Gladiatorial Games(If I Was There) Essay, Research Paper
My Dearest ????????,
During my recent travels through Rome, I decided to take in some of the Roman
entertainment. I figured a gladiatorial show was the perfect place to do this since public
slaughter is an important part of Roman culture. I heard about these gruesome shows the
people put on in the Colosseum, which was originally Flavian Amphitheater. I had ideas
about gladiators and the shows they put on, but I never, ever imagined the details of that life
could be so intense.
After talking to some of the locals, I was able to broaden my perspective on these
games. In Latin, the name swordsman does not do justice to the life of that professional
combatant. The first gladiators were part of a sacrificial rite adopted from the Etruscans.
First introduced to Rome in 264 BCE, the sons of Junius Brutus honored their father at his
funeral by matching three pairs of gladiators. Gladiatorial combat was originally part of a
religious ceremony that was intended to insure that the dead would be accompanied to the
“next world” by armed attendants and that the spirits of the dead would be appeased with
this offering of blood.
Traditionally, this ritual was performed to honor important men. However, as the
years passed, the ritual lost much of its religious significance and this sport became more
popular. This class of public entertainment has passed from being a compliment to the dead
to being a compliment to the living.
Gladiators are generally condemned criminals, prisoners of war, or slaves bought for
this purpose. Some free men and even women volunteer to enter this profession in hopes of
popularity and patronage by wealthy citizens. The free men are often social outcasts, freed
slaves or discharged soldiers. Gladiators are trained in combat at special, imperial schools.
?The gladiator, by his oath, transforms what had originally been an involuntary act to a
voluntary one, and so, at the very moment that he becomes a slave condemned to death, he
becomes a free agent and a man with honor to uphold?
I among many other men, women, and children flocked to the Colosseum. (I am
enclosing pictures because there is no way I can describe the details of this place.) There
aren?t any ethnic or financial prejudices when it comes to being a spectator. These games are
among the bloodiest displays of public amusement I have ever seen or even heard of. It is
hard to explain or even contemplate the excess that these people go to.
At dawn we packed ourselves into the amphitheater, talking of little else, anxiously
waiting to participate and watch the games. After a loud and trumpeted announcement,
gladiator teams entered the arena. A team of lightly armed men faced a team of heavily
armed men jousting with dull weapons at first until the crowd yelled and encouraged the
fights to finish. Sharp swords and daggers were then brought in. These fights are so serious
that the weapons have to be presented to the Emperor to test their sharpness. With each and
every type of game, the crowds are merciless, crying for more gladiators and bloodshed.
In the morning, battles between wild beasts are presented. The beasts that are to
fight varies from day to day. It could be bears fighting buffaloes, buffaloes against elephants,
elephants against rhinoceros. What I saw were ostriches, which were brought in to amuse us.
After dashing around the arena, they were killed by arrows from archers who were located in
the stands. Then fights between men and tame beasts were called, and held to demonstrate
man’s power over even the strongest of beasts.
In the afternoon I saw gladiators appropriately paired; evenly matched, but not
identical so there wasn?t any competitive advantage. Depending on the emperor of the day,
there might be dwarfs fighting women, Amazons, or even senators and emperors. Also
criminals of all ages and both sexes were sent into the arena without weapons to face certain
death from wild animals that would tear them to pieces. The morning?s show was merciful
compared to this. There was no escape, the slayer was kept fighting until he could be
slain. Spectators cried out, ?Kill him! Flog him! Burn him alive! Why is he such a coward?
Why won?t he just rush on the steel? Why does he fall so meekly? Why won?t he die
willingly?? This one gladiator had been wounded and he wished to concede defeat. He
held up his index finger and waited for the crowd to respond. We could either throw
handkerchiefs in the arena for him to be spared or throw our thumbs down to have him
killed. You guessed it, the thumbs went down. The gladiator was to be killed, he was
expected to accept the final blow in a ritualized fashion, without crying out or flinching.
Once the fighter was down, a slave went out to make sure he was dead. He then dragged the
body with a hook through a gate called the Porta Libitinensis (Libitina was a death goddess).
When the day’s events were just about over, barred doors were opened and hundreds
of half-naked Jewish prisoners, of all ages, brought back from the Jewish war and the
destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, were driven into the center of the arena. The crowds
screamed for more barred doors to be lifted so that starved, man-eating lions and tigers
could be released to attack the unarmed prey. This sight was so atrocious I could barely
After all the events of the day were finally over, mounds of corpses were removed
and armies of slaves prepared the arena for the next day.
I will never forget this gruesome experience of butchery in the Colloseum. I am still
absorbing the events that have taken place. I can?t say I agree with this idea of such
slaughter and from my observations, I am sure I am not alone. Whether they serve to
appease the masses, provide entertainment, or even condition people against death, the
gladiatorial games are an important part of this Roman society. Being just a passer by, who
am I to judge?
It pleases me to know that I will never have to be in that arena fighting for my life so
others will be entertained. You are my love and I count the days until we are one.
All my love,
Adkins, Lesley, and Roy A. Adkins. Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1994.
?Arena: Gladiatorial Games,? Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
http://www.britannica.com/search?query=gladiatorial+games. February 5, 2001.
Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization: A Brief History Volume I. Belmont, CA: West/