Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 12, Part 1 of 4

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

MARCUS AURELIUS, the great Roman emperor and philosopher, remarked: "I wouldn't mind the games being brutal and degrading if only they weren't so damned monotonous."

Although the Romans devoted an enormous amount of ingenuity to ringing in variations, there is no doubt that Marcus was right. But the mob had developed a morbid taste for the spectacles which had to be gratified.

Nietzsche believes that the great driving power which had made the Romans masters of the world had to be given a vent. With no worlds left to conquer, their force was dissipated in watching these holocausts.

So I'll only touch on some of the high points of the remaining four days of the games. A walled city was constructed overnight in the arena and besieged the next morning by legionaries with battering rams, catapults, and burning arrows.

The city was defended by Persian troops. The Romans advanced under cover of their interlocked shields while the Persians threw down boulders, boiling oil, and beams on the "testudo", or tortoise, as the formation was called.

Under shelter of the testudo, other legionnaires rushed the wall with a battering ram, its head a carved ram's head made of bronze. Movable towers were brought up on rollers and drawbridges dropped from their tops over which the troops attacked.

From other levels of the towers, catapults threw stones and clusters of javelins against the defenders, the legionnaires captured the city, but only after heavy losses.

Afterwards, there were fights with single-stick and quarter-staffs, the Paegniarii fought with their bull-whips, protecting themselves with their wooden shields, and the Postulati fought with darts.

To keep the crowd amused during the noon hour, women were tied to bulls and dragged to death and little boys assaulted by men dressed as satyrs.

A confessed Christian, named Antipas, was put in a bronze figure of a bull and a fire lighted under the image. The man's screams came out of the bull's open mouth as though the animal were bellowing.

Chimpanzees were made drunk on wine and then encouraged to rape girls tied to stakes. When these man-sized apes were first discovered in Africa, the Romans believed that they were genuine satyrs, the mythological beings who were half man and half goat.

There were also man-sized apes called tityrus with round faces, reddish color and whiskers. Pictures of them appear on vases and they were apparently orangutans, imported from Indonesia.

As far as I know, the Romans never exhibited gorillas although these biggest of all apes were known to the Phoenicians, who gave them their present name which means "hairy savage."

There were also amusing touches, or what the Romans considered amusing. A jeweler who had sold some fake stones was sentenced to the arena. The wretched man was driven into the arena and a lion's cage rolled out before him.

While the jeweler fell on his knees and prayed for mercy, the door of the cage was pulled backā€”and out walked a chicken. The jeweler fainted from shock while the emperor had the heralds announce: "As the man practiced deceit, he has now had it practiced on him." The jeweler was allowed to leave the arena alive. (This actually happened during the reign of the Emperor Gallienus in 250 A.D.)

The Romans had a robust sense of humor. At the time of Caligula, a gladiator had his right arm cut off so he was helpless. The crowd considered this uproariously funny.

Another gladiator, named Bassus, strolled around the arena defending himself with a golden chamber pot. But at least one trick played by Caligula would seem to us today, if not funny, at least a grim form of poetic justice.

There was a group of people who used to wait under the stands by the passageway along which condemned prisoners were led to the arena.

These people were degenerates of the most revolting type. They would follow the prisoners, pawing, spitting and mauling them while recounting the tortures they would soon face.

The sight of the cringing wretches acted as a sexual stimulus to them. (Ilsa Koch, the wife of the German supervisor at Buchenwald, was a pervert of this same sort. She used to fondle the condemned prisoners being taken to the gas chamber as they were led past her.)

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

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