbol, the griffin frequently occurs in Greek and Roman art, and particularly at tombs, as a protector of souls. \=/

“The Hoplomachus is often confused with the thraex, and indeed they have many pieces of equipment in common. The word is from the Greek, meaning simply ‘armed fighter’. They both had the distinctive forward-curving crested visored helmet, though that of the hoplomachus did not appear to have the griffin’s head on its crest. Both had the same high greaves, and padded leg wrappings, fasciae. They even shared the same opponent, the murmillo. But whereas the shield, parmula, of the thraex was small and square or rectangular, that of the hoplomachus was round, though still small in size. The shield was always round, convex, and made of a single sheet of metal, usually copper-alloy (bronze). The thickness of the sheet bronze was an important factor in determining the weight of the shield—too thick, and its defensive qualities would be negated by its unwieldiness. The primary weapon of this category seems to have been the spear, that the other weapon of the hoplomachus, the sword, or perhaps a longer dagger, like the pugio, could be held in the left hand at the same time as the shield, ready for use once the spear was cast or lost. \=/

Murmillo

Susanna Shadrake wrote in “The World of the Gladiator”: “The Murmillo gets his name from the Greek word for a type of fish, as many contemporary sources indicated, it was derived from the image of a fish on their helmets, although the archaeological record has no firm evidence to support that assertion. The fish in question was the mormyros, or in Latin, murmo or murmuros, the striped bream, which was very common in the Mediterranean then as now, and best caught by the age-old method of surf-casting, a fishing technique involving casting the net into the surf to trap the fish coming in from the sandy bottoms where they feed. It is in this technique that perhaps a clue to the origin of the murmillo may be found. [Source: “The World of the Gladiator” by Susanna Shadrake \=/]

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secutor Astyanax vs retiarius Kalendio mosaic
The emperor Vespasian’s rhetorician, Quintilian, records a sing-song chant supposedly addressed to a murmillo by a pursuing retiarius: ‘Non te peto, piscem peto; cur me fugis, Galle?’ (‘It’s not you I’m after, it’s your fish; why are you running away from me, Gaul?’.) If there is any historical authenticity at all in this jeering provocation of the heavy-armoured murmillo, it reveals two things; firstly, a clever and realistic tactic by the retiarius-- to exhaust his opponent by baiting him into excessive movement, and secondly, the net-man’s reference to the fish emblem on the helmet, identifying the other gladiator as murmillo, but calling him ‘Gaul’. Whatever the origin of the term murmillo, it is generally believed that they evolved from the earlier category known as the Gaul, or gallus, about which little is known. \=/

“We do know however that the murmillo wore a manica, an arm guard, on his sword arm. He carried the large rectangular semi-cylindrical wooden shield very similar in appearance and construction to the legionary scutum. On his left leg was a short greave worn over padding. Unlike the thraex or hoplomachus, the murmillo, having the almost complete cover of the very large shield, the scutum, did not need the high, thigh length greaves that they wore—so long as there was sufficient overlap between the bottom of the shield and the top of the greave, his defence was maintained. \=/

“The murmillo was armed with the gladius. The helmet of the murmillo had a broad brim, with a bulging face-plate that included grillwork eye-pieces; its distinctive appearance was partly due to the prominent visor, but also to the angular, sometimes hollow, box crest which was then able to take the insertion of a wooden plume-holder into which a further horsehair (or feathered) crest could be fixed. Single plume-holders for feathers were fixed on either side of the bowl. “In common with most of the categories of gladiator, the torso of the murmillo was, as we have seen, exposed, and he wore the subligaria, the elaborate folded loincloth together with the balteus, the ostentatiously wide belt, often highly decorated. A good example of the lavishness of the ornamentation of belts is shown in the bone figure of a murmillo gladiator from Lexden, Colchester. \=/

Secutor and Retiarius

Susanna Shadrake wrote in “The World of the Gladiator”: Secutor: “The first thing to note about the secutor is the name: meaning ‘chaser, pursuer’, it hints at the reason for this particular gladiator’s existence. Otherwise known as the contraretiarius, the secutor fought the retiarius; it is thought that the category was specially created for that purpose; if that origin is authentic, then there is some justification for thinking that the secutor was an offshoot of the murmillo. [Source: “The World of the Gladiator” by Susanna Shadrake \=/]

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Retiarius stabs Secutor
“In a nutshell, the arms and armour of the secutor were the same as those of the murmillo, and only the form of the helmet differed; it was brimless and had only a low, smooth, featureless crest following the curve of the bowl. The back of the helmet curled into a small neck-guard. Unlike other helmets with metal grilles forming the upper half of the visor, the secutor helmet enclosed the face completely; the visor had only two small eyeholes, each a scant inch (3 cm) in diameter, and although it was hinged to open from the side, it had a catch on the exterior to ‘lock’ the gladiator in it. \=/

Retiarius: “Of all the gladiator categories, the most instantly recognisable is that of the retiarius, the net and trident fighter, named after the net he used, rete. Until halfway through the first century AD, there is no record, whether pictorial, literary, or archaeological, of this type of gladiator. After that point, the traditional pairing of retiarius and secutor starts to appear regularly, quickly becoming one of the most popular and enduring of the arena combats. From this, it is fair to assume that the secutor was invented at the same time as the retiarius, in order to create an exciting and novel combat; nothing like it can be detected at any earlier point in the historical record. The reason for the comparatively sudden appearance of this type of fighter cannot even be guessed at, and the usual sources are silent on the subject. All other categories of gladiator have an originating connection, however weak, with military or martial activities; the retiarius, with his obvious fishing and sea-related equipment, does not follow that pattern. The best we can do is to agree that the Roman appetite for watching new and inventive ways of killing was once again being gratified by this innovatory combat. \=/

“So many depictions of the retiarius show him holding the trident with both hands, with the left arm (as that is usually the leading arm for right-handers) forward and the right arm back at an angle, ready to thrust, that this is possibly the textbook stance for trident fighting. His body armour consisted solely of a high metal shoulder-guard, the galerus, on his left, or leading, shoulder, overlapping and affixed to the top edge of a manica protecting the left arm. Of course, this presupposes that the retiarius was right-handed, and that he would therefore cast his net with his right hand, while gripping his trident and dagger in the left hand. However, in a fragment of relief, one of the very few representations of this gladiator to actually show him with a net (from Chester, Cheshire, and now in Saffron Walden Museum), he is holding it in his left hand. He wore no helmet and is often depicted with a knife as a secondary weapon. “ \=/

Female Gladiators and Comedy Fighters


Murmillo versus a Thacian on the Zietn mosaic

Susanna Shadrake wrote in “The World of the Gladiator”: The paegniarii seem to have been comedy fighters, whose combats did not involve sharp weapons and were played strictly for laughs. They have an ancient pedigree, more related to the Atellian farces from which they seem to have strayed. They would presumably have been deployed in the intervals between more bloodthirsty parts of the programme, at lunchtime perhaps, to hold the crowd’s interest and to provide light relief. A variant on the usual paegniarius was offered by Caligula, who, as Suetonius relates, ‘would stage comic duels between respectable householders who happened to be physically disabled in some way or other’. In depictions of paegniarii, they do not wear armour, and carry non-lethal weapons, like whips and sticks. So the knockabout contests they performed would not have presented much danger to life and limb”. One famous paegniarii lived to the age of 97. [Source: “The World of the Gladiator” by Susanna Shadrake \=/]

Female gladiators were called gladiatrices, with gladiatrix being the singular form. Jamie Frater wrote for Listverse: “While the first documented appearance of gladiatrices appears under the reign of Nero (37 – 68 AD), there are implications in earlier documents that strongly suggest they existed before. Emperor Severus banned female gladiators around AD 200 but records show that this ban was largely ignored.” [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, May 5, 2008]

Shandrake wrote: “The subject of female gladiators has always aroused strong emotions; then as now, they have been seen as aberrations or novelties. There are a few references to women fighters in the literary sources, and some evidence from inscriptions on monuments. From these pieces of evidence, the existence of the gladiatrix as an authentic gladiatorial category rather than a fevered fantasy can be established; however, proof of existence is not the same as a guarantee of frequency of occurrence. \=/

In Satire VI, Juvenal dismissed female gladiators in the A.D. late 1st century and early 2nd century as upper-class snots seeking excitement and fame. Juvenal wrote: “Everyone knows about the purple wraps and the women’s wrestling floors. And everyone’s seen the battered training post, hacked away by her repeated sword thrusts and bashed by her shield. The lady goes through all the drill, absolutely qualified for the trumpet at the festival of Flora. Unless, of course, in her heart she’s planning something more and is practising for the real arena. What sense of modesty can you find in a woman wearing a helmet, who runs away from her own gender?


Thraex (Thracian)

"It’s violence she likes. All the same, she wouldn’t want to be a man—after all, the pleasure we experience is so little in comparison! What a fine sight it would be if there were an auction of your wife’s things—her sword belt and her arm protectors and her crests and the half-size shin guard for her left leg! Or, if it’s a different kind of battle that she fights, you’ll be in bliss as your girl sells off her greaves! Yet these are women who break out into a sweat in the thinnest wrap and whose delicate skin is chafed by the finest wisp of silk. Hark at her roaring while she drives home the thrusts she’s been taught. Hark at the weight of the helmet that has her wilting, at the size and the thickness of the bandages that surround her knees—and then have a laugh when she takes off her armour to pick up the chamber pot.” [Juvenal, Satirae VI 246-264]

Contests with Animals

In the animal against animal competitions staged in the arenas giraffes battled lions and zebras fought elephants in small pits that forced them to go after one another. Many animals were imported from Africa. During the inauguration of the Colosseum in Rome it was estimated that 5,000 wild animal were slaughtered in a single day. [Source: “Greek and Roman Life” by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum||]

Decapitating ostriches with crescent-headed arrows was a favorite trick at gladiator battles. The crowds cheered and roared with laughter as the ostrich continued to run around after its head was cut off. Bears usually defeated bulls. Packs of hounds easily dispatched deers. Lions usually defeated tigers. Not even a rhino could penetrate the hide of an elephant.

Gladiators were especially afraid of the battles against wild animals. Unarmed men battled starved lions. The odds were tipped in favor of the lions, which were more difficult to replace than the gladiators. Sometimes lawbreakers were fed to animals as a deterrent to keep others from breaking the law. There are accounts of women being fed to the animals.

Large Gladiator Events

The government staged gladiator battles three or four times a year. Spectators were often let into the stadiums and coliseums for free to win their support and keep them pacified. The last one was recorded in A.D. 404. There a monk ran into an arena and stopped a gladiator fight in mid battle. The monk was stoned to death but he left an impression on Emperor Honorius who banned the sport.

Crowds 45,000-strong showed up to watch gladiator battles at the Coliseum. An event hosted by Caesar contained 320 separate contests. Some bloody spectacles lasted for months.One bloody circus during Titus's rule lasted for 123 straight days and between 5,000 people and 11,000 were killed. Under Augustus eight large gladiator events were held, each with around 1,250 gladiators.

On large shows at the Colosseum: “Tom Mueller wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Following the executions came the main event: the gladiators. While attendants prepared the ritual whips, fire and rods to punish poor or unwilling fighters, the combatants warmed up until the editor gave the signal for the actual battle to begin. Some gladiators belonged to specific classes, each with its own equipment, fighting style and traditional opponents. For example, the retiarius (or “net man”) with his heavy net, trident and dagger often fought against a secutor (“follower”) wielding a sword and wearing a helmet with a face mask that left only his eyes exposed.

“Contestants adhered to rules enforced by a referee; if a warrior conceded defeat, typically by raising his left index finger, his fate was decided by the editor, with the vociferous help of the crowd, who shouted “Missus!” (“Dismissal!”) at those who had fought bravely, and “Iugula, verbera, ure!” (“Slit his throat, beat, burn!”) at those they thought deserved death. Gladiators who received a literal thumbs down were expected to take a finishing blow from their opponents unflinchingly. The winning gladiator collected prizes that might include a palm of victory, cash and a crown for special valor. Because the emperor himself was often the host of the games, everything had to run smoothly. The Roman historian and biographer Suetonius wrote that if technicians botched a spectacle, the emperor Claudius might send them into the arena: “[He] would for trivial and hasty reasons match others, even of the carpenters, the assistants and men of that class, if any automatic device or pageant, or anything else of the kind, had not worked well." Or, as Beste puts it, “The emperor threw this big party, and wanted the catering to go smoothly. If it did not, the caterers sometimes had to pay the price." [Source: Tom Mueller, Smithsonian magazine, January 2011]



“To spectators, the stadium was a microcosm of the empire, and its games a re-enactment of their foundation myths. The killed wild animals symbolized how Rome had conquered wild, far-flung lands and subjugated Nature itself. The executions dramatized the remorseless force of justice that annihilated enemies of the state. The gladiator embodied the cardinal Roman quality of virtus, or manliness, whether as victor or as vanquished awaiting the deathblow with Stoic dignity. “We know that it was horrible," says Mary Beard, a classical historian at University of Cambridge, “but at the same time people were watching myth re-enacted in a way that was vivid, in your face and terribly affecting. This was theater, cinema, illusion and reality, all bound into one."”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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