Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 08, Part 1 of 5

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

IT WAS NOON NOW. The gladiators who had gone out after the crocodile hunt were Meridiani, second string men who fought during the middle of the day when most of the patricians had gone home for lunch and only the mob remained.

In the stands, baskets of food were opened, flasks of wine produced, and the mob picnicked while the unfortunates below them fought to the death.

During this slack period, the Master of the Games stopped long enough to speak to Carpophorus. "How are you holding up?" he asked, glancing at the mass of bloody bandages covering the venador's right side.

"I'm all right," said Carpophorus sullenly. As an experienced bestiarius, he hated to think of any animal, even a tiger, getting the best of him.

The Master of the Games considered. "Immediately after the noon period, we're going to have a holocaust of prisoners. They're to be killed by lions but I want to save the good man-eaters until the next day.

If the man-eaters are used today, they'll be gorged and won't work in the legendary pageants scheduled for tomorrow. But we don't want any holdups in the show. The new lions will have to attack the prisoners at once; no running around against the barrier or crouching down in the sand."

"What do you expect me to do!" snarled Carpophorus. "Wild lions won't attack people without trained man-eaters in the arena."

"Don't argue with me, just see that it's done," retorted the Master of the Games coldly. "Remember that there are five more days of these games ahead of us. Give me any more of your lip and I'll have you in there with another tiger and your hands tied behind you." The Master of the Games strode away.

After grumbling to himself Carpopborus began to think. It was not the Master of the Games' threat that bothered him; it was his own reputation as a bestiarius who could perform miracles.

For a long while he sat with his head in his hands, snarling at the slaves dragging the dead Meridiana over his feet but refusing to move from the passageway. Then he had an idea, and rising painfully, headed for the lower pits where the prisoners were kept.

He went down ramp after ramp. Because they were easier to move and also not so valuable, the prisoners condemned to death in the arena were kept in the lowest levels while the animals were in the upper cells.

Carpophorus had seldom been down here and had to ask his way constantly of the guards stationed at intervals by the torches burning in brackets on the wall.

Finally he reached the level he was seeking and after a long walk and many turns arrived in front of the oaken door where the captives to die that afternoon were kept.

They were Jews, taken prisoner during one of the many spasmodic uprisings, in Palestine. Carpophorus vaguely remembered some account of the business. Three villages high in the Masada hills had revolted. Why, he couldn't recall. Either they had objected to the eagles on the legionnaires' standards, calling them graven images, or they had attacked a caravan because it was owned by Sarmatians or some such thing.

Anyhow, it had taken a three months' campaign to unearth them from their forts in the cliffs and men, women and children had been sent to die in the arena. The Jews were always a troublesome people but if it wasn't for them the Colosseum might never have been built.

After the fall of Jerusalem in 72 A.D., twelve thousand Jewish prisoners had worked on the construction of the great building and later had been killed there in the inauguration ceremonies.

The guards at the door slid back the heavy bolts, eagerly asking him for tips on the regular gladiatorial contests coming up late that afternoon. Carpophorus knew little about the gladiators but he told them to back Negrimus against Priedens, and entered the dark room.

At this level, the only air vents led to the floor above instead of to the outside and there was no light except that cast by a single torch in a wall bracket. The people were singing some sort of chant in a foreign language and Carpophorus looked them over. Mostly women, children and old men with long beards. Nearly all the young men must have been killed in the fighting. That suited Carpophorus' plans perfectly.

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

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