Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 13, Part 3 of 4

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Fulcinius must have done all these things and many more, too. He must have caught elephants by driving them into box canyons and, as he probably didn't have enough trained elephants to take them out, starved them into submission by giving them only enough barley water to keep them alive.

He also hired Numidians to crawl among a herd and hamstring the mothers with their spears so the young could be captured.

He caught chimpanzees and baboons by putting out bowls of wine and then picking up the animals after they were drunk.

To catch pythons, he prepared a long bag made of rushes which he put near the snake. The snake was then driven toward the bag and, thinking it a hole, would crawl inside. Then the cords closing the mouth of the bag were closed.

When a "bear" (whatever the African bear was) was found in its den, nets were hung on the outside and the bear driven out with trumpet peals and yells.

Nooses were set in game trails and animals driven into them. Along the sides of the trails, colored streamers were hung from lines so that the animals, alarmed by the strange objects, would stay on the trails and not bolt off into the bush.

Organizing these hunts must have been a tremendous undertaking. The catchers could demand that legionnaires stationed in their area help with the drives and the commanders had to cooperate, because getting the animals was crucial to the politicians in Rome.

The whole civilian population could be drafted for this work and, as some of Cicero's angry letters show, this often crippled the local economy for many of these drives lasted for weeks.

As with all animal collectors, Fulcinius' main trouble was not in getting the animals but in shipping them. The animals had to be taken by ox cart to the coast or floated down rivers on rafts. This journey could take months.

Fulcinius established way stations along the route where the animals could be released in large enclosures for periods of rest and exercise.

According to Roman law, the villagers were forced to provide food for the animals, but collecting the food often proved so difficult that Fulcinius had to appeal to the local Roman garrison for help.

If there was no garrison, he used his native mercenary spearmen who traveled with the animal caravans.

These men were merciless. On one occasion they dug up corpses in a local cemetery and fed them to the animals.

Fulcinius got frequent complaints from Rome but probably his invariable answer was: "Do you want the animals or don't you?"

However, the situation got so bad that an imperial order had to be passed prohibiting animals being kept more than a week in any one resting station.

Even after the animals had been loaded on ships, the voyage to Ostia, the port of Rome, was a long and dangerous affair. "The sailors were afraid of their own cargo," wrote Claudian.

The trip up the Red Sea was particularly treacherous because of the reefs and shoals. To make matters worse, the voyage had to be made at night and the ships tied up during the day to spare the animals from the heat of the sun.

As far as Fulcinius was concerned, a human life meant nothing compared to the successful shipment of the animals. Once when he was unloading cages on the docks at Ostia, a famous sculptor named Pasiteles set up his table on the dock and began making models of the lions.

Fuldnius told the man to get out but Pasiteles refused. A few minutes later, a cage containing a leopard was smashed during the unloading and the animal nearly killed the sculptor.

Fulcinius' only reaction was a blind fury at the sculptor for getting in the way. (This incident did happen although I don't know the name of the animal collector.)

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

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents