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The Rise Of Gladiatorial Combat

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The Rise of Gladiatorial Combat

Gladiatorial contests (munera gladitoria), hold a central place in our perception of Roman behavior. They were also a big influence on how Romans themselves ordered their lives. Attending the games was one of the practices that went with being a Roman. The Etruscans who introduced this type of contest in the sixth century BC, are credited with its development but its the Romans who made it famous. A surviving feature of the Roman games was when a gladiator fell he was hauled out of the arena by a slave dressed as the Etruscan death-demon Charun. The slave would carry a hammer which was the demon's attribute. Moreover, the Latin term for a trainer-manager of gladiators (lanista), was believed to be an Etruscan word. (4:50) Gladiators of Ancient Rome lived their lives to the absolute fullest.

Gladiatorial duels had originated from funeral games given in order to satisfy the dead man's need for blood, and for centuries their principle occasions were funerals. The first gladiatorial combats therefore, took place at the graves of those being honored, but once they became public spectacles they moved into amphitheaters. (2:83) As for the gladiators themselves, an aura of religious sacrifice continued to hang about their combats. Obviously most spectators just enjoyed the massacre without any remorseful reflections. Even ancient writers felt no pity, they were aware that gladiators had originated from these holocausts in honor of the dead. What was offered to appease the dead was counted as a funeral rite. It is called munus (a service) from being a service due. The ancients thought that by this sort of spectacle they rendered a service to the dead, after they had made it a more cultured form of cruelty. The belief was that the souls of the dead are appeased with human blood, they use to sacrifice captives or slaves of poor quality at funerals. Afterwards it seemed good to obscure their impiety by making it a pleasure. (6:170) So after the acquired person had been trained to fight as best they can, their training was to learn to be killed! For such reasons gladiators were sometimes known as bustuarii or funeral men. Throughout many centuries of Roman history, these commemorations of the dead were still among the principle occasions for such combats. Men writing their wills often made provisions for gladiatorial duels in connection with their funerals. Early in the first century AD, the people of Pollentia forcibly prevented the burial of an official, until his heirs had been compelled to provide money for a gladiators' show. (1:174)

It was in Campania and Lucania that the gladiatorial games came to their full development and took on their classical form. In these new surroundings they took root and flourished, as can be seen in fourth century BC, tomb paintings. These pictures show helmeted gladiators carrying shields and lances, covered with wounds and dripping with blood. (2:84) For Rome a decisive moment in gladiatorial history was reached in 246 BC, the year when the first Punic War began. At the funeral of Brutus Pera, his two sons for the first time exhibited, in the cattle market, three simultaneous gladiatorial combats. By 216 BC the number of fights given on a single occasion had risen to twenty two.(14:16) In 105 BC the two consuls of the year made gladiatorial games official. There were no doubts of religious tendency, but the purpose of Roman spectacles, were a public display of power, that power was primarily military, and also to compensate the soft Greek culture which now was abroad. (8:98)

The Gladiators

Those compelled to fight gladiator duels included prisoners of war, slaves and condemned criminals. Among them were numerous followers of the new Christian faith. During this time persecution fell heavily on their faith, many won immortal fame as martyrs. Fighting in the arena was one of the sentences earned by the sacrilege accused against members of the Christian religion because of their refusal to sacrifice to the emperor. It was written that these Christians were forced, as gladiatorial novices to run the gauntlet. At other times they were thrown to the wild beasts. Criminals that were used had committed crimes that carried a death sentence or harsh manual labor. The crimes which led to the arena were murder, treason, robbery and arson. Criminals sentenced to forced labor were often obliged to serve as gladiators, and were sentenced to three years of combat and two years in the schools. Sometimes penalties were differentiated according to social class, thus for certain crimes which in the case of slaves would involve execution, free men or freedmen (ex-slaves) were condemned to fight in the arena instead. This did not of course make them gladiators, unless they were trained first, as those required to provide this sort of sport not always were. And indeed as gladiators became more expensive in the second century AD the use of untrained criminals in the amphitheater increased.(7:537) Most gladiators, at Rome and elsewhere were slaves, but in addition there were always some free men who became gladiators because they wanted to. The profession was an alternative to being a social outcast. They were generally derived from the lowest ranking category of free persons, namely the freedman who had themselves been slaves or were the son of slaves. Free fighters were more sought after than slaves, presumably because they shower greater enthusiasm in the arena. Such a volunteer was offered a bonus if he survived the term of his contract, yet he still had to swear the terrible oath of submission to be burnt with fire, shackled with chains, whipped with rods and killed with steel like the rest of the gladiators. For the period of his engagement, he had become no more than a slave. (7:539)

Majestic Exhibitions and Schools

There seemed no end to public entertainment's of one sort or another at Rome. First there were the regular functions. The number of days in each year given up to annual games and spectacles of one sort or another in the city was startlingly large, and increased continually. Already 66 in the time of Augustus, it had risen to 135 under Marcus Aurelius, and 175 or more in the fourth century. Gladiatorial amusement had become an essential feature of the services a ruler had to provide, in order to maintain his popularity and his job. Emperors themselves had to attend the shows. Emperors watching the shows were distinct, vulnerable, and subject to public pressures which could not be displayed elsewhere. That was why the games were not popular with a few rulers such as Marcus Aurelius. He directed that if a gladiator was freed as a result of popular outcry in the amphitheater the

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