Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 06, Part 5 of 8

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

At a signal from the young editor, the trumpet sounded, and while the band played wildly, the venatores rushed into the pass.

The next instant the arena was full of screams, brays, howls, bellows, curses, and the noise of the conflict.

The crowd loved this spectacle. Being high up and their view of the arena largely obscured by the central ring of masts supporting the awning, they had difficulty watching the individual gladiatorial contests which the nobility in the front row especially enjoyed; but in these venationes, there was so much going on that no matter where you sat you could see plenty of action.

Everyone was on his feet, shouting encouragement to the venatores, although the tumult in the arena was so great that no one could hear his own voice.

Carpopborus worked fast. Leaping from antelope to antelope, he grabbed the wretched creature by the horns, gave the neck one expert twist, and dropping the dying animal, seized another.

He killed five antelopes in rapid succession . . . then fifteen . . . then twenty. He killed at least one leopard, so Martial says.

As each animal dropped, there was a bellow of applause from the stands—and not only from the upper tiers, because the patricians were also watching Carpophorus.

The shouts came in a regular rhythm like surf as Carpophorus killed animal after animal. Such a feat of strength had seldom been seen in the arena.

Carpophorus, according to Martial, was definitely the star of the show.

By now the crowd of animals was thinning out and it was hard for Carpophorus to catch his victims. He adopted a new technique.

Putting his hands behind him, he went after the exhausted foxes and frightened jackals that were crouching against the barricade, too terrified to move. Using his teeth alone, Carpophorus caught them by the back of the neck, gave one quick shake, and killed them.

Sometimes the animals would turn on the man and sink their teeth into the venator's chin or cheeks. Carpophorus refused to use his hands to pull them off. He shook the animal loose or dislodged it by rolling on the sand and then returned to the attack.

The crowd was hysterical by now, Domitian sat with his mouth open and his eyes bulging with delight and even the young editor, sweating and miserable in his heavy toga, took an interest in the proceedings.

The first lot of animals was almost gone and slaves with shovels, baskets, and rakes were hurriedly cleaning the arena.

The gratings in front of the chutes began to creak and then slide upwards. Carpophorus shouted a warning to his fellow venatores and took up a position with his back to the inner barrier.

New animals were being driven into the arena and the air was heavy with the odor of burning straw and the stench of singed hair as the slaves used hot irons to force some reluctant beast to move.

These new arrivals were not deer, foxes or antelope. They were lions, a few tigers, many leopards, wild dogs and wolves. With out daring to take his eyes from the arena, Carpophorus raised his hands toward the top of the barrier. Instantly his personal slaves handed him a shield and short sword. The slaves of the other venatores also handed their masters new weapons: capes like those used by a modern bullfighter, pikes, javelins, and daggers.

It was not to be expected that these animals would attack the men of their own free will. Freshly captured, bewildered, cramped from long confinement, their only idea was to escape. But there was nowhere for them to go.

When they tried to seek refuge along the barrier, slaves with red-hot irons drove them away. Carpophorus selected a young male lion near him and moved forward, covering himself with his shield.

The lion paid no attention to the advancing man. He was into a snarling argument with another lion. Carpophorus reached his side and then, shortening his sword, struck for the shoulder.

At the last instant the lion leaped back to avoid a blow from the other lion and the sword thrust went through the loose skin on his back.

The wounded animal spun around and struck at Carpophorus with his forepaws—left, right, like a boxer. Carpophorus took the blows on his shield and the lion backed away, snarling and looking around for some way to escape.

Carpophorus came on. The lion had his back next to the barricade now and Carpophorus shouted to the slaves to let him stay there. If the lion was burned suddenly he would make a wild dash across the arena and be impossible to stop.

The lion was no longer snarling and was watching the venator intently. Carpophorus shouted and waved his shield, trying to provoke a charge but the lion would not move. Carpophorus moved back and forth before the animal but the lion still refused to charge.

The venator did not dare to engage the animal against the barrier as he would have no room to dodge. At last, exasperated, he shouted to the slaves, "All right, give him the fire!"

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 6 is next.

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