Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 02, Part 7 of 9

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

There has been a lot of discussion exactly as to how the mob signaled their wishes. Until recently it was believed that "thumbs down" was the death signal and "thumbs up" meant the man was to live. Some authorities today think that the death signal was made by stabbing with the thumb at the spectator's own chest meaning "let him have it here" and the signal for release was to extend the hand flat with the thumb bent under the palm.

Others think that the thumb was only used to signal death, that if the man was to be released the crowd waved their handkerchiefs. No one knows. Perhaps there were many different gestures and they went by fads; some being popular at one period and others at another.

Not being a flashy fighter, Flamma had a slow publicity build-up but gradually people began to notice the big man who never went in for any grandstand plays, but nearly always won. Some fighters put on a regular act like modern wrestlers—taking great swipes at each other, banging their shields around, pretending to fall, staggering as though they had received a mortal wound and then heroically returning to the fray.

Again as with wrestling, there was often a "hero" and a "villain." The hero was usually some clean-cut young Roman, often a freeman fighting for hire or some rich young wastrel who had run through his inheritance and turned to the arena as a last resort.

The hero always got a careful build-up and was given a big ovation as he explained to the crowd that he was only fighting to get enough money to bury his father or support his widowed mother.

The villain was a tough-looking brute who came out yelling insults at the hero, spitting at him, and promising to massacre the bum. The hero always won. Such fights naturally had to be fixed or the gladiatorial schools would have run out of villains.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Two, Part 8 is next.

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