Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 02, Part 3 of 9

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The Retiarius circled him, holding the net by one end and slinging it at Flamma's feet, hoping to have the long net wrap around the Secutor's legs and trip him.

Then he suddenly changed his technique and threw the net in a cast. Flamma turned it with his shield but one of the lead pellets hit him in the left eye, partially blinding him.

The Retiarius saw his chance and, rushing in, knocked the sword out of the soldier's hand with his trident. Both men ran for the sword but the light Retiarius got there first and threw the sword into the stands. Then he turned to finish off the unarmed man.

It seemed as though Flamma was through but the Retiarius made the mistake of first showing off with some fancy net casts. Flamma managed to give the trident a kick that sent it flying across the arena.

The terrified Retiarius turned to run after it, but before he could get away, Flamma grabbed him by the tunic. As the Retiarius went down on his knees, Flamma gave him a rabbit punch with the edge of the shield and killed him.

The victory, although totally unexpected, didn't seem to help Flamma. The emperor simply signaled for another Retiarius to come out and finish him off.

But here the condemned man got a break. Flamma's nickname around the barracks was "loach," as loaches have whiskers like a catfish and Flamma had a bristling beard. The soldiers in the stands bad been yelling: "Go it, loach!" and the crowd had taken up the yell after Flamma showed that he was really willing to fight.

Now a "loach" had killed a "fisherman" and the crowd thought this was such a joke that they demanded that Flamma be spared. Very few emperors dared to ignore the will of the people in the circus. Often notorious bandits and murderers were saved in this way, to the indignation of the judges. So Flamma was sent to gladiatorial school to learn his new trade.

There were four big gladiatorial schools in Italy at this time (about 10 A.D. under Augustus Caesar). They were known as "The Great School", "The Gallic", "The Dacian", and the "School for Bestiarii" (animal fighters).

Later, there were dozens of schools maintained by rich enthusiasts of the fights just as today rich men have racing stables. Flamma was sent to "The Great School" in Rome.

No vestige of this school remains but the gladiatorial school in Pompeii is still in good condition, so I'll describe that, although The Great School must have been much bigger.

The school was a rectangular building some 170 feet by 140 feet with an open court in the middle where the men could practice. Around the court ran a roofed passage with small rooms opening into it rather like a cloister.

The rooms were only ten by twelve feet, but each man had his cell where he could be alone. There was a kitchen, a hospital, an armory, quarters for the trainers and the guards, and even a graveyard.

There was also a prison with leg irons, shackles, branding irons, and whips. Opening into the prison was a room used for solitary confinement with a ceiling so low a man couldn't sit up and so short he couldn't stretch out his legs.

The remains of four gladiators were found in the Pompeian prison—the men had been unable to escape when the city was covered with the lava flow from Mount Vesuvius.

The school was owned by a big promoter but was actually run by an old ex-gladiator who knew all the tricks. These trainers were called lanistae.

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

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