Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 11, Part 5 of 7

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Some of the tickets were fakes. A man might get a ticket giving him a beautifully carved box. When he opened it, a hive of bees would pour out.

Other people would find that they'd won ten man-eating bears, ten dormice, or ten heads of lettuce. As a joke, Elagabalus even had the catapults throw poisonous adders in the stands.

When distribution of the lottery tickets began, many people left the stands. The distribution was always the signal for a free-for-all fight, only slightly less bloody than the battles in the arena.

Only the lowest members of the crowd cared to expose themselves to the riot After the distribution was over, speculators flooded into the stands offering to buy sight unseen any of the tickets. Not knowing what they might get, many of the crowd sold their tickets without bothering to cash them in.

During lunch, there were a number of novelty acts. There was a dog race with monkeys as jockeys. There was a fight between big cranes and African pygmies, the pygmies armed only with sharpened reeds.

Men fought huge pythons with their bare hands and snake charmers from the Marsi Snake Training School in Greece handled cobras.

At the end, there was a fight between women and dwarfs. As Statius wrote, "It was, enough to make Mars and the Goddess of Brave split their sides laughing to see them hacking each other."

In the late afternoon, the gladiators came on again. Domitian had given permission for the court gladiators to take part in the games.

These men were all freemen, fighting for hire, and made a magnificent show in their golden armor and waving peacock plumes as they entered the arena. Their armor was solid gold, embossed with scenes of gladiatorial combats done by the leading artists in Rome.

Julius Caesar provided solid silver armor for his gladiators; Nero topped him by giving his gladiators armor made of carved amber. Now Domitian had tried to surpass both men by arming his gladiators in gold.

I don't know how many of these gladiators there were, but Trajan had five thousand pairs of gladiators fight to the death to celebrate his victory over Decebalius in 106 A.D.

These men were too important to use up in a general melee. Individual combats had been arranged. The crowd knew virtually every man in the outfit and cries went up of "Tetraites! Primus! Pamphilus!"

We know these men's names because their tombs still remain with a, carving of the gladiator, usually holding a palm in one hand as symbol of victory and his sword or trident in the other.

For these individual fights, unless they were between a Retiarius and a Secutor, a referee drew a line in the sand with his staff to mark the point where the two warriors were to meet.

The two gladiators stood on either side of the mark while the referee gave the men their final instructions and slaves held their helmets and shields. The gladiators not fighting lounged under the statues of Victory which lined the podium walls.

The signal for the fight was given by a trumpeter, using a curved instrument like a French horn. The two men came together slowly, their faces obscured by their visored helmets, almost completely covered by their huge curved shields.

Hucksters selling souvenir glasses and small trays with the pictures of the gladiators painted on them moved through the stands.

The crowd stopped breathing as the arena was filled with the clash of steel for many of the spectators had wagered all they owned and possibly their liberty on the outcome of the fight.

One man staggered. He recovered himself but blood was staining the golden armor. From fifty thousand throats came the shout "Habet!" (He's wounded!) Some shouted the word gleefully, some in despair, depending on how they had placed their bets.

The wounded man fell to his knees. His opponent pressed in on him, using his shield and the full weight of his body to force the injured man down.

The gladiator fell and made the sign for mercy as a great shout went up from the stands.

Few people bothered to give either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down decision; they were too busy either paying off or collecting their bets.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Eleven, Part 6 is next.

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