Classics 2300 Gladiators - Chapter 1.docx

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Classical Studies
Classical Studies 2300
Christopher Brandl

Gladiators: Violence and Spectacle inAncient Rome Chapters 1 Chapter 1 – Cultural Context and Origins of Gladiatorial Combat -young Christian woman named Vibia Perpetua -she was to be thrown to the beasts for refusing to sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors -one day before her execution, she had a dream where she is led to the amphitheatre, but not to face the wild beasts -she was facing a frightening Egyptian opponent in an undetermined contest -when she was stripped off her clothes, she was transformed into a man -Perpetua is rubbed down with oil -there’s also a gigantic man taller than the walls of the amphitheatre was wearing a tunic and carried a rod and green branch with golden apples – he’s the referee of gladiatorial matches -the branch is a substitution of palm branch, a prize given to winners of Greek athletic contests and also to victorious gladiators -he explained the rules – winner must slay opponent with a sword -contest begins, but contest is revealed to be pankration -Perpetua defeats Egyptian opponent -she merged pankration and gladiatorial combat -her dream is prophetic of her victory over the Devil (which is the Egyptian in the dream) -she will be a martyr when she and her friends are thrown to wild beasts in arena the next day -golden apples represent symbol of immortality – suggesting eternal life in heaven for Perpetua -Perpetua glories in her dream victory as pancratiast/gladiator -despite Christian antagonism against gladiatorial combats, Perpetua was admired by Christians who yearned for the crown of martyrdom -the athlete and gladiator, both arena performers, were empowering figures because of their strength of will and discipline -just like athletes, martyrs must build up their moral strength by strict training to achieve victory -the prison martyrs await their ordeal in the arena is “a palaestra” (athletic training ground) -gladiators face real possibility of death every time he appeared in the arena; they had to endure burning, binding, beating, etc. – all of which were especially pertinent to martyrs -that’s why Perpetua had the dream – the ending of her life as a martyr would follow the glorious example of the gladiator -on the day of execution, Perpetua showed two notable characteristics of the gladiator: she stared down the hostile crowd (unflinching stare was prized in gladiators because it signified a powerful will to win) -death in the spoliarium = shame for gladiators -Perpetua and her friends were killed in the middle of arena (true gladiator would rather die in middle of arena) -legacy of gladiator revived with excavations in Pompeii in 18 century -discovery of amphitheatre, gladiatorial school (with a store of gladiator armour), numerous inscriptions that say how important a role gladiators played in the life of the town -19 century: show business promoters cashed in this fad of craze for all things Roman, especially arena events -they presented onstage various aspects of Roman life -popularity of gladiator is probably due to his exotic character, originating in an ancient culture that found entertainment in a sport that involved the very real risk of death -Pliny the Younger’s letter to friend Maximus -letter was about how Maximus set up a gladiatorial munus for his dead wife -gladiatorial shows were closely associated with funerals in early history of Rome -munus: “duty” or “gift” and by extension “funeral honours” – also had general meaning of “spectacle” -munus could refer to spectacles called ludi in honour of the gods, consisting of entertainments such as theatrical presentations and chariot racing, or gladiatorial spectacle st -until 1 century, it was given in honour of the dead -by early empire, primary meaning of munus had become “gladiatorial combat”, no longer “spectacle”, due to immense popularity of gladiatorial games -giver of munus called either an editor or munerarius – he undertook all expenses of giving a munus -he was under pressure to give a worthy show – if it was bad, it could ruin his reputation among his fellow citizens -Maximus’ munus was not entirely a private affair -he presented the munus free of charge -people actually urged him to present a munus rather than having a dull alternative funeral honour, like constructing a public building in Verona dedicated to his wife -munus was not a common occurrence, therefore it was eagerly anticipated th -early evidence of gladiatorial combat found in tomb paintings of 4 century BC southern Italy -throughout the Republic, funerals of great men provided sufficient pretext for gladiatorial combat -not until two and half centuries after first gladiatorial duels in Rome that gladiatorial games could be offered as entertainment value -munus given for birthday of emperor Vitellius inAB 69 – with large-scale gladiatorial duels -munus fitted the mood of a funeral, but in its later history it could celebrate a happy occasion -one ancient source of experience of child’s reaction to events in the arena: future emperor Commodus, who cried and turned away his eyes when he witnessed condemned criminals (damnati) thrown to wild beasts -he later became a performer and fought as a gladiator and an animal hunter -in the Roman mind, the gladiator was at the same time “a hero and a criminal” -among senatorial class: they have distaste for gladiator shows and spectacles in general -some aristocrats considered the entertainment of masses as unworthy of a refined man’s interest -Cicero mocked Piso for pretending that he did not attend games on one occasion because he despised spectacles -Marius left Rome for the country rather than attend the games of Pompey in 55BC -Cicero did the same thing to avoid having to attend a munus -Cicero also raised ethical objections to gladiatorial combat: some think this sport is cruel and inhuman but he himself is undecided about this judgement -despite his lukewarm attitude towards the games, he was more of an infrequent spectatorndhis familiarity with the games shows that) -end of 2 century: stronger concerns about morality of gladiatorial combat arise, influenced by Greek philosophy -Marcus Aurelius, an emperor, disliked bloodshed of gladiatorial combat and did not allow gladiators to use sharp weapons at any show he attended -he required them to fight with blunt swords -he proposed legislation with his son and co-ruler, Commodus that a senator supported – senator strongly supports proposal to end tax on expenditures of sponsors of gladiatorial shows and condemns revenue coming into the treasury from gladiator games because it’s contaminated with human blood -but senator does not urge abolishment of the gladiatorial games – his argument is to let the games go on but emperors should not be tainted with unseemly profit -this argument was only supported by a minority of people and some say it to appear smart and show their moral superiority -gladiators were a frequent topic of conversation; they were likeAmerican baseball -passion for gladiators practically inborn in Romans -Veronian munus – there must have be bloodshed and perhaps even one or more gladiators lost their lives -Maximus scheduled a venatio (‘hunt’), a staged animal hunt in which men fought wild beasts and wild beasts fought each other, along with other entertainments involving animals -by 1 centuryAD, venatio, originally a separate event, became a regular part of the munus -Maximus imported panthers fromAfrica – bad weather suggests delay took place at sea -this didn’t mean he cancelled his venatio, he could have purchased local animals as emergency measure (e.g. deer, wild horses, asses, etc.) to be killed in their place -another typical feature of the munus: execution of convicted criminals and/or prisoners of war – but Pliny didn’t mention anything about the executions Origins of gladiatorial combat -most popular ancient theory about the origin of gladiatorial combat: it was a form of human sacrifice to the dead -Tertullian sees the munus as a duty performed for the dead -as a Christian, he disliked gladiatorial combat and other pagan spectacles -sacrificed captives or slaves of bad character as a part of funeral ritual -some modern scholars (e.g. Futrell) alleged that gladiator games were originally human sacrifices to sustain Roman political power -another scholar (Wiedemann) disassociated human sacrifice from Roman funerals -gladiators and their intense desire for victory and readiness to accept death only as last resort did not make good sacrificial victims -one essential requirement of an effective sacrifice was the complicity (real or fictional) of the victim -note: not all gladiatorial match ended in death -gladiatorial games are given by high priests of the imperial cult throughout Italy and the Roman provinces -provincial priests, like aristocrats, used the munus and other entertainments to advance themselves in the competition for status with other elites in their city and province -they presented gladiatorial combat because they knew it would win them the favour of the grateful people -spectators of the munus were reminded of Roman military success as they watched gladiatorial combat in the amphitheatre -rooting for the underdog was not a Roman tradition: audiences preferred to be on the winning side -venatio implied Roman supremacy as well: Rome’s power over nature -submission of wild animal nature to the emperor and his empire Gladiatorial combat as funeral games -even if gladiatorial games were not strictly speaking human sacrifice, but they were in origin funeral offerings in honour of the dead -first gladiatorial combat at Rome was the funeral of the Roman aristocrat D. Junius Brutus Pera in 264BC, presented by his two sons – gladiator show consisted of three pairs of fighters (gladiators were captives) -captives (prisoners of war) were known as bustuarii‘gladiators who fought at the place where the deceased was cremated and buried’(bustum) -bustuarii was synonymous with gladiator and remained in common usage in Rome until the time of Cicero -the three pairs of gladiators sent as a funeral offering at Pera’s tomb, perhaps suggesting that death was an expected result -but the poet who provided the details could
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