THE ROMAN GAMES - A Brief Study of Roman Popular Culture

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Roman civilisation, a cultural milieu which we mainly take for granted as the second of the two foundations of Western culture, is not quite as cohesive or coherent as one might imagine.
Deep in the Roman past lie the mysterious Etruscans – a people of whom we know very little.
The Roman gods were all originally Etruscan deities – with their origins in the mists of Indo-European history.
The Roman priesthood, rituals, festivals and customs all had their origins with the Etruscans, and it was only during the Republic that these primitive aspects of Roman civilisation were modified by the importation of Greek ideas and ideals.

The Roman gods became associated with the ancient Greek deities, and the rude, ugly Etruscan temples were rebuilt as classically proportioned, Hellenic style shrines.
The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate.

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There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BCE, and thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life in the Roman world.Its popularity led to its use in ever more lavish and costly spectacles or "gladiatorial games".
The games reached their peak between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, and they persisted not only throughout the social and economic crises of the declining Roman state but even after Christianity became the official religion in the 4th century CE.


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'Myras was a young gladiator who was considered to be exceptionally well endowed sexually.
Because of this he was usually required to fight without a loincloth - 'bollock-naked'.
Since becoming a gladiator, he had won every one of his fights, and he was the 'darling of the crowd'.
This was mainly because, if his defeated opponent was still alive, and not badly mutilated, he would rape the unfortunate fighter before emasculating him, and then 'finishing him off. - usually by disemboweling, or ramming a spear or sword up the anus or, more quickly, by slitting the fighter's throat.
Being 'bollock-naked', it was usually obvious, with Myras, that he was anticipating raping his opponent, as he usually developed a huge 'hard-on' early in the fight - which obviously distracted and unnerved his opponents.
However, there had to come a day when young Myras would have to fight an opponent who was stronger of more skillful than he was, or there would simply come a day when he became distracted or tire, and make that fatal mistake that would cost him his life.
On that day everything was going well until some young lad in the crowd made an admiring remark about Myras' remarkably erect penis.
Foolishly, Myras, for a brief moment acknowledged the compliment, and in that second his opponent struck, with a swift slice to Myras' neck.
The cut was not deep enough to kill him outright, and Myras' opponent immediately followed up with a deft slice to Myras' exposed groin.
The shock of the initial cut caused Myras to ejaculate violently, and as his stiff cock was practically vertical, his bulging ball-bag was fully exposed.
His opponent, who was an excellent and skillful swordsman, then neatly sliced through Myras' dangling scrotum, and poor Myras' hefty balls fell to the sand.
Fully castrated, the naked boy, with blood frothing from his mouth, nose and neck, collapsed onto the sand, on his back, no longer squirting spunk but instead spraying piss over his belly and chest from his wildly jerking, and still stiff prick.
At the same time he was farting loudly, and repeatedly, and uncontrollably emptying his bowels onto the sand.
He then felt his opponent grabbing his huge stiff prick, slicing it off at the hairy root, and then holding it up for the delirious, cheering crowd.
But the last thing he was aware of was being 'finished-off'.
His legs were roughly pulled apart, and then he felt the appalling agony of his opponent's sword being rammed up into his hairy arse-hole, and shoved up inside him, mangling his guts, while the crowd cheered their approval.
And after that there was nothing !'


Christian emperors continued to sponsor such entertainments until at least the late 5th century CE, when the last known gladiatorial games took place.
Early literary sources seldom agree on the origins of gladiators and the gladiator games.
In the late 1st century BCE Nicolaus of Damascus believed they were Etruscan (see above).
A generation later, Livy wrote that they were first held in 310 BCE by the Campanians in celebration of their victory over the Samnites.


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Long after the games had ceased, the 7th century CE writer Isidore of Seville derived Latin lanista, or manager of gladiators, from the Etruscan for executioner, and the title of Charon who was an official who accompanied the dead fighters from the Roman gladiatorial arena, from Charun, psychopomp of the Etruscan underworld.
Roman historians emphasised the gladiator games as a foreign import, most likely Etruscan.
Livy dates the earliest Roman gladiator games to 264 BCE, in the early stages of Rome's First Punic War against Carthage.
Decimus Iunius Brutus Scaeva had three gladiator pairs fight to the death in Rome's 'cattle market', the Forum Boarium, to honour his dead father, Brutus Pera.
This is described as munus: a commemorative duty owed the manes of a dead ancestor by his descendants.

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The gladiator type used was Thracian, but the development of the munus and its gladiator types was most strongly influenced by Samnium's support for Hannibal and subsequent punitive expeditions by Rome and her Campanian allies; the earliest and most frequently mentioned type was the Samnite.
The war in Samnium, immediately afterwards, was attended with equal danger and an equally glorious conclusion.
The enemy, besides their other warlike preparation, had made their battle-line to glitter with new and splendid arms.
There were two corps: the shields of the one were inlaid with gold, of the other with silver.
The Romans had already heard of these splendid accoutrements, but their generals had taught them that a soldier should be rough to look on, not adorned with gold and silver but putting his trust in iron and in courage.
The Dictator, as decreed by the senate, celebrated a triumph, in which by far the finest show was afforded by the captured armour.
So the Romans made use of the splendid armour of their enemies to do honour to their gods; while the Campanians, in consequence of their pride and in hatred of the Samnites, equipped after this fashion the gladiators who furnished them entertainment at their feasts, and bestowed on them the name 'Samnites'.
Livy's account underlines the later theatrical ethos of the gladiator show: splendidly, exotically armed and armoured barbarians, treacherous and degenerate, are dominated by Roman iron and native courage.
His plain Romans virtuously dedicate the magnificent spoils of war to the Gods.
Their Campanian allies stage a dinner-entertainment, using gladiators who may not be Samnites, but play the Samnite role.
Other groups and tribes would join the cast list as Roman territories expanded.
Most gladiators were armed and armoured in the manner of the enemies of Rome.
The munera were originally a form of historic enactment, in which the only honourable option for the gladiator was to fight well, or else die well.

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In 216 BCE Marcus Ameilius Lepidus, late consul and augur, was honoured by his sons with three days of gladiatora munera in the Forum Romanum. This featured twenty-two pairs of gladiators.
Ten years later, Scipio Africanus gave a commemorative munus in Iberia for his father and uncle, casualties in the Punic Wars.
High status non-Romans – and possibly Romans too – volunteered as his gladiators.
The context of the Punic Wars and Rome's near-disastrous defeat at Cannae in 216 BCE link these early games to munificence, the celebration of military victory and the religious expiation of military disaster; these munera appear to serve a morale-raising agenda in an era of military threat and expansion.
The next recorded munus was more extravagant. In 183 BCE, there were 3 days of funeral games, with 120 gladiators and public distribution of meat (visceratio data), at the funeral of Publius Licinius – a practice that reflected the gladiatorial fights at Campanian banquets described by Livy and later deplored by Silius Italicus.
The enthusiastic adoption of gladiatoria munera by Rome's Iberian allies shows how easily, and how early, the culture of the gladiator munus permeated places far from Rome itself.
By 174 BCE 'small' Roman munera; private or public, provided by an editor of relatively low importance, may have been so commonplace and unremarkable they were not considered worth recording.

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Many gladiatorial games were given in that year, some unimportant, but one was noteworthy beyond the rest - that of Titus Flaminius which he gave to commemorate the death of his father, which lasted four days, and was accompanied by a public distribution of meats, a banquet, and scenic performances.
The climax of the show which was big for the time was that in three days seventy four gladiators fought.
Eventually, Gladiators became big business for trainers and owners, for politicians on the make and those who had reached the top.
In 105 BCE, the ruling consuls offered Rome its first taste of state-sponsored "barbarian combat" demonstrated by gladiators from Capua, as part of a training program for the military. It proved immensely popular.
The ludi, or 'state games', sponsored by the ruling elite and dedicated to the numen of a deity such as Jupiter, a divine or heroic ancestor, and later, during the Imperium, the emperor, could now compete with privately funded munera for popular support.
In this way the munera, or 'Games', had been transformed form a funeral ritual into a popular entertainment for the masses.
A Gladiator; named from the Latin gladiator meaning "swordsman", was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals.
A very few gladiators were volunteers who risked their legal and social standing and their lives by appearing in the arena.
Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death.
Irrespective of their origin, gladiators offered audiences an example of Rome's martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim.
They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world.
The Games, however, did not only feature gladiators.
The Romans 'imported' other forms of combat from their Greek neighbours.

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Boxing, wrestling and the Pankration, a vicious form of 'all-in', 'no holds barred' wrestling combined with boxing, also featured in the games, and usually preceded the gladiatorial contests.
Such contests were uncommon in the Public, or State games, but were a regular feature of the entertainment offered by privately owned arenas.
One of the main attractions of these Greek style entertainments was the fact that the combatants often performed completely naked, and by the time of the early Empire these strictly non-Roman style of games had degenerated into sado-masochistic displays of extreme violence and homo-erotic sexuality.

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In addition, the owners of the private arenas were allowed to 'buy up' condemned slaves, contracting to have them executed within a fixed time limit.
Such condemned slaves would then be tortured and executed in the arena for the amusement of the general public.
By the closing years of the politically and socially unstable Late Republic and Early Empire, the Public or State Games provided their sponsors with extravagantly expensive but effective opportunities for self-promotion while offering cheap, and often free, exciting entertainment to their clients.
Those in power, and those seeking it, needed the support of the plebians and their tribunes, whose votes might be won with an exceptionally spectacular show (or sometimes even the mere promise of one).
Sulla, during his term as praetor, showed his usual acumen in breaking his own sumptuary laws to give the most lavish munus yet seen in Rome, on occasion of his wife's funeral – thus maintaining the link between the games and religious ritual.
Ownership of gladiators or a gladiator school gave muscle and flair to Roman politics.
In 65 BCE, newly elected curule aedile Julius Caesar topped Sulla's display with games he justified as munus, (funeral games) for his father, who had died twenty years before.

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Despite an enormous personal debt, he used three hundred and twenty gladiator pairs in silvered armour.
He had wanted more but the nervous Senate, mindful of the recent Spartacus revolt, fearful of Caesar's burgeoning private armies and even more fearful of his overwhelming popularity, imposed a limit of 320 pairs as the maximum number of gladiators a citizen could keep in Rome.
Caesar's showmanship was unprecedented, not only in scale and expense, but in putting aside a Republican tradition of munera as funeral offerings. The practical differences between ludi (Games), and munera (Funeral Rites), were beginning to blur.
Gladiatorial games, usually linked with beast shows, executions and wrestling and boxing matches, spread throughout the Republic and beyond.
Anti-corruption laws of 65 and 63 BCE attempted but signally failed to curb their political usefulness to sponsors.

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Following Caesar's assassination and the civil war, Augustus assumed Imperial authority over the State ludi, and formalised their provision as a civic and religious duty..
His revision of sumptuary law claimed to save the Roman elite from the bankruptcies they would otherwise suffer.
Public Munera were restricted to the ludi of Saturnalia and Quinquatria.
The ceiling cost for a praetor's "economical" but official munus of a maximum 120 gladiators was to be 25,000 denarii ($500,000).
A "generous" Imperial ludus might cost no less than 180,000 denarii ($3.6 million).
Throughout the Empire, the greatest and most celebrated games would now be identified with the state-sponsored Imperial cult, which furthered public recognition, respect and approval for the Emperor, his law, and his agents.
Between 108 and 109 CE, Trajan celebrated his Dacian victories using a reported 10,000 gladiators (and 11,000 animals) over 123 days.
The cost of State munera continued to spiral out of control.
Legislation of 177 CE by Marcus Aurelius, which did little to stop it, was completely ignored by his son, Commodus.

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The private games, of course continued, but these were small scale affairs, mainly to be found in the provinces, although one or two private arenas were to be found in the environs of Rome.
The trade in gladiators, however was Empire-wide.
Rome's military success produced an influx of soldier-prisoners who were redistributed for use in State mines or amphitheatres, and for sale on the open market, where they were bought by the owners of the private arenas.
For example, in the aftermath of the Jewish Revolt, the gladiator schools and private arenas received an influx of Jews – those rejected for training would have been sent straight to the arenas as noxii.

The lowest form of gladiators were the noxii - people condemned to fight in the arena. There were two types - damnatio ad gladium - those condemned to die in the arena, often convicted criminals and damnatio ad ludos - those sent to fight and train as gladiators. 

The best – the most robust – were sent to Rome.
The granting of slave status to soldiers who had surrendered or allowed their own capture was regarded as an unmerited gift of life, and gladiator training was an opportunity for them to regain their honour in the munus or ludi.
Two other sources of gladiators and other fighters found increasingly during the Principate and the Pax Romana, were slaves condemned to the arena; - to gladiator schools and private arenas, (ad ludum gladiatorium), as punishment for crimes, and paid volunteers (auctoratii) who by the late Republic may have comprised approximately half – and possibly the most capable half – of all those who appeared in the arenas, both public and private.
The use of volunteers had a precedent in the Iberian munus of Scipio Africanus; but none of those had been paid.
For Romans, "gladiator" would have meant a schooled fighter, sworn and contracted to a master.
For those who were poor or non-citizens, the private arenas offered a trade, regular food, housing of sorts and a fighting chance of fame and fortune.
Those who fought in the arena were often allowed kept their prize money, and any gifts they received.
Tiberius offered some retired gladiators 100,000 sesterces for a return to the arena.
Nero gave the gladiator Spiculus property and residence "equal to those of men who had celebrated triumphs".
Mark Antony promoted gladiators to his personal guard.
Only slaves found guilty of specific offences could be sentenced to the arena.
Citizens were legally exempt from this sentence but could be stripped of citizenship and formally declared slaves.
Freedmen or freedwomen could be legally reverted to slavery.
Offences against the state merited the most humiliating punishments.

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By the 1st century BCE, offenders judged to be noxii (see above) – obnoxious to the state – were being condemned to the beasts (damnati ad bestias) in the arena, with almost no chance of survival, or were made to kill each other.
From the early Imperial era, some were forced to participate inhumiliating and novel forms of mythological or historical enactment, often of an overtly sexual nature, culminating in their execution.
Offenders judged less harshly might be condemned ad ludum venatorium or ad gladiatorium – combat with animals or gladiators, in which they were armed as thought appropriate.
These damnati at least might put on a good show and retrieve some respect.
They might even – and occasionally did – survive to fight another day.
Some may even have become "proper" gladiators.
Modern customs and institutions offer few useful parallels to the legal and social context which defined the gladiatoria munera.
Under law, anyone condemned to the arena or the gladiator schools (ad ludem) was a servus poenae, under sentence of death unless manumitted.

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A rescript of Hadrian reminded magistrates that "those sentenced to the sword" should be despatched immediately "or at least within the year". Those sentenced to the ludi should not be discharged before five years,  or three years if awarded manumission.
The phenomenon of the "volunteer" gladiator is more problematic.
All contracted volunteers, including those of equestrian and senatorial class, were legally enslaved by their auctoratio because it involved their potentially lethal submission to a master.
Nor does the citizen or free volunteer's "professional" status translate into modern terms.
All arenario (those who appeared in the arena) were "infames by reputation", a form of social dishonour which excluded them from most of the advantages and rights of citizenship.
Payment for such appearances compounded their infamia.
The legal and social status of even the most popular auctoritatii was thus marginal at best.
They could not vote, plead in court nor leave a will; unless they were manumitted, their lives and property belonged to their masters.
The most admired auctoratii – those who had re-enlisted following manumission – may have had little practical choice.
Under Roman law, a former gladiator could not "offer such services [as those of a gladiator] after manumission, because they cannot be performed without endangering [his] life."
Caesar's munus of 46 BCE included at least one equestrian, son of a Praetor, and possibly two senatorial volunteers.
Under Augustus, senators and equestrians and their descendants were formally excluded from the infamia of association with the arena and its personnel (arenario), however some magistrates – and some later Emperors – tacitly or openly, condoned such transgressions and some volunteers were prepared to embrace the resulting loss of status.
Some did so for payment, some for military glory and – in one recorded case – for personal honour.
In 11 CE Augustus, who enjoyed the games, bent his own rules and allowed equestrians to volunteer because "the prohibition was no use".
Under Tiberius, the Larinum decree (19 CE) reiterated the laws which Augustus himself had waived.
Thereafter Caligula flouted them and Claudius strengthened them.
Nero and Commodus ignored them. Valentinian II, some hundreds of years later, protested against the same infractions and repeated similar laws.

Emperors in the Arena

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Caligula, Titus, Hadrian, Lucius Verus, Caracalla, Geta and Didius Julianus were all said to have performed in the arena (either in public or private) but risks to themselves were minimal.
Claudius – characterised by his historians as morbidly cruel and boorish – fought a whale trapped in the harbour in front of a group of spectators.
Commentators invariably disapproved of such performances.
Commodus was a fanatical participant at the ludi.
He fought as a secutor, styling himself "Hercules Reborn".
As a bestiarius he was said to have killed 100 lions in one day. On another occasion, he decapitated a running ostrich with a specially designed dart, carried the bloodied head and his sword over to the Senatorial seats and gesticulated as though they were next.
He was said to have restyled Nero's colossal statue in his own image as "Hercules Reborn" and re-dedicated it to himself as "Champion of secutores; only left-handed fighter to conquer twelve times one thousand men."
For this, he drew a gigantic stipend from the public purse.
Perhaps to explain both his obsession and administrative incompetence, gossips suggested that his mother, Faustina the Younger, had conceived him with a gladiator.

Schools and Training

The earliest named gladiator school (s. ludus; pl. ludi) is that of Aurelius Scaurus, the lanista at Capua, in Campania.
Ludus Grachii
Lanistae were head of their familia gladiatoria, with legal power over life and death of every family member, including servii poenae, auctoratii and ancillaries.
They were infames, on a social footing with pimps and butchers, and despised as price gougers.
No such stigma attached to a gladiator owner (munerarius or editor) of good family, high status and independent means.
Cicero congratulated his friend Atticus on buying a splendid troop: if he rented them out, he might recover their entire cost after two performances.
Following the Spartacus Revolt and the political exploitation of munera, legislation progressively restricted the ownership, siting and organisation of the schools.
By Domitian's time, many had been more or less absorbed by the State, including those at Pergamum, Alexandria, Praeneste and Capua.
The city of Rome itself had four; the Ludus Magnus (the largest and most important, housing up to about 2,000 gladiators), Ludus Dacicus, Ludus Gallicus, and the Ludus Matutinus, which trained bestiarii.
Volunteers required a magistrate's permission to join a school as auctoritatii.
If this was granted, the school's physician assessed their suitability.
Their contract (auctoramentum) stipulated how often they were to perform, their fighting style and earnings.
A condemned bankrupt or debtor accepted as novicius could negotiate for partial or complete debt payment by his lanista or editor.
Faced with runaway re-enlistment fees for skilled auctoratii, Marcus Aurelius set their upper limit at 12,000 sesterces.
Those condemned ad ludus were probably branded or marked with tattoos (stigma) on the face, legs and/or hands.
Their stigma may have been text – habitually fugitive slaves were marked thus on the forehead until Constantine banned facial stigma in 325 CE.
Soldiers were marked on the hand.

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All prospective fighters in the arena, including wrestlers, boxers, and gladiators, swore the same oath (sacramentum).
Novices (novicii) trained under teachers of particular fighting styles, probably retired fighters.
They could ascend through a hierarchy of grades (s. palus) in which primus palus was the highest.
Lethal weapons were prohibited in the schools – weighted, blunt wooden versions were probably used.
Fighting styles were probably learned through constant rehearsal as choreographed "numbers".
An elegant, economical style was preferred.
Training included preparation for what was hoped would be a stoical, unflinching death.
Successful training required intense commitment.
Fighters were accommodated in cells typically arranged in barrack formation around a central practice arena.
Juvenal describes the segregation of fighters according to type and status, suggestive of rigid hierarchies within the schools: "even the lowest scum of the arena observe this rule; even in prison they're separate".
Boxers were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, as they were considered to be unsophisticated brutes, who did not used weapons and simply used 'brute force' to slug away at one another.
In addition, like the wrestlers, the boxers often fought completely naked, and most Romans had a horror of (as well as a fascination with) public nudity.
Amongst the gladiators, Retiarii (who were popularly associated with passive homosexuality) were kept away from damnatii, and "fag targeteers" from "armoured heavies".
As most ordinarii at games were from the same school, this kept potential opponents separate and safe from each other until the lawful munus.
Discipline could be extreme, even lethal.

Of the two schools identified at Pompeii (one built on the remains of the other), the first could cater for 15–20 gladiators.
Its replacement could have housed about 100 and included a very small cell, probably for lesser punishments and so low that standing was impossible.
Despite the harsh discipline, gladiators represented a substantial investment for their lanista and were otherwise well cared for.
Research suggests they may have fought barefoot.
Regular massage and high quality medical care helped mitigate an otherwise very severe training regime.
Part of Galen's medical training was at a gladiator school in Pergamum where he saw (and would later criticise) the training, diet, and long term health prospects of the gladiators.


Mosaic at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid showing a retiarius named Kalendio (shown surrendering in the upper section) fighting a secutor named Astyanax.
The Ø sign by Kalendio's name implies he was killed after surrendering.
In early munera, death was considered the proper outcome of combat.
Later, known gladiators often fought in matches advertised sine missione (without release [from the sentence of death]), which suggests that missione had become common by that time.
The contract between editor and lanista could include compensation for unexpected deaths.
Later, as the demand for gladiators began to exceed supply, there was an official Augustan ban on matches sine missione, a pragmatic decision that also happened to reflect popular demands for "natural justice".
Refusals by Caligula and Claudius to spare popular but defeated fighters did nothing to boost their own popularity.
In most circumstances, a popular gladiator who fought well was likely to be spared.
Spectators expected a legitimate and definite conclusion to the munus.
By common custom, it was left to the spectators to decide whether or not a losing gladiator should be spared, and they also decided the winner in a "standing tie", though the latter was rare.

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Most matches employed a senior referee (summa rudis) and an assistant, shown in mosaics with long staffs (rudes) to caution or separate opponents at some crucial point in the match.
A gladiator's self-acknowledged defeat – signalled by a raised finger (ad digitum) – told the referee to stop the combat, and refer to the editor, whose decision would usually rest on the crowd's mood.
The number of combats fought by gladiators was extremely variable. Most fought at two or three munera annually but an unknown number died in their first match.
Up to 150 combats are recorded for a very few individuals.
A single bout probably lasted between 10–15 minutes, or 20 at most.
Spectators preferred well matched ordinarii, with complementary fighting styles, but other combinations are found, such as several gladiators fighting together, or the serial replacement of a match loser by a new gladiator, who would fight the winner.
Victors received the palm branch and an award from the editor.

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An outstanding fighter might receive a laurel crown and money from an appreciative crowd but for anyone originally condemned ad ludi the greatest reward was manumission, symbolised by the gift of a wooden training sword or staff (rudis) from the editor.
Martial describes a match between Priscus and Verus, who fought so evenly and bravely, for so long, that when both acknowledged defeat at the same instant, Titus awarded victory and a rudis to each.
Flamma was awarded the rudis four times, but chose to remain a gladiator.

Outline of the Games

Surviving contemporary accounts of games and matches were written by members of Rome's elite to illustrate a point or to celebrate the exceptional.
They provide very little substance for accurate reconstruction or generalisation, but an outline of games can be conjectured, using written histories, contemporary accounts, statuary, ephemera, memorabilia and stylised pictographic evidence.
Almost all comes from the late republic and Empire, much of it from Pompeii.
The earliest munera took place at or near the tomb of the deceased, and these were organised by their munerator (who made the offering).
Later games were held by an editor, either identical with the munerator or an official employed by him.
As time passed these titles and meanings may have merged.
From the Principate (commencing with Augustus) onwards, private citizens could personally fund gladiatorial munera with Imperial permission, and the assistance of a lanista, but an editor increasingly tended to be a state official.
For small-town public games, from Claudius onwards, quaestors, the lowest rank of Roman magistrate, were obliged to fund two thirds of the costs from personal sources.
Bigger games were put on by senior magistrates, who could better afford them but the largest and most lavish were paid for by the emperor himself.

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Augustan legislation – or custom – standardised the munus as a munus legitimum.
This combined venationes (animal fights or animal hunts), and on occassions boxing and wrestling in the morning: the brief Ludi meridiani at midday, when condemned criminals would be executed, and gladiatores in the afternoon.
Games were advertised beforehand on conspicuously displayed billboards, giving the reason for the game, its editor, venue, date and the number of paired gladiators (ordinarii) to be used.
Highlighted features were included, such as venationes, executions, music and any luxuries to be provided for the spectators; these might include a decorated awning against the sun, and water sprinklers.
Food, drink, sweets and occasionally "door prizes" could be offered.

A more detailed program (libellus) was prepared for the day of the munus  to show the names, types and match records of gladiator pairs (of interest to gamblers) and their order of appearance.
Copies of the libellus were distributed among the crowd on the day of the match.
Left-handed gladiators were advertised as an interesting rarity on libelli; they were trained to fight right-handers, which gave them advantage over most opponents and produced an interestingly unorthodox combination.

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The day of the munus began with venationes (beast hunts) and bestiari (beast fighting) gladiators. Sometimes beasts were unharmed and simply exhibited.
This would be followed by Greek style boxing, wrestling and the Pankration.
Tableau (Mythological Re-enactment of Prometheus)
from the Games for the Acession of Glaba
'Story of Gracchus - Chapter XX'
The content of ludi meridiani was variable, but usually involved executions of noxii (sometimes as "mythological" re-enactments, often of a sexual nature) or others condemned (damnatii) to the arena.
Gladiators may have been involved in these though the crowd – and the gladiators themselves – preferred the "dignity" of an even contest.
There were also comedy fights.
A crude Pompeian graffito suggests a burlesque of musicians, dressed as animals named Ursus tibicen (flute-playing bear) and Pullus cornicen (horn-blowing chicken), perhaps as accompaniment to clowning by paegniarii during a mock contest of the ludi meridiani.
Pompeian tomb evidence shows the munus as a civic and religious rite sponsored by a magistrate as editor.
from the Games for the Accession of Vespasian
'The Story of Gracchus - Chapter XXIII'
A procession (pompa) entered the arena, led by the editors lictors bearing fasces, to signify his power over life and death.
They were followed by a small band of tubicines playing a fanfare.
Images of the gods were carried in to sanctify the pompa, followed by a scribe (to record the outcome), and a man carrying the palm branch used to honour victors.
The editor entered among a retinue who carried the arms and armour to be used; more musicians followed then horses.
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The gladiators presumably came in last.
"Warm-up" matches were probably fought before the main events, using blunted weapons – some munera may have used blunted weapons throughout.

The editor (or his honoured representative) would check the weapons (probatio armorum) for the "real" matches.
These were the highlight of the day - as inventive, varied and novel as the editor could afford.
Armatures could be very costly – some were flamboyantly decorated with exotic feathers, jewels and precious metals. Increasingly the munus was the editor's gift to spectators, who had come to expect the best as their due.
In late Republican munera, between 10 and 13 pairs could have fought on one day; this assumes one match at a time in the course of an afternoon.
The Zilten mosaic in Libya (ca 80–100 CE) shows musicians in context of a provincial ludus (gladiators, bestiari, or venatores and prisoners attacked by beasts).
Their instruments are a long straight trumpet (tubicen), a large curved horn (Cornu) and a water  organ (hydraulis).
Similar representations (musicians, gladiators and bestiari) are found on a tomb relief in Pompeii.

Factions and Rivals

Popular factions of the munera (and ludi) are described throughout the Imperial era.
Under Augustan legislation, the Samnite type was renamed secutor (equipped with an oblong or "large" shield), whose supporters were secutarii.
As the games evolved, any lightly armed, defensive fighter could be included in this group.
The heavily armoured and armed Thracian types (Thraex) and Murmillo, who fought with smaller shields, were parmularii (small shield), as were their supporters.
Trajan preferred the parmularii and Domitian the secutarii; Marcus Aurelius took neither side. Nero seems to have enjoyed the brawls between rowdy, enthusiastic and sometimes violent factions, but called in the troops if they went too far.
Once a band of five retiarii in loincloths, matched against the same number of secutores, yielded without a struggle; but when their death was ordered, one of them caught up his trident and slew all the victors.
Caligula bewailed this in a public proclamation as a most cruel murder (?).
There were also local rivalries.
At a Pompeian ludus, trading of insults between Pompeians and Nucerians led to stone throwing and riot.
Many were killed or wounded.
Nero banned gladiator munerae (though not the games) at Pompeii for ten years as punishment.
The story is told in graffiti and high quality wall painting, with much boasting of Pompeii's "victory" over Nuceria.


Most spectators would have witnessed gladiator fights in the arenas or amphitheatres built throughout the Republic and later, the Empire.
Early munera were probably private affairs, and offered limited visibility for non-privileged spectators.
As these events became larger, open spaces such as the Forum Romanum were adapted (as the Forum Boarium had been) as venues in Rome and elsewhere, with temporary, elevated seating for the patron and high status spectators.
These were not truly public events:
'A show of gladiators was to be exhibited before the people in the market-place, and most of the magistrates erected scaffolds round about, with an intention of letting them for advantage. Caius commanded them to take down their scaffolds, that the poor people might see the sport without paying anything. But nobody obeying these orders of his, he gathered together a body of labourers, who worked for him, and overthrew all the scaffolds the very night before the contest was to take place. So that by the next morning the market-place was cleared, and the common people had an opportunity of seeing the pastime. In this, the populace thought he had acted the part of a man; but he much disobliged the tribunes his colleagues, who regarded it as a piece of violent and presumptuous interference.'
Towards the end of the Republic, Cicero (Murena 72–3) still describes these shows as ticketed - their usefulness was served by inviting the rural tribunes of the plebs, not the people of Rome en masse - but in Imperial times, poor citizens in receipt of the corn dole were allocated free seating, possibly by lottery.
Others had to pay, and private arenas always charged an entrance fee.
Ticket scalpers (Locarii) sometimes sold or let out seats at inflated prices.
Martial wrote that "Hermes [a gladiator who always drew the crowds] means riches for the ticket scalpers".
The amphitheatre was the one place in which the execution of justice was uniquely visible to all classes, and in which all classes were mutually visible.
Its layout separated and distanced them from the "pollution" of the arena.
Yet permanent amphitheatres only appeared long after the munera had become an established part of Roman life.
The blocking of earlier provision for permanent venues reflected genuine unease, not simply at political graft but at the erosion of public morals that must arise from frequent and excessively "luxurious" munera.
Pompeii's first amphitheatre was built by Sullan colonists around 70 BCE.
The first in the city of Rome was the extraordinary wooden Amphitheatre of Gaius Scribonius Curio (built 53 BCE).

The first part-stone amphitheatre in Rome was inaugurated in 29–30 BCE, in time for the triple triumph of Octavian (later Augustus). Shortly after it burned down in 64 CE, Vespasian began its replacement, later known as the Amphitheatrum Flavium (Colosseum), which seated 50,000 spectators and would remain the largest in the Empire.
It was inaugurated by Titus in 80 CE, the personal gift of the Emperor to the people of Rome, paid for by the Imperial share of booty after the Jewish Revolt.
Amphitheatres also provided a potential model for social control.
Seating was "disorderly and indiscriminate" until Augustus prescribed its arrangement in his Social Reforms.
To persuade the Senate, he expressed his distress on behalf of a Senator who could not find seating at a crowded games in Puteoli:

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'In consequence of this the senate decreed that, whenever any public show was given anywhere, the first row of seats should be reserved for senators; and at Rome he would not allow the envoys of the free and allied nations to sit in the orchestra, since he was informed that even freedmen were sometimes appointed. He separated the soldiery from the people. He assigned special seats to the married men of the commons, to boys under age their own section and the adjoining one to their preceptors; and he decreed that no one wearing a dark cloak should sit in the middle of the house. He would not allow women to view even the gladiators except from the upper seats, though it had been the custom for men and women to sit together at such shows.
Only the Vestal virgins were assigned a place to themselves, opposite the praetor's tribunal.'

Death & Disposal

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The proximity of death defined the munus for all concerned.
To die well, a gladiator should never ask for mercy, nor cry out, although this was the ideal, and probably most fighters balked at the idea of being brutally killed in public.
'A "good death", it was suggested by Roman moralists, 'redeemed a defeated gladiator from the dishonourable weakness and passivity of defeat, and provided a noble example to those who watched'.
Some Mosaics show defeated gladiators kneeling in preparation for the moment of death.
Seneca's "vital spot" seems to have meant the neck.
After the death of a fighter in combat, an attendant dressed as Charon – or as Dis Pater – struck the head (assuming the fighter had not been decapitated) with a mallet.
Another dressed as Mercury tested for life-signs with a heated "wand".

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The corpse of the dead fighter would then dishonourably dragged from the arena with hooks in the heels, as a polluted object, by "Mercury". Tertullian also has a priest offer the fallen gladiator's blood to Jupiter Latiaris.
Attendants strewed fresh sand, or simply raked it, at the spot where the fighter had died.

If the fighter was wearing armour that was stripped off, and the body was then removed to the amphitheatre morgue where the throat was cut, probably to prove he was truly dead.

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A defeated fighter who had been condemned to the arena in many cases would have their naked (and often mutilated) corpse hung from the arena wall, and later the body would be butchered, and the remains fed to the animals used in the arena.
Few gladiators survived more than 10 matches or lived past the age of 30.
One (Felix) is known to have lived to 45 and one retired gladiator lived on to 90.
It has been calculated that an average age at death was 20 for gladiators, with mortality "among all who entered the arena" around the 1st century CE at 19/100.
A rise in the risk of death for losers, from 1/5 to 1/4 between the early and later Imperial periods, seems to suggest missio was granted less often.
The majority of fighters, however, would have died early in their careers, at 15–20 years of age.


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'Gauls 'ave got no balls for a real fight !'
Meanwhile - young Vortigern inevitably has to agree - squeeling 'I got no fuckin' bollocks !', as he clutches at his horribly mutilated crotch - unable to believe what has just happened to him.

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After the Gallic gladiator, Vortigern, has been completely castrated (balls and cock),
his cauterised erect penis and testicles are stuffed into his mouth,
and he is forced to stagger round the arena.

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 Gallic gladiator, Vortigern, with nothing now hanging between his legs, and his huge, still stiff cock, and his severed balls lying on the sand in front of him, kneels on the sand, sobbing.

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Naked, Gallic gladiator Vortigern is laid on his belly
as his Greek opponent, Demonax, spears him through his spine.


the teenage boy gladiator - who fights Vespian before he fights and defeats Charon


the teenage boy gladiator - who fights Marius and then fights and defeats Charon

Bollock-naked Charon furiously wanks himself and cums before being raped, completely castrated, anally impaled and 'finished-off'.

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The inevitable end to Charon's Final Fight

Unusually, Gracchus comes down to the arena to view the naked corpse of the freshly emasculated gladiator


click below for more information about Roman Torture and Executions

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