The Ancient Library

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On this page: Gladiatores (continued)



ning the favour of the populace at elections. Indeed, custom at length imposed an obli­gation on some magistrates, for instance on the sediles, to give gladiatorial games on their assumption of office; and they would try to outbid each other in the number of contending couples and in general expendi­ture. From Rome the fashion soon spread into the provinces. Campania was the part of Italy where it most prevailed. It was not, however, till the time of Domitian that quaestors designate were regularly com­pelled to give the great gladiatorial ex­hibitions, which occupied ten days in the month of December. In the Western Em­pire they survived at least down to the be­ginning of the 5th century a.d.

They were at first given in the forum, but afterwards generally in the amphi­theatres (see amphitheatre), and in the circus, if the exhibition was to be on a very large scale. The gladiators were sometimes condemned criminals; but it must be re­membered that originally Roman citizens could not be sentenced to the arena, and it was not till later times that this punishment was extended to criminals of low condition. Sometimes they were prisoners of war, slaves, or volunteers. Under the Empire it was not so uncommon, even in the upper classes, to volunteer as a gladiator. Some­times the step was the last refuge of a ruined man ; sometimes the emperor would force a man to it. These volunteers were called auctorati (= bound over), to distin­guish them from the rest; their pay was termed aitctoramentum. Troops of gladia­tors were sometimes owned by Romans in good society, who often, towards the end of the republican age, employed them in street-fights against their political opponents. Sometimes they were the property of speculators, who often carried on at the same time the disreputable trade of a fenc­ing master (Unista). These men would hire out or sell their gladiators to persons who were giving their shows, or would exhibit them for money to the public on their own account.

The gladiators were trained in special schools (ludl}. Under the Empire things went so far that the emperors kept schools of their own under the supervision of pro-curdtores of equestrian rank. After Domi-tian's time there were four of these in Rome. A building for this purpose, large enough for a hundred gladiators, is preserved in Pompeii. To strengthen their muscles they were put on a very nourishing diet.

Every style of fighting had its special pro­fessor (doctor or mdgister], and the gladiator was usually instructed only in one style. The novice (tiro) began with fence-practice against a wooden stake, at first with light wooden arms, but afterwards with weapons of full weight.

If a man were intending to give a show of gladiators (inunus glddidtortum) he advertised it by notices (progmmmdta) put up on the walls of houses, numerous copies of these being at the same time widely distributed. These notices stated the date and occasion of the show, the name of the giver (editor), the number of pairs of gladiators, and the different kinds of combats. The performance began with a gala procession (pompa) of the gladiators to the arena and through it. Then came the testing of the weapons by the editor, who, though he might be a private individual, had the right of wearing the insignia of a magistrate during the show. A preliminary skirmish or prolUsw, with wooden swords and darts, next took place, till the trumpets sounded, and th& serious fighting began. This took place to the accompaniment of music in a space measured out by the fencing master. The gladiators sometimes fought, not in pairs, but in troops. The timid were driven on with whips and red-hot irons. If a gladiator was wounded in single combat, he raised his fore-finger to implore the mercy of the people, with whom, after the last years of the republic, the giver of the games usually left the decision. The sign of mercy (missid) was the waving of handkerchiefs: the clenched fist and downward thumb indicated that the combat was to be fought out till death. Condemned criminals had no chance of mercy. The slain, or nearly slain, were carried on the biers which stood ready for them, to a particular door (porta Llbittnensts), into a place where they were stripped (spGliarium). There, if they had not actually expired, they were put to death. The victors received palms, with branches-adorned with fillets. Under the Empire they sometimes got presents of money as well. If a gladiator, by repeated proofs of cleverness and bravery, succeeded in gaining the favour of the people, he was, at the public request, presented with a kind of wooden rapier (rttdia),1 as a token that he was now free from all further service. In this case he was called rudiarius. This

1 The swords used by gladiators often resembled rapiers: see fig. 1.

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