Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gladiators: blood and death in the sand

Some threaten the regulatory stockades, others throw his networks and less they fix the tridents in the air during the warming. They are conscious of that are going to stake the life any minute now on the sand of the amphitheater. The fratricidal struggle that shortly is going to face two or more Roman gladiators is going to end in a cruel spilling of blood that will pour out the public at the edge of the delight.

Before sounding the trumpets that will give beginning to the combat, the contenders parade in military formation before the emperor and cry out to the unison: Bird Caesar, moritori you salutant! The glory will only reserve space to elected few ones that will try to erase an unworthy past as slaves, war prisoners condemned to death or simple malefactors. Also there were free men who devoted themselves voluntarily to an indecorous considered office. The charisma and the popularity of the gladiators were such that emperors of the size of Calígula, Nerón or Comfortable his workmanship tried to imitate with the sword. Julius Caesar for his part, used them like slaves. “The man was feeding on the blood of the man” he was sorry about Séneca, the intellectual only one that was detesting this type of spectacle.

The gladiators were facing almost always for couples, although sometimes they were fighting in groups. According to the type of armament that they were taking a skill of different struggle was imposed. There existed the samnitas, which were carrying closed helmet, shield, quilted sleeve and short sword, the retiari (armed with network and trident), oplomachi (I chat with visor, shield and cuirass), tracios, with small circular shield and curved saber, mirmillones (I chat in the shape of fish, rectangular shield and sword), provocator (round shield and spear), the équites that were fighting on horseback, essedari that were fighting on a war car or the andabates, which were doing it blindly and with a mesh level. The pairing of a type of gladiator against other was not capricious, but it was obeying a studied calculation on the advantages and disadvantages of every adversary to turn the struggle into a balanced and lasting spectacle.

Roman mosaic with gladiators' scene. Credit: Wikipedia.

The supreme luck, of dying worthily, must be memorably executed that by the defeated gladiator. The spectators who were thinking that, despite falling down defeated, it had fought well were extracting decoys and, with the thumb down (unlike what he believes), they were asking the emperor for his pardon. But if they were discontented they were demanding the death of the gladiator taking the thumb to the neck. If the decision was the death, the public was hoping that the fighter should confront it with dignity and value. For many spectators, this was the most important moment of the combat.

The sadism, instead of being something fortuitous, turned into something habitual. The emperor Claudio usually ordered to withdraw them the helmet from the gladiators hurt to be able to appreciate the expression of his faces when they were cutting the neck. An unknown gladiator could be excused if he was asking for mercy after a good combat. But the multitude was not helping a favorite that to be knocked down by the sword of a stranger, especially if he had bet for his victory. At once, a few diligent servants disguised as Caronte or Hermes were coming closer the gladiator who was lying in the sand and were making sure that was dead giving a few heavy blows to him in the head. Sometimes, the gladiators also were fighting against wild animals in the so called venationes. Pompeyo faced them with elephants and Claudio against leopards. Nerón forced them to fight against 400 bears and 300 lions. Between two men, the possibilities of perishing in the sand were leveled in 50 %; against these beasts they were increasing significantly. Also they turned out to be forced to take part in the water of the magnificent naumaquias (naval battles) that were carried out in the Coliseum.

A scene of the movie Gladiator, of Ridley Scott.

The origin of the gladiators' struggles is born in Etruria. His inhabitants usually sacrificed prisoners on the grave of the commanders to liberate his spirits and they will accompany them in another life. An evolution of this rite brought the ludi gladiatorii, which were secularized up to turning into a spectacle. The first one of this type in Rome took place in 264 before Christ on the occasion of the funeral of Gross June Perea, in which they fought three slaves' couples. In Hispania the inaugural one was organized by Escipión African in 206 B.C. Thanks to these combats, the emperor, the magistrates and consuls were managing to entertain the thirsty gullets of the Roman people, it was distracting them of the social problems and the political activity. Thus they were gaining themselves the popular fervor and were achieving votes.

The césares did not want that the Roman peble was yawning either of famine or of boredom. In the Ist century, Juvenal gathered the sense of the spectacle in his famous expression panem et circus (bread and circus). The calendar they was propitious to celebrate these spectacles, since the holiday in the imperial Rome were occupying more than half of the year between sacred days and the ludi. The combats been celebrated usually in the first hour of the evening in a few games that were getting longer the whole day.

The gladiator was living at the edge of the knife-edge of the razor. It was foreseeable that his career was short. Although some of them were living through the sufficient thing to do a name to him and to turn into personages idolized by the public, especially by the feminine one. The checkers of the high society were feeling an enormous passion for them. Magnificent mosaics and grafiti this way they testify it. They even could recover the freedom and move back from the office with an acceptable fortune. At the end of a glorious career the wooden sword was delivered to him (rudis), that was indicating his definitive retirement and the most valued achievement of his desire.

The gladiators' struggles took the amphitheater as a stage, although they started by being celebrated in the forums. The originals were of wood, like the constructed one by Pompeyo Big in the Ist century B.C. The stone first one ordered it to build Octavio Augusto 29 B.C. in the field of Mars. But undoubtedly, the principal struggle enclosure without truce was the Coliseum inaugurated by Tito in 80 A.D. It had four apartments and his graderíos could lodge up to 50.000 spectators. It is anticipated that in his sand they died between 500.000 and a million persons. The most magnificent games that are remembered the Hispanic emperor Trajano organized in the IInd century. They lasted three months and took control of 4.912 gladiators' couples.

Exterior sight of the Coliseum (Rome). Credit: Wikipedia.

The essential piece for the organization of the struggles was the lanista, which was dealing with hiring gladiators and acquiring the wild animals. He was usually a man of past dark but enriched by the office. The professional gladiators usually received in his schools a very strict ethical code. As was affirming Talker, “they preferred to receive a blow to avoid it against the rules. They are ready to allow to murder to satisfy his owner”. The schools of major reputation were located in Capua, although also they were in Hispania, Egypt and the Gauls.

The emperor Cómodo (161-192) was an unusual case. Once in the throne it left aside the government matters to center on his love. He devoted himself to train and took part in numerous combats, in which, of course, it was always winning. He made be called “a winner of thousand gladiators”. The people reproached him that it was reducing his imperial dignity with a slaves' office. Of between the most famous gladiators the figure of Espartaco stands out, but for his actions out of the sand. Deserter of the army Roman and limited to the slavery, formed in the Capua school. In 72 before Christ he organized a rebellion with 78 gladiators, whom hundreds of discontented slaves joined. After conquering four Roman generals, the Senate agglutinated eight legions (approximately 40.000 soldiers) to squash the insurrection. Espartaco died riddled of wounds in the battle of Silaro, in 71 B.C. More than 6.000 prisoners were crucified then in the Route Apia.

The popularity of the gladiators also reached the intellectuals, who never condemned of incisive form the games. Only the Hispanic Séneca despised them. They were admiring the example of nobility of the shower and the scorn to the death. Only the spread of the Christianity, which condemned this combats, and the economic difficulties of the end of the empire led progressively to his prohibition decreed by the emperor Honorio in 404 A.D. The Roman people was guilty of having had a good time publicly with those cardinal executions and of having done of the Coliseum a demencial stage of tortures and a bloody slaughterhouse.

Trailer of Spartacus, the new series on the famous gladiator.

Documentary Gladiators (Channel History). Part 1 of 4.


- Slav LADY'S MAN, Juan. Rome of the Césares. Booket, 1998.
- Imperial Rome, the power and the glory. National Geographic, 2009.
- MANNIX, Daniel P. Brief history of the gladiators. Nowtilus, 2004.
- CARCOPINO, Jêrome. The everyday life in Rome in the climax of the empire. Ed. Topics of today, 1989.

© You Photograph opening and front:

No comments:

Post a Comment