Roman Gladiators Essay, Research Paper
Pads?…We Don t Need No Stinkin Pads. Men give them their souls, women their bodies too…On one and the same account, they glorify and degrade and diminish them-indeed, they openly condemn them to ignominy and the loss of civil rights, excluding them from the senate house and rostrum, the senatorial and equestrian orders, and all other honors or distinctions of any type. The perversity of it! Yet, they love whom they punish; they belittle whom they esteem; the are they glorify, the artist they debase. What judgment is this: on account of that for which he is vilified, he is deemed worthy or merit! (Tertullian, De spectaculis 22). The gate opens and you run out into the huge circle, into the view of 50,000 cheering or jeering spectators, all around you people are dying, and if you are not quick with your wits and your actions, you will be next. You are not in some rugby game gone terribly wrong, you are in the Coliseum in ancient Rome and you are a gladiator. Perhaps you are a slave, a captured warrior from a rival nation, or a convicted criminal, but there is no time to categorize now, you must use every ounce of your being to not be killed. This was the scene for many thousands of people who either chose or were forced into the gladiatorial arena to fight for glory and for their lives. However, there was much more to these games than just the fighting, although the fighting was the main event of the proceedings. One important aspect that is often overlooked when discussing gladiatorial games, are the actual arenas. Many small towns had their own arenas where they may have held their own games, but no arena in the world could compare to the Flavian Amphitheater, later known as the Coliseum. The building of the coliseum was began by the emperor Vespasian, and the emperor Titus completed the third and fourth stories and celebrated the completion of the amphitheater with the games that lasted for 100 days in 80 CE. The coliseum had seating for around 50, 000 people with special seats for the people who held higher positions. It was kind of like any sporting event today, you get your celebrities and political figures closer to the floor and your commoners in the nosebleed seats, and four stories up could give you a bit of a nosebleed. The floor of the coliseum hid special cages and pens for animals or people who could appear at any time and give the effect of coming out of thin air and add yet another deadly element for the combatants to negotiate.There were different types of gladiators, each with different types of weapons and armor. A Thracian gladiator had a wide-brimmed crested helmet and a short curved sword, in addition to high leg armor. A Secutor gladiator, had an egg shaped helmet with round eye hole, armor on one leg, and a legionary style sword and shield. The Retiarius style of gladiators, had an arm protector, a large net, a trident, and no helmet. Another interesting type of gladiator was known as the Bestiarius, and this type of gladiator specialized in fighting animals, although these gladiators were the lowest of all gladiators in rank and popularity. The gladiatorial games were much more than just a bunch of guys fighting each other, they were an extravagant celebration of the power of the emperor and the success of the empire. The day would usually begin with a procession led by the emperor that would include all of the combatants and condemned to be dealt with that day. The first thing that one would witness would be mock fights or animal displays featuring trained animals or fights that pitted animals against animals or animals against the Beastiarius. After this your lunch would be complemented by witnessing the death of criminals accused of the most heinous of crimes such as arson, murder or being a Christian, which is considered a combination of treason and sacrilege, so you kind of cover more ground with that one. Sometimes these executions would be in the form of animal versus unarmed man, or a re-enactment of a mythological tale in which the star really dies. These rituals were extremely popular events and were rivaled in magnificence only by the triumphs that were celebrated after great success in battle. The extravagance of these events was one of the aspects that makes them so interesting. Every gladiator swore an oath solemn oath called the sacramentum gladitorium, which was a bit similar to the oath that all legionaries took, but much more dire: I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword. Everyone who became a gladiator was automatically infamis, or below the law and by definition not a respectable citizen. A small number of upper class men chose to fight in the arena as a gladiator, but this was generally looked down upon, as a higher class citizen lowering himself to a lower level. Another interesting aspect of the gladiators was the way that they were viewed by the Roman people. Basically people fell into one of two sides when it came to gladiators, one side that thought that gladiators were noble and a brilliant display of bravery and courage , and others that believed the gladiators and the gladiatorial games to be butchery and a ever too realistic sign of the times, regarding the lack of importance placed on human life. The first group who believed the gladiators to be noble believed that there was nothing more noble than for a man to fight to prevent his own death and if death came, to accept it and die well. People were impressed with the fighting spirit of the gladiators, as is illustrated in this quote from Cicero s work, Tusculanae Disputationes; Just look at the gladiators, either debased men or foreigners, and consider, the blows they endure! Consider how they who have been well disciplined prefer to accept a blow than ignominiously avoid it! How often it is made clear that they consider nothing other than the satisfaction of their master or their people!…What even mediocre gladiator ever groans, ever alters the expression on his face? Which of them acts shamefully either standing or falling? And which of them, even when he does succumb, ever contrasts his neck when ordered to receive the blow? (Tusculanae Disputationes 2.17.41)
This quote helps to sum up the Roman people s attitudes towards these gladiators. They were viewed as heroes of sorts, or role models, but only because of the bravery and courage or fighting acumen, they displayed while in combat. People saw them in the same way that people today may view a favorite sports player or a favorite character portrayed in an action movie. The gladiators even became heartthrobs in some cases, earning the affection of the women or girls in Rome. The favorite gladiators of Roman times were those who fought well, seemed to know no fear and were not afraid to face death, however gruesome or painful it may seem to them. If a gladiator was able to continue fighting long enough he may have become quite rich and been able to buy his freedom. If this was the case, these warriors often became bodyguards for rich and powerful citizens, or sometimes went to teach in the gladiatorial schools where they may have learned the schools that kept them alive. In rare cases, the gladiators may have just chosen to continue on fighting in the arena, even after they had the ability to free themselves. They believed they had found their calling, and although one day it could and probably would kill them, they knew that they would never be able to achieve the glory outside that they could achieve inside the Coliseum. Another attitude shown towards the gladiatorial games was one of disgust, disgust towards the executions and games and the complete lack of human compassion shown towards the death of others. These people believed that the games were a terrible sign of the warlike tendencies that the Romans displayed. These opponents of the games felt that it was simply barbaric to make people fight for their own lives, or to be executed in front of the whole Roman population. Supporters of gladiatorial games said the contests were about honor and dishonor, but opponents wanted none of it. They felt that there were other more necessary ways to prove your honor, as in battle defending your country, or in the way you acted in your everyday life. One who shared this general disdain for the gladiatorial games was Seneca, who expressed his displeasure with the games in his epistles. In his seventh epistle, Seneca states, I turned in to the games one mid-day hoping for a little wit and humor there. I was bitterly disappointed. It was really mere butchery. The morning s show was merciful compared to it. Then men were thrown to lions and bears: but at midday to the audience. There was no escape for them. The slayer was kept fighting until he could be slain. Kill him! flog him! burn him alive was the cry: Why is he such a coward? Why won t he rush on the steel? Why does he fall so meekly? Why won t he die willingly? Unhappy that I am, how have I deserved that I must will be corrupted by the multitude, or , if you show disgust, be hated by them. So stay away. (Seneca, Epistles 7.)This quote further illustrates the idea that some people shared as the games being a disgusting primal display and being completely unnecessary. Note the division between those who enjoyed the games and those opposed to them. The writer Seneca believes that the people are being punished and tortured for watching these games, he feels that there is no reason for a human to endure such suffering, for doing nothing more than being a slave in most cases. But Seneca places much of the blame on the audience, saying it is their fault. Many people shared this opinion. The blamed the people, who called for and enjoyed these types of games, as the real villains, the emperor was just giving the people what they wanted. Another interesting viewpoint is that the combatants functioned with only two goals in mind, the satisfaction of the people and the satisfaction of their masters if they were a slave. If a master s slave was a very successful and well liked gladiator, it reflected favorably upon the master. The gladiator fought to bring his master and the rest of the master s slaves an ideal of success and superiority. The glory given to the brave gladiator was impossible without the master and without an audience. The gladiator was not raised to the same level as his master, but only observed his master to make sure he was satisfying him. According to Seneca, the gladiator, like a good soldier endures his wounds, counts his scars, and pierced with projectiles, dying, loves him for whom he falls: the general [or emperor] (De vita beata 15.5) The idea that gladiators fought for the satisfaction of the people is one that may seem pretty outlandish but if you think about it from the point of a view of a gladiator, it makes sense. What else would a slave who has had nothing in his life have to live for other than the idea that he could become a living hero? Of course the means to that end are easier said than done, but it was still a possibility. The gladiator would fight to create a sense of worth for himself, perhaps because he has always been unsure about where in this world he stands, but with success in battle, comes happinesss in battle so actually it is a very understandable concept. But just as watching a gladiator perform masterfully was inspiring to some, the combatant s failure to perform could fill the audience with disgust and contempt. The famous writer Cicero said, In the case of battles between gladiators and in the case of the lowest condition and fortune of the human race, we are inclined to despise the timid suppliant and those who plead for their lives, but we desire those to live who offer themselves up to death bravely and fiercely. (Pro Milone 34.92). This attitude only further confirms many people s attitudes regarding the lack of importance placed on human life, because people see these gladiators as merely an object for entertainment and see no reason to think that maybe it isn’t right to throw people to hungry lions, or have two guys fight until one of them cuts the other guy s head off.