IL COLOSSEO GAMES
Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.
Juvenal. Satire X, circa 100 CE
Cassius Dio Cocceianus
25 1 Most that he (Titus) did was not characterized by anything noteworthy, but in dedicating the hunting-theatr (Colosseum) and the baths that bear his name he produced many remarkable spectacles. There was a battle between cranes and also between four elephants; animals both tame and wild were slain to the number of nine thousand; and women (not those of any prominence, however) took part in dispatching them. 2 As for the men, several fought in single combat and several groups contended together both in infantry and naval battles. For Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and some other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land. 3 He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians; and others gave a similar exhibition outside the city in the grove of Gaius and Lucius, a place which Augustus had once excavated for this very purpose. There, too, on the first day there was a gladiatorial exhibition and wild-beast hunt, the lake in front of the images having first been covered over with a platform of planks and wooden stands erected around it. 4 On the second day there was a horse-race, and on the third day a naval battle between three thousand men, followed by an infantry battle. The “Athenians” conquered the “Syracusans” (these were the names the combatants used), made a landing on the islet and assaulted and captured a wall that had been constructed around the monument. These were the spectacles that were offered, and they continued for a hundred days; but Titus also furnished some things that were of practical use to the people. 5 He would throw down into the theatre from aloft little wooden balls variously inscribed, one designating some article of food, another clothing, another a silver vessel or perhaps a gold one, or again horses, pack-animals, cattle or slaves. Those who seized them were to carry them to the dispensers of the bounty, from whom they would receive the article named.
26 1 After he had finished these exhibitions, and had wept so bitterly on the last day that all the people saw him, he performed no other deed of importance; but the next day, in the consulship of Flavius and Pollio, after the dedication of the buildings mentioned, he passed away at the same watering-place that had been the scene of his father’s death. 2 The common report is that he was put out of the way by his brother, for Domitian had previously plotted against him; but some writers state that he died a natural death. The tradition is that, while he was still breathing and possibly had a chance of recovery, Domitian, in order to hasten his end, placed him in a chest packed with a quantity of snow, pretending that the disease required, perhaps, that a chill be administered. 3 At any rate, he rode off to Rome while Titus was still alive, entered the camp, and received the title and authority of emperor, after giving the soldiers all that his brother had given them. Titus, as he expired, said: “I have made but one mistake.” What this was he did not make clear, and no one else recognized it with certainty. Some have conjectured one thing and some another. 4 The prevailing view is that of those who say that he referred to his taking his brother’s wife, Domitia. Others — and these I am inclined to follow — say that what he meant as his mistake was that he had not killed Domitian when he found him openly plotting against him, but had chosen rather to suffer that fate himself at his rival’s hands, and had surrendered the empire of the Romans to a man like Domitian, whose character will be made clear in the continuation of my narrative. Titus had ruled two years, two months and twenty days, as has been already stated.
Cassius Dio Cocceianus. The Roman History. Earnest Cary. Herbert Baldwin Foster. William Heinemann, Harvard University Press. London; New York. 1914.
Donald G. Kyle
Held in amphitheaters, circuses, forums, and even theaters throughout Rome, the spectacles used an abundance of human victims of different types. Not only did the levels of seating in the stands reflect the social hierarchy in macrocosm, but the arena itself, in microcosm, also had its own social order – from elite gladiators to abject, hopeless victims, with sporting skill and hope as the main criteria of status. That status differentiation extended onto the arena floor is shown in art and in advertisements for shows, which distinguish gladiators from hopeless noxii. Inscriptions classify gladiators by experience, records of combats, style of fighting, legal status, and nature of combats (e.g. individual or group).21 We need to differentiate or deaggregate the victims, for Rome was status conscious even in the arena. Not all victims faced the same dangers, death, and disposal.
Donald G. Kyle. Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome. Routledge. London; New York. 1998
“Contrary to what many believe, the gladiator game was not necessarily meant to end in death, especially since the training of a gladiator was so expensive. Death could result either from the wounds a gladiator received in combat or when the editor of the crowd refused to spare a wounded gladiator. But the latter scenario occurred only when the gladiator failed to carry out his task fully, or to truly engage in the contest. The editor, however, was obliged to pay the lanista the price for the gladiators whom he had refused to spare. This helps to clarify why there were also freedmen (slaves who had obtained their freedom) and free men-some even from good families-who signed up to fight voluntarily.”
Luciana Jacobelli. Gladiators in Pompeii. L’Erma di Bretschneider. 2003.
Top gladiators were folk heroes with nicknames, fan clubs and adoring groupies. The story goes that Annia Galeria Faustina, the wife of Marcus Aurelius, was smitten with a gladiator she saw on parade and took him as a lover. Soothsayers advised the cuckolded emperor that he should have the gladiator killed, and that Faustina should bathe in his blood and immediately lie down with her husband. If the never reliable Scriptores Historiae Augustae is to be believed, Commodus’ obsession with gladiators stemmed from the fact that the murdered gladiator was his real dad.