Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 07, Part 1 of 6

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

OUTSIDE IN THE ARENA, while the andabatae were slugging it out, slaves were busy rolling out a model of a mountain through the Gate of Death up to the inner barrier. On it were live trees, flowers, flowering shrubs, and even streams of running water, kept flowing by pumps worked by slaves in the interior.

Set designers scurried over the mountain making last-minute changes and carpenters checked to be sure that everything was in working order.

The Master of the Games was watching anxiously as the wretched andabates slashed each other with wild blows, seldom inflicting a mortal wound.

The real gladiators who were known to the mob and had a chance of putting up a good fight might be given the thumbs-up signal but these miserable creatures, always condemned criminals of the lowest order, were unknown and could show no skill.

Their only hope was to exhibit such a desperate courage that the mob might be kind enough to have one or two spared for another day.

So they fought with the mad bravery of desperation. As a man fell, an arena servant, dressed as Charon who ferried, souls across the River Styx, motioned to slaves who followed him with a brazier full of hot coals in which irons were constantly being heated.

With a hot iron, he tested the man to see if he were still alive. If the fallen man twitched when the hot iron was applied, another arena servant dressed as Hermes, a god of the underworld, motioned his slaves to cut the rawhide straps that kept the andabate's helmet in place.

Then he hit the prostrate man over the head with a hammer. Instantly the regular arena slaves stuck hooks in the corpse and dragged it out through the Gates of Death to the spoliarium where slaves stripped off the armor. The body was then turned over to butchers who cut it up to feed to the wild animals.

Although the patricians in the lower tier of seats regarded the pointless struggles of the andabates with contempt, the crowd loved them. They pretended to shout advice to the fighters, yelling, "He's on your left! No, now he's on your right!" deliberately fooling the blindfolded men to see them whirl around in terror and frantically slice the air.

But with the help of the slaves using the long forked poles, the remaining andabates were pushed together and the end was near. The Master of the Games turned to shout to the crews on the mountain: "Get off it or, by the gods, I'll leave you up there! All right, slaves, strike the set!"

At the beginning of the andabates' fight, slaves had taken their positions behind the inner barricade. A slave with a long pole was standing by each of the elephant tusks supporting the overhang net. Others stood ready with their hands on the planks running between the masts which supported the awning.

At the Master of the Games' cry, the slaves with the poles lifted the net off hooks set in the tusks so the whole net came to the ground, like a great tennis net a hundred yards long.

At the same time, the other slaves were slipping the planks out of their brackets on the sides of the masts. As the planks came loose, still other slaves seized them and rushed them out of the arena. As the last planks were removed, the net was grabbed and pulled back between the masts to be hurried after the planks. The spectators now had a much better view of the arena although the central ring of masts still remained.

Meanwhile, the construction and planning crews on the artificial mountain leaped to the group while gangs of slaves, possibly assisted by trained elephants pushing with their foreheads, moved the great mass forward on rollers.

There were two empty spaces in the central ring of masts holding the overhead awning: one in front of the Gate of Life (over which was the imperial podium) and the other before the Gate of Death . . . the sag in the awning being supported by overhead guy ropes at these points. The mountain was rolled into the arena from the Gate of Death through one of these gaps.

The fight between the andabates was now just about over. Only two couples were left. These men had thrown away their shields, joined their left hands so as not to be parted, and were stabbing at each other with their swords.

In one couple, the men killed each other. The arena slaves were rapidly and efficiently clearing out the remaining corpses and spreading fresh sand on the arena floor. At last, one of the two remaining andabates killed the other.

A shout of "Peractum est!" went up and the surviving andabate was led from the arena. Now he had at least a few days' respite until another exhibition of andabates was forthcoming.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Seven, Part 2 is next.

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