Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 14, Part 2 of 10

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Simply to name some figures as a rough estimate, Titus' one hundred days of games which opened the Colosseum cost about eight million dollars, and the six days of Domitian's games described here cost about $36,000 a day.

In 521 A.D., Justinian spent $910,000 on the games to celebrate his rise to power. Yet in 51 A.D. the total costs of all games for a year had been only $40,000.

We know that the cost became a crushing one for any politician to carry. A magistrate named Milo exclaimed: "It cost me three inheritances to stop the mouth of the people." But the shows continued.

Although originally only the emperor or some great noble was permitted the honor of presenting the shows, by the second century any rich man could present them to advance himself socially—just as fifty years ago many a rich man in Great Britain discovered that public philanthropy was helpful in obtaining a title.

Some games were put on by rich cobblers and wealthy tailors. Still, they continued to grow in magnificence. After the triumph of the Emperor Aurelian over Zenobia, the warrior queen of Palmyra, in 272 A.D., Aurelian entered the arena in a chariot drawn by four stags, with Zenobia chained to the wheels by golden chains.

He had a guard of twenty trained elephants, and two hundred other tamed animals walked in the procession. There was a "great host" of captives, each group led by a man with a placard around his neck giving the name of the tribe.

The loot was carried in oxcarts heaped high with gold and jewels or on litters borne by slaves. In the games that followed, eight hundred pairs of gladiators fought as well as ten "Amazons", women fighters from some Middle Eastern tribe.

In 281 A.D., the Emperor Probus had "large trees torn up by the roots and fixed to beams in the arena. Sand was then spread over the beams so the whole circus resembled a forest.

Into the arena were sent a thousand ostriches, a thousand stags, a thousand boars, one hundred lions, a hundred lionesses, a hundred leopards, three hundred bears and numerous other animals.

These were all killed in a great hunt." (Vopiscus). Later, antelope were released and members of the crowd could amuse themselves trying to catch the animals.

Sometimes naked girls were turned loose and any member of the crowd could keep anything he caught. Other emperors used silk imported from China for the awning instead of wool, had the nets employed to keep the animals off the podium woven of gold cords, plated the marble colonnades with gold and put mosaics of precious stones on the tier walls.

Sadism, instead of being incidental to the games, became the order of the day. Claudius used to order a wounded gladiator's helmet removed so be could watch the expression on the man's face while his throat was being cut.

Girls were raped by men wearing the skins of wild beasts. Men were tied to rotting corpses and left to die. Children were suspended by their legs from the top of high poles for hyenas to pull down.

So many victims were tied to stakes and then cut open that doctors used to attend the games in order to study anatomy.

Wholesale crucifixions in the arena became a major attraction, and the crowd would lay bets on who would be the first to die. As with every betting sport, a lot of time and trouble was devoted to fixing the business.

By bribing an attendant, you could arrange to have a certain victim die almost immediately, last an hour, or live all day. If the spikes were driven in so as to cut an artery, the man would die in a few minutes. If driven so as to break the bones only, the man would live several hours. Occasionally, though, a victim would cross you up. He might deliberately pull at the spikes to make himself bleed to death or even beat his brains out against the upright. You could never be sure.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Fourteen, Part 3 is next.

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