Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 02, Part 2 of 9

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Let's suppose that Flamma was a huge, heavy-set bull of a man. Most gladiators were, as their statues and the portraits of them cut on monuments show.

He may well have been a private soldier, condemned to the arena for insubordination. We know of one such case and we'll suppose the man involved was Flamma.

Flamma, then, had been given a bawling-out by a young officer, fresh out of military school and he told the officer off. The officer struck him with a cane and Flamma knocked him down. For this offense, he was sentenced to the arena.

Flamma hoped to be matched against some other ex-soldier and fight with regulation sword and shield, which he knew how to handle, but the penalty for striking an officer was death and the high brass was determined that Flamma wouldn't leave the arena alive.

So he was put into one of the new "novelty acts" which were springing up. The Roman mob bad tired of the standard combats so the promoters invented fights between a Retiarius, who wore no armor but carried a net and a trident (a three-pronged spear), and a Secutor, who was equipped as a Gaul; that is, he had a fish insignia on his helmet as did the Gauls, and carried a sword and shield.

He wore a breastplate and his right arm and left leg were protected by armor. His left arm and right leg were bare to give him greater freedom of movement. Except for its fish symbol, the helmet was very plain so as not to offer a spot where the Retiarius' net or trident could catch.

Flamma was to play the part of the Secutor or "chaser." It was up to him to catch the nimble Retiarius or "netman."

The edges of the Retiarius' net were fringed with small lead weights, so when the net was thrown it would open to form a circle. Similar nets are still used by fishermen in various parts of the world today.

If he could succeed in catching the Secutor in his net, the Retiarius could pull the heavily armed man off balance and dispatch him with the trident.

The Retiarius always had the advantage in these fights and, even with well-trained gladiators, the betting was generally five to three on the netman. In this case, Flamma knew nothing about the business, while the Retiarius was an expert. The odds on the Retiarius were fifty to one with no takers.

When Flamma appeared in the arena in his Gaul's outfit, he was greeted by boos and catcalls from the mob. They knew he was a mutineer and also he was nothing but a palooka who couldn't be expected to put up an interesting fight.

Flamma was a fairly simple fellow and his spirit had been broken by the court-martial and the sentence. When he saw that everyone was against him, he dropped his sword and sat down to let the Retiarius finish him off.

The crowd, feeling that they had been swindled, burst into shouts of "Chicken!" "What's he afraid of?" "Why does he die so sulkily?" "Whip him!" "Burn him!"—for a gladiator who refused to fight was whipped and prodded with hot irons until he changed his mind.

But FIamma's whole regiment had turned out for the fight and they stood up in the stands, shouting for him. When Flamma heard their familiar voices, he picked up his sword and cried, "All right, boys, I'll do my best for the honor of the regiment!"

The Retiarius had been parading the arena, taking bows and making dates with the pretty girls for after the fight. Now he settled his net and came for the soldier.

As he approached Flamma, the Retiarius sang the traditional chant of his profession: "I seek not you, I seek a fish. Why do you flee from me, 0h Gaul?" meanwhile making tentative casts with his net. Then he pretended to slip and fall, hoping to get Flamma off balance.

When that didn't work, he danced around the heavily armored man, calling him a coward and daring him to come on, but Flamma had too much sense to wear himself out chasing the agile Retiarius around the arena. He stood his ground and made the other man come to him.

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

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