Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 06, Part 3 of 8

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

A group of musicians march in front of the chariot playing for all they're worth on horns, fifes, and flutes.

There is also the usual group of clients surrounding the chariot in their white robes; as well as, slaves holding up placards saying for which office the young noble is running.

After the chariot, comes a long series of floats drawn by horses, mules, and elephants. On each float is a statue of a god or goddess with priests burning incense on an altar before the image, or a group of young men and girls posing to represent some mythological tableau.

This procession circles the arena to cheers, catcalls, and cries of: "Get down from that chariot and let your mother ride!" and "Oh, I think you're cute, sugar plum. Meet me under the stands and you'll get my vote."

These long, formal parades were regarded as a waste of time by the mob and there was even a proverbial expression: "Tiresome as a circensian procession." But, like TV commercials, they were necessary; the editor giving the show wanted people to remember for whom to vote.

The insipid young man descends from the chariot, staggering with weariness, and is half led by his slaves to his place in the podium where his mother is already seated. He collapses with a sigh.

Slaves remove his gold wreath and he tries to wipe the sweat off his face with the sleeve of his gown. His mother stops him with an angry gesture.

A trumpet sounds, announcing the entrance of the Emperor Domitian. He enters his box from the rear. The royal box was raised above the podium on a dais. Four columns, each surmounted by a statue of victory, supported a canopy over it.

Domitian was a great enthusiast for the games as long as they were cruel enough. (When there were no games, he used to amuse himself sticking pins in flies).

He is a pot-bellied man with large, watery eyes, and completely bald. His private life was such that he was popularly referred to as "the old goat."

During the games, he always kept a little boy with an extremely small head by his side and discussed the various events with him, apparently thinking that the deformed child possessed some supernatural ability to pick the winning chariot or best gladiator.

Domitian maintained his own school of gladiators and was finally murdered by one of them, hired for that purpose by a group of ambitious politicians.

Domitian doesn't get much of a hand. He isn't giving the games and is unpopular anyway, being regarded as something of a tightwad.

The Vestal Virgins enter in their white robes and seat themselves in their box next to the emperor's.

Then to another trumpet blast comes the parade of the combatants; the charioteers in their chariots, the gladiators marching in rank after rank, elephants carrying howdahs full of armed men, Nubians on horseback, cavalry from the royal household troop, trained lions led on chains by bestiarii, ostriches drawing light chariots, snake charmers with pythons wrapped around them, male and female bullfighters naked except for loincloths, men in elaborate costumes riding giraffes, stags, antelopes and even a tame rhinoceros, cages drawn by horses containing some of the rarer animals recently brought to Rome, and a group of pygmies from the Ituri Forest in Central Africa.

There are also Parthian bowmen, Syrian slingers, red-headed Irishmen carrying shillelahs, Assyrians with flails, Egyptians with boomerang hatchets, African stone-throwers, Esscdarii who use lassos from chariots, Germans with javelins, Sikhs from India with sharp throwing rings, Laplanders with spears and spear-throwers, and inhabitants of the Andaman Islands with harpoons.

Little boys dressed as cupids with toy bows and arrows run about shooting light shafts into the crowd, each with a lottery ticket attached to the head.

Groups of pretty young girls, nude except for garlands of flowers around their waists, scatter rose petals under the feet of the procession, and dwarfs dressed in extravagant costumes, many with huge, brightly colored phalli strapped to their loins, run about, tumbling, doing handstands, and performing simple acrobatic tricks.

A detachment of the Praetorian Guard, their gold armor gleaming in the subdued light, brings up the rear of the procession.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 4 is next.

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