Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 06, Part 2 of 8

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The amphitheater is so high that it makes your head swim to look down from die upper tiers. The wooden planks of the arena are covered with freshly laid, pure white sand especially imported from Egypt for the purpose and sparkles in the subdued light, for semi-precious stones have been sprinkled on it.

Nero actually had the arena floor covered with gold dust. This, however, was simply an extravagant gesture.

Sand is the best material as it absorbs blood easily—in fact, the word arena means "sand".

Around a marble altar in the middle of the arena, priests are conducting a sacrifice. The altar is to Jupiter Latista to whom, in the old days, human sacrifices were offered.

The priests are dressed in white robes with red scarves. They lead out a white bull and two rams wearing gold headdresses.

A fire is already burning on the altar and other priests are sprinkling wine and incense on it. After the animals have been sacrificed with much ceremony, the priests examine their entrails to see if the gods wish the games to proceed.

With the stadium packed to the bursting point, the gods had better wish it and the pattern of entrails shows that they do.

The priests file out, swinging incense burners and chanting hymns, while slaves remove the altar and the carcasses of the animals.

There is a distinguished audience in the podium and the first thirty-six rows of seats are reserved for the upper classes.

The emperor has not yet arrived, but visiting rulers with their courts are already seated. Blond, bearded Gauls sit staring at the wonders around them.

There are Sygambrians with their long tresses tied in knots and Ethiopians with their woolly hair. There are Persians in red, blue, and cloth-of-gold gowns, Britons in sleeved coats and loose trousers, Scythians from the Russian steppes, and Greeks in white robes.

All these peoples are subject to Rome and the crowd knows it. They make rude comments about the barbarians and even ruder about the lords and ladies in the lower tiers.

Many of the patricians have led scandalous private lives which are well known to the mob. They shout, "Hey, Italicus, are you still your mother's bed-companion?" "Ah, there, Antonia, if the gladiators survive this fight, they'll have a harder time satisfying you." "Greeting, Gaius, have you managed to make your boy friend in the Praetorian Guard a tribune as yet?"

The patricians pay no attention to the cries although the taunts sting them. It is beneath their dignity to retort.

From outside the stadium comes the sound of music and a cheer goes up. The procession is coming. Led by slaves in golden armor blowing long trumpets, it files through the Gate of Life.

The editor giving the games is riding in a chariot drawn by zebras (the Romans call them "tiger horses") in magnificent harness. He is a sickly young man with a weak face, the son of an influential old patrician woman who is determined to have the inane youngster elected to public office.

He looks exhausted already from the long ride through the streets while standing erect in the chariot. The weight of the heavy golden wreath studded with precious stones on his head makes him reel, and a slave has to ride in the chariot with him to hold the wreath in place.

The young man is wearing a purple toga covered with gold braid and trying to manage the reins of his chariot and hold up his ivory scepter with its golden eagle at the same time.

Luckily for him the reins are simply for show; the zebras are being led by experienced trainers. The crowd gives him an ironic cheer. If the games come up to expectations, they'll give him a real cheer and elect him to office.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 3 is next.

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