Gladiators and Gladiatorial Arenas

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Gladiatorial Games were amongst the most popular spectator sports of the Roman Era. The earliest recorded amphitheatre was built in the 1st century B. C. Ever since then, larger and larger arena complexes were built to present the games to as large an audience as possible. The most notable arena was the Flavian Amphitheatre, now known as the Colosseum. Before amphitheatres had been constructed to hold gladiatorial games, they were usually held in the Circus Maximus and the Forum.

Fig 1: External View of the Colosseum in Rome

Compared with modern arenas, amphitheatres could be compared to Football Stadiums, although they are not oval in shape but rectangular. Only American Baseball pitches are oval, but the sports played in the pitch is nothing similar to gladiatorial games. The only remaining sports that could even be referred to as being similar are the more physical sports such as boxing and martial arts. I think that the oval shape of the arena was so that the audience all had the same view of the centre. The lowest ringside seating (senators) was reserved for people of high social status, senators and other important people.

Approximately 50,000 spectators could be seated in the Colosseum. The Colosseum had an enormous velarium (awning) over the top. This was an attractive feature of the Colosseum, because games would have lasted for a long time, under the glare of the sun. Elaborate spectacles were held comprised of beast fights, gladiator fights and many other forms of Roman entertainment. Magistrates or even the Emperor, as a way of attracting the public and winning their affection for elections and the like, held these games for days. Read about The Emperor’s Club

The opening ceremonies of the Colosseum comprised of spectacles lasting for 100 days in which hundreds of beasts and 2000 gladiators were killed. This is probably because the public were easily persuaded by the games, as it was the centre of Roman Entertainment. Many senators would host games to persuade the public to vote for them, and this often worked. Upcoming gladiatorial events were often advertised in the forum or advertisements, such as the following, were painted on house walls: “At Pompeii – April 8th-12th, 0 pairs of Gladiators will fight in combat: the property of L S VALENS.

Plus a full-scale animal-hunt. A Sun shade will be provided. ” The Gladiators The word ‘gladiator’ means ‘one who wields a sword (gladius)’. It has been found that gladiators developed along with aristocratic funeral games held to honour the dead. In my opinion they would probably have been seen as an ‘entertaining sacrifice’ – entertaining to the spectators, and sacrificial for the gods. Gladiators trained in schools (ludi) and were under the strict supervision of a personal trainer (lanista).

The training methods were not unlike those of Roman soldiers, which meant that highly developed fighting skills were taught, which gave the gladiator a great advantage over others in staying alive in the arena. The most famous of the gladiators was the retiarius (net man). I say he was the most famous as there are many references to this type of gladiator in Roman texts. He wore defensive armour on his left arm, which covered his shoulder. He used a net to overcome his foes, and a trident as a secondary weapon.

This would have made him very light and nimble. The net had weights on its ends, to stop the net from becoming entangled in flight, which also made it easier to subdue an adversary, and the weighted net could be flicked at the opponent, injuring him. The net could be used to trap the opponent, by covering him in a ‘mushroom’ shape, the weights would ensure that the net fell evenly on all sides. The net was attached to a rope, held by the retiarius, which the retiarius used to pull the rope back to him for another attack.

The fact that the retiarius was very light meant that he was able to make quick attacks and dodge many attacks, and this almost certainly would have lead to him being the victor more often than not. The murmillo carried a long hexagonal shield, which was light and manoeuvrable, and a ‘cut-and-thrust’ sword with a 60cm long blade, allowing him to create superficial wounds on his opponents and mortal wounds. Occasionally, he also wielded a hasta (spear).

Fig 2: A murmillo waiting for Battle The secutor was the most common type of gladiator in the arena.

He carried a rectangular legionary shield (scutum) and a sword (gladius). His main opponent would have been the retiarius, because he was also quite nimble with armour that contrasted the retiarius, providing a challenge for him. The secutor would most probably have resembled a Roman legionary in his attacking stance, and his clothing and weaponry would have been reminiscent of Roman soldiers. This may have been a reason why he was opposed by the retiarius, who often won, as the audience may liked to have watched a ‘mock’ Roman soldier be defeated, which made the retiarius very popular.

The heavily armed gladiators were at a disadvantage to the retiarii due to the weight of their equipment, which would have been very hot to wear in the Italian climate and would probably have hampered movement. The full-face helmets would have severely limited the field of vision in an open skirmish.

Fig 3: A mosaic of a battle between a retiarius (left), and a secutor (right) Roman Views of Gladiators Gladiators were perceived as idols to the people, because of their ‘courageous’ nature.

Even though they were considered very low in social status, along with actors and charioteers, they were seen as exemplary figures for boys, and were adored by girls. An inscription from Leicester says: “Verecunda (Modesty), actress, loves Lucius, gladiator. ” Another says: “Celadus, the Thracian gladiator, is the girl’s heart-throb” Women might have been beguiled by their ‘hero’ complex, because of their bravery and fearlessness even in the face of death. Seneca records the view of the Roman crowd in his Letters: “This was pure murder. All day long, the crowd cries, “Kill him!

Why does he run onto the sword so timidly? Why is he unwilling to die? ” Here the brutality of the crowd is shown, but the crowd feels safe, cushioned by the wall the separates them from the gladiators. Modern comparisons could be made to sports stars, such as football players, who are highly paid and have a large fan base. They are recognized by millions of people, much like the gladiators of Roman times, who would have been known by name by most of the public. The Games The show began with a parade of the gladiators that would fight in the forthcoming battles, lead by trumpeters.

They carried their helmets and saluted the sponsor of the event. Later in the morning, beast fights and venationes were staged, to warm up the audience. Following these, the main events of single bouts between gladiators began, closely refereed by a lanista, who carried a long rod. Usually, different types of gladiators were paired off against each other, to add some challenge and excitement.

Figure 4: A plaque showing a large-scale slaughter of rare animals, by bestiarii, in a game hosted by Emperor Commodus. The fight continued until one of the gladiators was wounded badly enough so that he was unable to fight. Read about The Emperor’s Club

The sponsor of the games appealed to the crowd to see whether he should spare the life of the fallen gladiator, shown by an upturned thumb, or whether he should let him die, shown by a thumb pointing towards the sponsor’s body. Then a fight official, dressed robes similar to Charon, the Etruscan demon of the Underworld, would club the defeated to death with a brand. Using hooks, dug into the dead man’s chest, the body was dragged out through the ‘Gate of Execution’.

Graffiti showed the recorded results from certain gladiator matches: Pugnax, a Thracian of the Neronian ludus, with three fights to his credit, victorious; Murrans, a myrmillo of the Neronian ludus, with three fights, killed. ” Riots The games often caused the audience to become restless with pent-up rage, and this manifested itself in occasional violent riots. A scene that took place in AD 59 tells of an incident when the crowd became too rowdy, and people from Pompeii started fighting with visiting Nucerians, killing and wounding many of them. The Pompeian amphitheatre was closed down for 10 years following an appeal from the Nucerians to the Emperor.

Tacitus describes how the violence quickly flared: “Something happened (nobody knows what) during the show which caused the two groups to start insulting each other. Then things got rapidly worse, when stones were thrown and before long, swords and daggers were drawn. The amphitheatre and streets were littered with dead and wounded. ” Today, football riots can start equally quickly and on occasion fans have been stabbed in disturbances.

Figure 5: A Painting of the Riot in the Amphitheatre in AD 59 in Pompeii made by an eyewitness. Several people were killed.

It is now kept in the Naples Museum. Conclusion In conclusion, the evidence suggests that the Romans were morally corrupt. The inhumanity of man against man, fighting to the death, which was loved by the Romans, who watched from a safe distance in the seating area, shows the bloodlust that they had, and their moral tolerance of violence. The butchery of animals by the fighters seems like the final degenerate act for many people today. The views since the Roman times have radically changed to oppose bloody violence in public sports now days.

Not all views in Roman times were the same towards animal fighting. Cicero, a lone voice, comments on the killing of elephants whose expressions were almost human: “What civilised man can enjoy the sight of a noble beast being pierced by a spear? On the last day came the butchery of the elephants. I couldn’t say I enjoyed it. They seemed to be almost human beings. ” Ad Familiares 7. 1 Cicero, almost hardened to the killing of human beings (“we who watch men die have seen nothing new”) was finally moved by the perverse slaughter of helpless creatures in the arena.

There is no direct equivalent to gladiatorial games now, because of changing moral views. We no longer lust for visual violence in sports because it is no longer accepted, and because other entertainment features make up for this ‘live’ life loss. For example, television and movies show gratuitous violence that mirrors gladiatorial violence, but it is not real, it is just an effect. There are still competitor sports that are based on physical injuring of the opponent, for example boxing/kick-boxing/wrestling, but they do not aim for the death of either competitor.

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