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USO Canteen FReeper Style ~ Roman Gladiators ~ October 21, 2003
Roman Gladiatorial Games ^ | October 21, 2003 | LaDivaLoca

Posted on 10/21/2003 2:40:01 AM PDT by LaDivaLoca

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The first gladiatorial contest at Rome took place in 264 BC as part of aristocratic funerary ritual, a munus or funeral gift for the dead. Decimus Junius Brutus put on a gladiatorial combat in honor of his deceased father with three pairs of slaves serving as gladiators in the Forum Boarium (a commercial area that was named after the Roman cattle market) . The Romans called a gladiatorial contest a munus, that is, 'a duty' paid by descendants to a dead ancestor. The munus served the purpose of keeping alive the memory of an important individual after death. Munera were held some time after the funeral and were often repeated at annual or five-year intervals.  Gladiatorial fights were not  incorporated into public games until the late first century.

Festus, a second century AD scholar, suggests that gladiatorial combat was a substitution for an original sacrifice of prisoners on the tombs of great warriors. There is an interesting parallel for this in the Iliad. Achilles sacrificed twelve Trojan boys on Patroclus’ tomb (23.175-76). This practice is perhaps based on the idea that blood could restore life to the dead. One thinks of the ghosts in the Odyssey who come up out of the depths, attracted by the animal blood of animals slaughtered by Odysseus (12.95-96). Tertullian, a second century AD Christian writer, claimed that gladiatorial combat was a human sacrifice to the manes or spirits of the dead (De Spect. 12.2-3).

Gladiators were usually recruited from criminals, slaves (especially captured fugitives), and prisoners of war. Criminals, having lost their citizen rights and slaves and prisoners of war having none, had no choice about becoming a gladiator, if they had the physical and emotional make-up necessary for the profession. Some free-born men, however, although they had not lost their citizen rights, voluntarily chose the profession and bound themselves body and soul to the owner of a gladiatorial troupe (lanista) by swearing an oath "to endure branding, chains, flogging or death by the sword" and to do whatever the master ordered (Petronius Sat. 117.5). It has been estimated that by the end of the Republic, about half of the gladiators were volunteers (auctorati), who took on the status of a slave for an agreed-upon period of time.

But why would a free man want to become a gladiator? When he took the gladiator’s oath, he agreed to be treated as a slave and suffered the ultimate social disgrace (infamia).  Seneca describes the oath as "most shameful" (Ep. 37.1-2).   As unattractive as this may sound to us, there were advantages. The candidate's life took on new meaning. He became a member of a cohesive group that was known for its courage, good morale, and absolute fidelity to its master to the point of death. His life became a model of military discipline and through courageous behavior he was also now capable of achieving honor similar to that enjoyed by Roman soldiers on the battlefield. There were other advantages. For example, an aristocrat who had suffered a great financial setback in a lawsuit or who had squandered his inheritance would find it extremely difficult to make a living. After all, he had spent his life living on inherited wealth and was not used to working for a living. He could enter the army or become a school teacher, or take up a life of crime as a bandit.  In comparison with these occupations, a career as a gladiator might seem more attractive. He would not fight more than 2 or 3 times a year and would have a chance at fame and wealth (with which they could buy their freedom), employing those military skills that were appropriate to the citizen-soldier. In the arena, the volunteer gladiator could indulge his fantasy of military glory and fame before an admiring crowd. As a gladiator, he could achieve the kind of public adulation that modern athletes enjoy today. 

The gladiator was often the object of female adoration. This is clear in the following graffiti from Pompeii (CIL 4.4397 and 4356):

Celadus the Thracian, three times victor and three times crowned, adored by young girls.

Crescens the nocturnal netter (retiarius) of young girls.

Apparently aristocratic matrons also found gladiators especially attractive. Juvenal tells us of a senator’s wife named Eppia, who ran off with her gladiator lover to Egypt (6.82 ff.). Of course, the free man would have to weigh these advantages with the risk of an early, violent death and the status of a slave. But perhaps that would have been better than becoming a schoolteacher!

Even women fought as gladiators, although rarely. Aristocratic women and men fought as an entertainment for Nero in 63 AD. Domitian had women fight by torchlight and on another occasion had women fight with dwarves. Romans loved these exotic gladiatorial combats. In Petronius, one character looks forward to the appearance of a female gladiator called an essedaria , she  (Sat. 45.7.2). The banning of female gladiators by Septimius Severus (late second, early 3rd cent. AD) suggests that women were taking up this occupation in alarming numbers.

It should also be noted that some emperors were swept away by gladiator mania, such as Caligula and Commodus (late second century AD). Both of these emperors actually appeared in the arena as gladiators, no doubt with opponents who were careful to inflict no harm. Both of these emperors were mentally unstable and apparently felt no inhibitions in indulging their gladiatorial fantasies. But gladiator mania affected not only the mentally unbalanced. At least seven other emperors of sound mind (including Titus and Hadrian) either practiced as gladiators or fought in gladiatorial contests. 

Gladiators were owned by a person called a lanista and were trained in the lanista’s school (ludus). Gladiatorial combat was as much a science as modern boxing (Sen. Ep. 22.1). Training involved the learning of a series of figures, which were broken down into various phases. Sometimes fans complained that a gladiator fought too mechanically, according to the numbers. In the early Empire there were four major gladiatorial schools, but by this time, the training of gladiators had been taken over by the state. No doubt it was thought too dangerous to allow private citizens to own and train gladiators,  who could be easily turned into a private army for revolutionary purposes. Therefore, with very few exceptions, gladiators were under the control and ownership of the emperor, although the lantista continued to train and own gladiators outside of Rome. The lanista made a profit by renting or selling the troupe. This was a very lucrative business, but on the other hand, he was viewed as among the lowest of the low on the social scale. The objection was that these men derived their whole income from treating human beings like animals.  Auguet writes: 

In the eyes of the Romans he was regarded as both a butcher and a pimp. He played the role of scapegoat; it was upon him that society cast all the scorn and contempt aroused by an institution which reduced men to the status of merchandise or cattle.3

By a rather tortured rationalization an upper-class citizen could own and maintain his own troupe and even hire them out without suffering the scorn of his fellow aristocrats. The saving factor was that the citizen was a dabbler and not a professional: his main source of income did not derive from his ownership of gladiators.

This is a famous painting (1872) called "Pollice Verso" ("Turned Thumb" by Jean-Léon Gérôme from a phrase in Juvenal)  that represents a victorious gladiator facing spectators, who are demanding the death of his defeated opponent.  Gérôme had done research into gladiatorial apparatus.  The defeated fighter, a retiarius ("net-man") is depicted accurately; he has no helmet or shield and his weapons are a net and a trident (on the ground nearby - clearly visible only in the large image).  The depiction of the victor, however, is problematic.  Each item of armor by itself is accurately represented, but the combination is erroneous.  The standard opponent of the retiarius is a secutor ("pursuer"), who carried an curved oblong shield, but the victor in the painting carries a round shield (hardly visible even in the larger image) typical of the hoplomachus ('heavily-armed gladiator')Moreover, his helmet with its high crest is that of a murmillo.

To the right,  we see a secutor (with his curved oblong shield) moving in on a retiarius, who has lost his net and his trident (lying on the ground).  He still holds his dagger, but he has been badly wounded in the calf and is on the point of giving up.  The retiarius is easy to identify because he is the only gladiator with no helmet or shield. Another identifying factor is the high metal shoulder guard (galerus), which is unique to the retiarius.  Finally, the protective sleeve called a manica (heavy linen quilting held on by straps) protects his left arm, while the secutor (and all other categories of gladiator) wears the sleeve his right arm.

The retiarius was also special because his gear was not inspired by the military. In essence, he was a fisherman, as his net and trident imply.  The purpose of the small eye-holes was to prevent the narrow prongs of the retiarius' trident from penetrating to the eyes. 

Another gladiatorial type was the murmillo, whose name was derived from a Greek word for a kind of fish, probably because the high crest of the murmillo's helmet resembled a fish (see right).   In fact, the secutor was likely an off-shoot of the murmillo.   Both the murmillo and the secutor had a curved, oblong shield and the helmet of the latter just made the suggestion of a fish more obvious.  The murmillo normally fought the hoplomachus.  This pair can be seen in the image to the lower left.  The murmillo has let his curved, oblong shield fall to the ground and points the forefinger of his left hand up in the air, both signals of submission.  The murmillo is indicating his desire to submit to a referee (wearing a tunic).  The victorious hoplomachus, recognizable because of his round shield, is on the far left.  Both gladiators wear the standard equipment of heavily-armed fighters: the manica (protective sleeve), loin cloth with subligaculum (belt), and greaves (metal leg-protectors). 

The murmillo sometimes fought a thraex ('Thracian').  These fighters were quite similar in appearance but can be differentiated by their shields.  The thraex has a smallish rectangular shield in comparison with the typical oblong shield of the murmillo (see right). There were, however,  two gladiatorial categories of gladiators that only fought opponents of the same type:  the eques ('horseman') and the provocator ('challenger')On the left are two equites.  Both have lost their shields, but one has emerged victorious.  The referee is holding the right hand of the victor and both seem to be awaiting the recommendation of the crowd and the final decision of the editor.  Their apparel makes them easy to identify: brimless helmet with visor and two feathers, and a tunic to mid-thigh (in comparison with the naked torso of most gladiators).  These gladiators were called horsemen probably because they began their fight (or just entered the arena) on horseback .  They, however, finished their fight on foot.  The provocatores are distinguishable by a helmet without crest, a curved rectangular shield, and a sword with a straight blade.  In addition, the provocator was the only gladiator to have effective protection for the upper body:  a rectangular breastplate (as can be seen on the figure on the far right in the middle panel of this relief).  The provocator thus lacked what was a badge of honor for other heavily-armed gladiators: a naked torso.

There were other gladiatorial types of which we have no visual evidence.  Perhaps the most popular was the essedarius (war-chariot fighter), a name derived from a Celtic chariot (essedum).  The essedarius fought on foot and probably used the chariot to make a spectacular entrance to the arena.


It should be noted here that there is absolutely no evidence that the gladiators addressed the emperor with the famous "Hail emperor, they who are about to die, salute you." This sentence was addressed only on one occasion to Claudius by condemned criminals who were about to participate in a naumachia , a staged naval battle (Suetonius, Claudius 21.6). Since it was the purpose of this naumachia to serve as a means of executing criminals by having them kill each other, it is not surprising that they are pessimistic about their survival as their address to the emperor indicates. 

In this picture we have a scene from the arena. On the far left there is a herm (the column on top of which was a bust of Hermes, and against  which a shield is leaning). Next there are five musicians, who provide musical accompaniment to the gladiatorial combats, capturing the shifting moods of combat with their music (just as piano players or orchestras used to accompany the showing of silent movies). The musician on the far left plays a long straight trumpet (tubicen). In the middle a woman plays a water-organ (organum) and on the right three musicians play a large curved instrument called a lituus. Above them is a "couch of Libitina" ready for its next occupant.

When one gladiator was wounded, the typical cries from the spectators were "habet, hoc habet (he’s had it)" or "habet, peractum est (he's had it, it's all over)."  Some contests were designated ahead of time as sine missione ("without release," i.e. to the death), so in these fights the referee would allow the gladiator with the advantage to proceed until he killed his opponent (there were no rounds nor time limit in any form of gladiatorial contest).  This type of contest, however, was rare, at least in the early empire, because of humanitarian concerns and the expense to the editor, who had to reimburse the lanista.   Augustus even outlawed contests sine missione, although this injunction probably did not remain in effect in later centuries.

In the more typical contest, when one opponent had decided that he was defeated, he could indicate submission and request mercy.  In the image to the left, a defeated gladiator, who has thrown his shield to the ground, gives a signal of submission to the referee with the forefinger of his left hand.  The victorious fighter stands proudly, still holding his shield.  As literary sources make clear, the spectators expressed their judgment with some gesture involving the thumb (pollice verso, "turned thumb"). What is not clear is whether the Romans used thumb gestures in the same way as we do: up for yes (life), down for no (death). More likely, thumb-up meant death for the defeated gladiator (representing the death blow with the point of a sword into the neck) and thumb down, salvation.  Unfortunately, there is no visual evidence that can confirm or contradict this interpretation.

Those who urged mercy for the defeated gladiator called out "mitte" ("release him") and waved the hem of their garment.  The final decision lay with the editor, the giver of the games, who most often under the empire was the emperor himself.  If the decision was death, there was a ritual to be performed, which would bring honor in death for the loser. With one knee on the ground, the loser grasped the thigh of the victor, who, while holding the helmet or head of his opponent, plunged his sword into his neck.This was the moment of truth, which fascinated the Roman audience, just as bull-fight fans in Spain and southern France are mesmerized today by the death of the bull.

The only task left now was to remove the dead body. An attendant impersonating Pluto, the god of the dead, struck the corpses with a mallet, perhaps signifying the god's ownership of the body. Another attendant dressed as Mercury, escorter of souls to the underworld, used his wand, which was in reality a hot iron, to see whether the gladiator was really dead or not. There was no escape by feigning death.

The winner received from the editor a palm branch and a sum of money.  A laurel crown was awarded for an especially outstanding performance.  The victor  then ran around the perimeter of the amphitheater, waving the palm.  The ultimate prize awarded to gladiators was permanent discharge from the obligation to fight in the arena, most certainly in recognition of a brilliant career rather than of just one performance.  As a symbol of this award, the editor gave the gladiator a wooden sword (rudis), perhaps to suggest that he no longer had to fight with real weapons at the risk of his life.


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KEYWORDS: ancientautopsies; ancientrome; dietandcuisine; gladiators; romanempire; romangladiators; romanmilitary
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1 posted on 10/21/2003 2:40:02 AM PDT by LaDivaLoca
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To: 68-69TonkinGulfYatchClub; Kathy in Alaska; LindaSOG; MoJo2001; tomkow6; Bethbg79; southerngrit; ...

A good morning to my fellow Canteeners,
our Military, Veterans, Allies and your families

Have a wonderful day!

See you all later.

2 posted on 10/21/2003 2:41:12 AM PDT by LaDivaLoca (There can be no triumph w/o loss, no victory w/o suffering, no freedom w/o sacrifice. THANK U TROOPS)
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To: LaDivaLoca; xm177e2; mercy; Wait4Truth; hole_n_one; GretchenEE; Clinton's a rapist; buffyt; ...
God bless our troops and G'mornin' to y'all :-)
3 posted on 10/21/2003 2:49:18 AM PDT by JohnHuang2
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To: LaDivaLoca; All

4 posted on 10/21/2003 2:55:45 AM PDT by Soaring Feather (~Poets' Rock the Boat~)
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To: LaDivaLoca

Good Morning LaDiva
My heads are tired and all of us are going to bed!
See you tonight Diva!

5 posted on 10/21/2003 3:12:11 AM PDT by Soaring Feather (~Poets' Rock the Boat~)
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To: tomkow6; MoJo2001; Kathy in Alaska; 68-69TonkinGulfYatchClub; LaDivaLoca; Fawnn; All

Hey Tom!!
Good Morning!
Did you know MoJo, crowned me last night?

Ain't life grand in The USO Canteen FReeper Style?
All you get to do is sell Burka's which BTW no one wants!
Remember, I'm a "Your HIGHNESS" now!!!
Have a good day Tom!!
Maybe Tonkin will let you walk his Goat!!
Nite All!!

6 posted on 10/21/2003 3:22:03 AM PDT by Soaring Feather (~Poets' Rock the Boat~)
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To: tomkow6; radu; All

These eyes were purloined from radu.

7 posted on 10/21/2003 3:25:28 AM PDT by Soaring Feather (~Poets' Rock the Boat~)
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To: LaDivaLoca; Kathy in Alaska; MoJo2001; LindaSOG; bentfeather; Bethbg79; Iowa Granny; ...
NOTE : If you have not seen much of LaDivaLoca in the Canteen recently
it is because she has been busy working on threads.
She has a 3 week vacation coming up in the near future
and is preparing threads to be posted for her while she is gone.
She also has been attending volunteer EMT training at her local Fire Dept.

Thank You LaDivaLoca for your work in the Canteen each week
AND for being a volunteer in your home town.

Click on the pic and I'll guide you
to the start of today's thread

Showing support and boosting the morale of
our military and our allies military
and the family members of the above.
Honoring those who have served before.

8 posted on 10/21/2003 4:06:25 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (Have you said Thank You to a service man or woman today?)
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To: kristinn; Angelwood; tgslTakoma; All
Click on the pic and I'll guide you
to the start of this important thread.

9 posted on 10/21/2003 4:12:38 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (Have you said Thank You to a service man or woman today?)
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To: All
Daylight Saving Time Reminder
2 a.m. Oct. 26 2003

We "fall back" at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October
by setting our clock back one hour
and thus returning to standard time.

10 posted on 10/21/2003 4:15:59 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (WOO HOO The Canteen will be open 1 hour longer this weekend!)
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To: ODC-GIRL; M1911A1; Defender2; OneLoyalAmerican; darkwing104; ChiefKujo; Old Sarge; txradioguy; ...

11 posted on 10/21/2003 4:19:47 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (mmmm DONUTS and COFFEE)
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CLICK HERE for Troop Prayer Thread 8

12 posted on 10/21/2003 4:26:25 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (God Bless and Protect our military and our allies military.)
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To: LaDivaLoca

Let patience have her perfect work;
Let God refine your gold;
For in His time He'll show you why,
And blessings great unfold. -Bosch
God's gift of joy is worth the wait.
13 posted on 10/21/2003 4:26:48 AM PDT by The Mayor (We honor God when we honor one another.)
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl; All

14 posted on 10/21/2003 4:28:05 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (THANK YOU TROOPS, PAST and PRESENT)
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To: 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub
Good morning, Tonk. How's it going?

A very pleasant good morning to all of our militarty at home and abroad. Thanks for your continued service to our country.

15 posted on 10/21/2003 4:28:08 AM PDT by E.G.C.
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To: The Mayor
Good Morning Mayor!
16 posted on 10/21/2003 4:29:06 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (THANK YOU TROOPS, PAST and PRESENT)
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To: 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub
Morning : )
17 posted on 10/21/2003 4:30:11 AM PDT by The Mayor (We honor God when we honor one another.)
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To: E.G.C.
Good Morning E.G.C.
I'm doing great today and hope you are also.
Looks like a beautiful Fall day here in Oregon.
18 posted on 10/21/2003 4:30:45 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (THANK YOU TROOPS, PAST and PRESENT)
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To: armymarinemom; All
I have started a petition for Military Families and Veterans
Petitions Online ^ | 10/2/2003 | Armymarinemom
Posted on 10/02/2003 7:20 PM PDT by armymarinemom

"This petition will be up until May of 2004.
I would appreciate everyone spreading this link to all Military Families and Veterans Groups
who really support our country and Military."

19 posted on 10/21/2003 4:33:06 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (THANK YOU TROOPS, PAST and PRESENT)
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To: All
"This is from me to those that have not written yet, please write, use it,
tell about your family, your hobbies, how the weather is, what are you planning for the weekend.
Tell a funny thing that happened, send a joke anything. Tell about your pets and kids.
We miss home and it means a lot to hear from everyone."

From a US Marine's e-mail

20 posted on 10/21/2003 4:34:40 AM PDT by 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub (Have you said Thank You to a service man or woman today?)
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