Thursday, May 17, 2012

The way of the Gladiator

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The Way of the Gladiator

By Daniel P. Mannix

In a vast marble Colosseum, much larger than Yankee Stadium the people of Rome, flocked to see gladiators mangled beneath the hoofs and wheels of horses and chariots, slaughtered by half-starved wild beasts and butchered by well-armed and armored professionals. “This is the extraordinary and true account of the Roman Games and the gladiators who fought and died in the cruelest, costliest spectacles of all time,” states the author, Daniel Mannix. I will cover and summarize as much as possible in this report. This book and many others are filled with amazing and an astonishing number of facts, which must be read and studied; to fully understand and comprehend these vast and almost unbelievable games that flourished for almost five centuries.

These gladiatorial games were held in the Colosseum, one of Rome’s most famous buildings. Initiated by Vespaisian, the official opening ceremonies were conducted by the emperor Titus in 80 AD. In its prime the huge theater consisted of four floors. The first three had arched entrances, while the fourth floor utilized rectangular doorways. The floors each measured between thirty and forty feet in height. The total height of the construction was approximately 144 feet. The arena measured 7 by 15 feet and consisted of wood and sand. At a later time, the Colosseum was rebuilt of mostly cement and stone due to several occasions where the structure nearly burned down. The Colosseum had a total spectator capacity of 45,000-55,000 people. This magnificent structure took eight years to complete.

The first gladiators were part of a sacrificial rite adopted from the Etruscans. Introduced to Rome in 64 BC, the two sons of Junius Brutus honored their father at his funeral by matching three pairs of gladiators. The show was such a success with the spectators that everything grew from there.

The word gladiator comes from the Latin for swordsman, from gladius, sword. Gladiators were generally condemned criminals, prisoners of war, or slaves bought for this purpose. Some free men entered the profession in hopes of popularity and patronage by wealthy citizens. The free men were often social outcasts, freed slaves, or discharged soldiers. They volunteered to be gladiators and by the end of the Republic made up half the number of combatants. Gladiators were trained in combat at special, imperial schools located all over the Roman Empire to ensure a good fight.

Many of the battles staged at the Colosseum involved not just gladiators and humans, but also countless different types of animals. The popularity of these spectacles led to the death of tens of thousands of animals. Entire species were no longer found in their native habitat. In the afternoon you would see gladiators paired; evenly matched, but not identical so there would be no competitive advantage. Then you might see retiari who were lightly armed, but must fight against secutores or myrmidon’s who were protected by heavy armor that reduced their mobility. Depending on the Emperor of the day you would see dwarfs fighting women, amazons, senators, and even emperors. A vast number of different matched fights went on all throughout the day, these are just several. Probably almost anything you could come up with the Romans thought of and showcased it in the arena.

Most of these gladiatorial battles were fought to the death unless the life of the losing gladiator was spared by the vote of the audience. Thumbs up meant death for the loser, while thumbs down granted a reprieve. Unfortunately, for the vanquished combatants, this amnesty rarely came.

There were several different types of gladiators who fought amongst each other in the arena. Several were the Samnite, the Thracian, the Secutor, and the Retiarius. The gladiator used numerous weapons a war chain, net, nunchaku, and lasso. They typically had light armor, shields, and helmets.

The Samnite took his name from those people defeated by Rome’s Capuan allies in 1 BC. He used a large oblong shield (scutum) and wore a metal or boiled leather greave (ocrea) on his left leg. He also wore a visored helmet (galea) with a large crest and plume and was armed with a sword.

The Thracian wore ocrea on both legs and carried a small square shield. On his head he wore either a full visored helmet or an open faced helmet with a wide brim. His weapon was a curved scimitar (sica) or the Thracian sword which had an angled bend in the blade.

Next, the Secutor, who took his name from the term for “pursuer” and was an offspring of the Samnite. He fought virtually naked and carried a large oval or rectangular shield as well as wearing an ocrea on his left leg. Usually he was bald and wore a round or high-visored helmet. Often his arms were protected by leather bands at the elbow and wrists (manicae). He was traditionally armed with a sword although occasionally he fought with a dagger.

Finally, the Retiarius, a lightly armored gladiator that symbolized the fisherman. The Retiarius wore only a loin cloth and a metal shoulder-piece (galerus) on the left arm. He fought bare headed and carried a net (iaculum) with which he attempted to capture his opponents. His weapons included a dagger and a trident or tunny-fish harpoon (fascina). A variation of the Retiarius called a Laquearii substituted a lasso for the net and were of late Imperial origin. Both the Retiarius and the Laquearii were regarded as inferiors due to their lack of armor.

As Rome fell; the games in the arena began to fall with it. During the decline of Rome, more and more foreigners began to establish. Gradually these newcomers did not have the enthusiasm and support for the games and their brutality. The Colosseum still remains, in part. The arena, the games, and Rome, a legend of astonishment and wonder was created over the centuries. The way of the Gladiator….. “A place without justice or mercy, where only the smart or ruthless could survive.”- Michael Stephenson.

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