Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 06, Part 4 of 8

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

After circling the arena to wild applause, the procession formed before the royal podium and saluted Domitian.

They then saluted the young editor who was caught off guard and had to be angrily prompted by his mother before he remembered to rise and make the proper response.

Most of the performers left the arena but the gladiators lingered, swaggering around before the crowd and shouting to pretty girls, "Here's your chance, sweetheart, embrace me before death does."!

Some of the gladiators who were proud of their figures were completely naked except for garlands of flowers on their heads; their bodies shining with olive oil.

Instead of weapons, they carried palm branches. These men flexed their muscles, hooking the fingers of one hand under the fingers of the other and straining to make their biceps stand out or, raising both arms at, their sides, threw back their shoulders.

The crowd shouted and screamed with delight, while most of the women were looking down coyly, but managing to steal a glance out of the corners of their eyes at the magnificent figures before them.

Shouts of: "My money's on you, Primus!" "Give 'em the cold steel, Pamphilus!" went up, and there was a desperate last-minute checking of names, odds, and weapons on the programs.

When the arena was cleared, there came a moment's hush. Then the trumpet sounded and immediately hundreds of wild animals began to pour into the arena. This was the usual opening for the games—a venation or wild beast hunt.

The numbers and variety of animals in one of these hunts were astonishing. Martial says that there were nine thousand animals killed in these six-day games.

There were deer, wild boars, bears, bulls, antelopes, ibex, jackals, ostriches, cranes, wild horses, hyenas, leopards, and a herd of domestic cattle put in for "padding."

The whole arena seemed covered with a patchwork quilt of various colored skins. Fights were constantly breaking out but the arena was so crowded and the animals so terrified that by mere weight of numbers the contestants were jostled apart and swept away from each other as the frantic creatures tried to find some way to escape.

The delighted crowd, shouting and counting eagerly on their fingers how many animals there were (for each show had to be bigger than the last), never gave a thought to the enormous labor and astonishing efficiency that made it possible to deliver all these different animals into the arena at the same instant.

When the crowd's interest in the swarming, fighting animals began to lag, foxes with firebrands tied to their tails were set loose. The foxes darted through the packed mass, causing terror wherever they went, while the mob screamed with delight.

Domitian, his sluggish nature titivated by the sight of the struggling, helpless beasts, shouted for his bow. The fat emperor was an excellent shot and used to practice his marksmanship on captive animals on his Alban estate.

He was handed a powerful sinew-backed bow from Persia, so flexible that when the bow was unstrung, the curve of the bow¦ was the reverse of that taken up when the string was attached.

A slave strung the bow while the pudgy ruler danced with impatience and another slave held out a quiver filled with arrows feathered with peacock trains.

Domitian began to shoot into the packed animals while the crowd cheered him on. Often he was able to send one arrow through an animal and hit another on the other side.

To exhibit his skill, he would shoot two arrows into an animal's head so they resembled horns. After shooting over a hundred of the animals, he ordered a slave to jump into the arena, run to the middle, and hold out his hand with the fingers spread.

Domitian sent arrows between the fingers while the crowd yelled with delighted surprise and the patricians politely applauded.

As the arena was still full of frantic animals, the slave had quite a job avoiding their wild rushes, and between watching out for the animals and keeping an eye on Domitian, he had a lively time.

The crowd thought the slave's antics were excruciatingly funny and laughed until they cried. Suddenly a bull charged the man from behind and tossed him. The slave came down; between two bears who instantly seized him and began pulling their victim apart.

His cries sounded above the lowing of the cattle and the screams of the wild horses who were kicking on the sand with arrows sticking in them.

Domitian waited with an arrow on the string and a broad smile on his face until the slave was dead. Then with two expert shots, he killed both of the bears and sat down wiping his plump face to thunderous applause.

Now it was the turn of the professional venatores, among them Carpophorus. These men entered the arena from the same openings that had emitted the animals.

Each group of venators could be instantly identified by the crowd from their equipment. Some men carried only a veil and a long dagger for the bears. Others were in full armor, like gladiators, to receive the charge of the bulls.

Others carried spears with a round metal disk halfway up the shaft. These would fight the wild boars, the disk existing to prevent the boar forcing himself along the spear and killing the man.

Other men were on horseback with spears to dispatch the deer. Carpophorus wore only a loose smock that left his powerful arms bare and a few amulets hung around his neck for good luck.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 5 is next.

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