Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 02, Part 5 of 9

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Perhaps what sold Flamma on being a gladiator more than anything else was the beautiful armor he was allowed to wear in the arena.

As the son of poor Italian peasants, he had never owned anything really impressive in his life and was a pretty simple fellow anyhow. (Right up to the first World War, soldiers insisted on wearing full dress into battle and many a man frankly joined the army so he could wear a busby or a nice red uniform with brass buttons. Even today a general has seriously claimed that the reason so many men join the Marines is that the Marine Corps still retains its ornate full dress, and maybe the general is right).

To a man like Flamma, fine armor meant a lot. His helmets had ostrich or peacock feathers. His breastplates were inlaid with gold and silver. His sword hilt was set with precious stones. His bronze shield was covered with brass studs and painted a brilliant red on the inside.

Designs showing gladiatorial fights were engraved on his brassards and cuisses by famous artists. Slaves kept everything polished up for him so that all Flamma had to do was wear the stuff—very different from the army where he'd had to shine his equipment himself.

The trainer watched Flamma's style carefully and decided to use him as a Postulati, fighting in full armor with a sword and lead mace against all comers, who were allowed to use any weapon that they wished.

Flamma's first public appearance as a professional gladiator was at ludi privati (privately sponsored games) given by a politician. For weeks before the event, professional sign writers had toured the city writing ads for the games everywhere they could find space—even on tombstones. There are still old tombstones in Roman burying grounds with the inscription:

"Post no bills" engraved on them. Here's a typical ad written on a wall with red paint:

"Weather permitting, 30 pairs of gladiators, furnished by A. Clodius Flaccus, together with substitutes in case any get killed too quickly, will fight May 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the Circus Maximus. The fights will be followed by a big wild beast hunt. The famous gladiator Paris will fight. Hurrah for Paris! Hurrah for the generous Flaccus, who is running for duumvirate!"

Below is a personal plug for the sign writer reading:

"Marcus wrote this sign by the light of the moon. If you hire Marcus, he'll work day and night to do a good job."

It was a fine day and a big crowd turned out that filled the circus. Owners of neighboring houses that overlooked the amphitheater rented out their roof tops to people who couldn't get seats. (Later the Circus Maximus got so high that this source of revenue was lost).

Around the base of the stands the moat of running water kept the arena cool. The crowd had programs to guide them in betting. The programs were written in a sort of sporting code and one of the later ones looked like this:

T. v. Pugnax Ner. III M. p. Murranus Ner. III

Ess. m. P. Ostorius Jul. LI Ess. v. Scylax Jul. XXVI

This meant that a gladiator named Pugnax, a Thracian (fighting with a small, round shield and short, curved sword) was pitted against Murranus, a Myrmillo (Gallic arms like the Secutor).

Both came from the Neroniani School of gladiators founded by Nero at Capua. Both had won three times. (If it was a man's first fight, "T" for tyro was put after his name). The "v" and "p" were written in by the owner of the programs later. The "v" stood for victor and the "p" for perished.

The second line meant that Publius Ostorius (apparently a freeman, judging from his double name, who probably fought for hire) and winner in fifty-one, fights was opposed to a man named Scylax who had won twenty-six times.

Both were from the Julian Gladiatorial School. The "Ess" stands for Essedarii, which means that they fought from chariots. Scylax was the winner but Ostorius' life was spared (possibly because he was a Roman citizen) by the crowd. The "m" stands for missus (let go).

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

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