Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 08, Part 3 of 5

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Carpophorus approached the crowd. The worried mothers pushed their children forward, anxiously smoothing their hair in place, wiping their noses, and trying to twitch their rags into some semblance of neatness.

Carpophorus made his selections rapidly. The mothers clung to the children, rejected and selected alike, sobbing over them while the children stared at Carpophorus curiously and tried to finger his soft tunic and glittering belt buckle.

Carpophorus called the guard and told him to make sure that the two groups didn't mix. Then he went to find the Master of the Games.

The Master was supervising the rebuilding of the, inner barrier. This time the barrier was constructed of plaster boulders to represent the Masada hills.

A model of the principal city, originally built by Herod the Great about 50 B.C., was cleverly incorporated among the artificial rocks. The scenery used in the shows was so elaborate that not even the vast storehouses under the Colosseum could hold it, and these props had been kept in rooms under the Temple of Venus nearby.

The lions would enter the arena through openings among the rocks as though issuing from their lairs. The remnants of the Meridian! were still fighting in the arena to amuse the mob while the work was going on.

Carpophorus explained his deal with the Jewish prisoners and the Master nodded abstractedly while watching the work.

"That's all right. We'll still have plenty of prisoners to make a good show. The extra children can be killed by baboons later. Are many of them little girls?"

Carpophorus fidgeted uncomfortably. "I promised the old priest that I'd have them sold as slaves."

"You promised? Do you think a damn bestiarius is running this arena?"

"I swore to them by my gods."

"Well, unswear then. Do you think an oath to rebels counts with the gods?"

"Why not? I'm a Roman freeman. Before the gods, my oath is as good as the emperor's."

The Master looked at him curiously. "You're not getting soft in your old age, are you? All right, I'll see what I can do. But remember that I'm running an arena here, not a slave market. Start loading the lions into the barrier wall."

Carpophorus glanced up at the stands. The podium was filling up again as the patricians returned from their noonday meal. The Master shouted to the Meridiani: "Finish it up there or I'll get some action out of you with the hot irons." Carpophorus went off to attend to the loading.

The lions were kept in far better quarters than the prisoners. The cells that contained them (still visible in the Colosseum) were inside the podium wall but below the level of the arena.

Each cell was about eight feet deep and seven feet square. A water channel ran in front of the cells so the animals were sure of a constant supply of fresh water. The lead pipes and bronze turnkeys of these systems are still functional to this day.

Directly above the cells and on a level with the arena floor were a series of passageways so the slaves could race around on their various chores without disturbing the beasts.

From these upper passageways down to the cells were narrow openings through which burning straw could be thrust into the animals' cells to force them out into the lower passageways. From hence they were driven up ramps, covered with herringbone paving to give the animals a better grip, to the arena.

Carpophorus went to the second level to check the cells. The door of each cell was an iron grill that could be swung back on a hinge against the wall of the lower passageway.

The door was nearly as big as the whole side of the cell so that the animal, panic-stricken by the burning straw, would have no trouble finding the opening and be able to rush out into the passageway before he got badly burned or suffocated by the smoke.

As soon as he was out of the cell, the iron grill door was slammed shut after him and the movable barrier was shoved along the passageway, forcing him up the ramp toward the arena. By this system, a whole line of cells could be opened almost simultaneously by slaves stationed by each door and then the animals rushed to the arena.

How the slaves caught between the animals and the movable barrier got out of the way in time I haven't been able to figure out. Probably a lot of times they didn't. But slaves were cheap.

Carpophorus didn't want to keep the lions in the cramped spaces provided for them in the barrier cages any longer than was absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, as soon as Domitian returned from lunch and settled himself in the royal box, he would give the signal for the afternoon games to begin and those lions had better start pouring out of the barrier wall when he waved his royal hand.

As Carpophorus went along the passageways, he passed slaves standing by the massive bronze sockets (which are still there) which held the windlasses to haul cages up the ramps and work the elevators.

After making sure that the slaves were ready with the straw in the upper passageway and that there was a man by each grill in the lower section, Carpophorus returned to the arena level.

The patricians were back in the podium, including the foreign nobility who had obviously taken advantage of the break to get well liquored up. The young editor was also in his box.

Carpophorus reflected that the young patrician looked in worse shape than did the Jews who'd spent a week in the underground cells.

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

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