Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 11, Part 3 of 7

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

When the bull was sure the dead man was gone, he walked slowly over and stood sniffing the bloody sand as though it were incense.

Then he looked up at the howling mob with quiet satisfaction and stood there proudly until his legs buckled under him and he fell dead.

Carpophorus had two broken ribs and the arena doctor had to strap him up before he could go out for the next event.

If you think that I'm exaggerating the punishment a man can take and still keep going, I'd like to mention that Camecerito, the famous Mexican matador, was carried from the ring after a bad goring and put on the operating table.

When Camecerito heard the crowd yelling for the next matador who'd been sent out to kill his bull, he jumped off the table, wrapped a towel around his belly to keep his guts from falling out, and ran back to the ring. He killed the bull and then fainted from loss of blood.

Louis Procuna once drove eight hundred miles from Mexico City to Nuevo Laredo after a goring and when he arrived the floor of the car was literally awash with blood. He still fought.

I don't know what wounds the Roman bestiarii were able to take but I do know they fought in event after event and must have received terrific injuries. They had to be tough to survive.

The next act had a popular tie-in. A few weeks before, a whale had been stranded at the port of Ostia and thousands of people had traveled down from Rome to see the monster.

A mock-up of the whale was raised to the arena on one of the elevators and then a trap door opened in its side, allowing the escape of several dozen lions, bears, wild horses, wild boars, stags, antelope, ibex, ostriches and leopards.

Meanwhile a number of see-saws had been placed in the arena, each with two condemned criminals in the seats. As the man on the bottom was sure to be eaten, the desperate efforts of the prisoners to out-seesaw each other provided great amusement for the crowd.

Then the bestiarii came out again. Some of them were swung back and forth in baskets. The baskets were hung by a pendulum arrangement and at the bottom of their swing were close enough to the arena so an animal could grab them.

The bestiarii in the baskets could control the rhythm of the pendulum as a man on a swing can control his speed. The trick was to control your basket so when it reached the low point there wouldn't be an animal waiting for you.

Venatores, entering the inner barrier by turnstiles or through swinging doors guarded by slaves who quickly barred them if an animal tried to escape, decapitated the ostriches by shooting curved arrows at them.

These arrows must have operated on the principle of a sharp-edge boomerang although how they could have been shot from a bow beats me.

Carpophorus came on with a pack of fighting dogs which he had trained himself. Some of these dogs could only have been Tibetan mastiffs from the description and as the Romans were getting elephants and tigers from India, there's no reason why they couldn't have gotten dogs, too.

He also had boar hounds, much like a harlequin Great Dane except they bad slender muzzles. He had some of the enormous Molossian hounds from Epirus and the Hyrcannians which were so savage that the Romans thought they must be part tiger.

Carpophorus' best dogs were British, the British dogs being universally admitted the best of all breeds for fighting. The British used them in warfare and the Roman legionnaires were terrified of the brutes.

It is said that one of them could break a bull's neck. Unfortunately, we don't know what they looked like. They are described both as "enormous" and "not very big."

Possibly they were like a Norwegian elkhound. Personally, I think that they were probably not bred basically for type but for courage as with the bull terriers used in pit fighting which may be almost any color and weigh fifteen pounds or forty-five pounds.

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

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents