The Roman Games and Roman Sacrifice


ROMAN GAMES & ROMAN SACRIFICE

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GLADIATORES

'Gladiators' - Few ancient institutions have captivated peoples' imagination like that of the Roman Games.
Whether they are approached with a sense of morbid fascination, or viewed with horror and disgust, it is difficult to ignore the death and blood which such spectacles conjure up.
The Games have long been recognized as complex and multifaceted, - as more than just a 'spectacle' for the sake of 'spectacle'.
Undoubtedly the desire to understand the meaning behind them has persisted from antiquity until the present.
'The Magnificence of Imperial Rule'
Ancient writers, historians, poets, orators and philosophers saw the Games in various different ways: as a social or moral and religious obligation (munera); as a political tool; as a reflection of the authority and magnificence of Imperial Rule; - the Games were seen as having significance and implications beyond the confines of the amphitheater.
People in the present have also sought to find the greater meaning in the Games, and to also find a way to reconcile Rome's reputation as a civilizing power with its taste for such a form of 'entertainment' (although for the Romans it was undoubtedly more than just entertainment as we understand the concept).
Models of the origins, nature, and function of the spectacles have ranged from 'pagan piety' to 'human sacrifice' (as in the 'munera'), and from pure sadism to Imperial politics.
Outside of the 'academic world', of course, there has been a tendency to oversimplify the Games, and classify them as merely the grotesque amusement of depraved rulers and bloodthirsty crowds, to be seen as an indication of the degeneracy of uncivilized people, who were bound to fall.
Among those who are more familiar with cinematic representations (movies), and Christian ideology, than with historical and scholarly texts, the violence and brutality of the Games seems so extreme and unfamiliar as to almost defy comprehension.
The Arena - 'Quo Vadis'
'Pollice Verso' - Jean-Leon Gerome
Thanks to 'martyrology' (the study of Christian martyrs), to historians, such as Edward Gibbon, to artists, such as Gerome, to novels and to Hollywood epics such as 'Quo Vadis' et al, the enduring image of Rome will forever be stained with the blood of the arena (see The Preface)
Regardless of who examines the Roman Games, or how they seek to explain or define them, it is unlikely that there will ever be a satisfying or comprehensive answer to the question of why the Games existed, and the full extent of their purpose.
This, however, is no reason to cease searching for new insights.
One approach can be found via the persistent characteristics of the Games, which enable them to be categorized as 'ritual', i.e. as a repeated, theatrical and exaggerated social action.
When we classify them as a species of 'ritual', correspondences between the Games and sacrificial practices become imminently visible, due to the programmatic nature of both, and by virtue of the violence that they both share.
Ritual is often a behavioural pattern which has lost its original meaning over time, but which continues, often as a form of communication.
If the Games are considered as ritual, and possibly by extension, a form of communication, then they may be composed in a language all their own.
This then opens the Games to a whole new world of evaluation and interpretation.
Theories regarding 'allusion' promise to be particularly fruitful in this instance, due to the retrospective, repetitive elements of tradition.
By applying the practices used to study 'allusion' in literature, we can read the Games as alluding to any number of other features in Roman life.
The idea of 'intertextuality', in which one text refers to, directly quotes, looks back at, or emulates another text, can then be explored through comparisons to other rituals, customs and practices, as well as to literature itself.
This approach could undoubtedly be employed in an investigation of parallels between the Games and sacrificial practices, and between the Games and representative literary examples from Homer and Livy.
HOMER AND LIVY
'A Reading from Homer' - Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The work of Homer is relevant because of the ubiquity of his works in the Greco-Roman world, and the cultural capital they possessed - (Marcus has spent a great deal of time studying Homer with his Greek tutor).
Achilles Mourns Patroklos
It is especially convenient to explore comparisons with the 'Funeral Games' for Patroklos (Patroclus) in Book XXIII of the 'Iliad', due to the similarity (in the context of a funeral), with the Roman Games.

An arena re-enactment of the Funeral Games' for Patroklos (Patroclus) was staged by Marcus and Petronius during the Ludi ad Auspicari Novam Aetatem - described in Chapter XXXIV.
Fight over the Body of Patroklos - John Flaxman

In Greek mythology, as recorded in Homer's Iliad, Πάτροκλος (Patroclus - "glory of the father") was the son of Menoetius, and Achilles' lover, and brother-in-arms. According to the 'Iliad', when the war had turned against the Greeks, and the Trojans were threatening their ships, Patroclus convinced Achilles to let him lead the Myrmidons into combat. Achilles consents, giving him the armor he had received from his father, Peleus, so that he might impersonate the feared Achilles. Patroclus pursued the Trojans all the way back to the gates of Troy. Patroclus killed many Trojans, Patroclus, however, was stunned by Apollo, wounded by Euphorbos, and finished off by Hector, pierced by his spear. 
There then followed the ritual stripping of the body by the Trojan champion, Hector, followed by a prolonged skirmish. The Greeks, obviously wanted to recover the body so that proper funeral rites could take place. The Trojans wanted the naked body of Patroclus as a trophy, which would subsequently probably be mutilated and desecrated. 
Death of Hector
After much fighting, during which Ajax protected the body of Patroclus, the Greeks finally won, and gained possession of the young warrior's corpse. After retrieving his body, the enraged Achilles returned to battle and avenged his companion's death by killing Hector. 
Achilles then desecrated Hector's body by dragging it behind his chariot instead of allowing the Trojans to honourably dispose of it by burning it. Achilles' grief was great, and for some time, he refused to dispose of Patroclus's body, but he was persuaded to do so by an apparition of Patroclus, who told Achilles he could not enter Hades without a proper cremation. Achilles sacrificed horses, dogs and, most significantly, twelve Trojan captives, before placing Patroclus's body on the funeral pyre.

This is particularly suitable because of the additional presence of sacrifice and athletic competition in the events of the ceremony.
Additional comparisons to Roman literature can also be helpful, so the work of Livy should be considered, because of his frequent concentration on self-sacrificing, quintessentially Roman heroes, who often participate in single combat, (Marcus has spent a great deal of time studying Livy with Lucius, his Latin tutor).
Titus Livius
Titus Livius (64 or 59 BC – AD 17) - known as Livy in English - was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people – 'Ab Urbe Condita Libri' (Books from the Foundation of the City) – covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy's own time. He was on familiar terms with the Julio-Claudian dynasty, advising Augustus's grandnephew, the future emperor Claudius, as a young man not long before 14 AD in a letter to take up the writing of history. Livy and Augustus's wife, Livia, were from the same clan in different locations, although not related by blood
Livy's works are concerned with the creation and development of distinctly Roman practices and national identity, and he provides many illustrative examples of Roman of the highly prized characteristic of 'virtus' (manliness).
Laetitia Decapitated
Laetitia Emasculated
In the Ludi ad Auspicari Novam Aetatem - described in Chapter XXXI - a young gladiator, known in the Ludus to be effeminate, and therefore given a 'feminine' name - 'Laetitia', and to voluntarily take the submissive part in sexual encounters, is deliberately emasculated during a fight in the arena, and subsequently decapitated. Such effeminacy was highly disapproved of in in adult men (late teens onward) - even in slaves.
It is clear that the Games were far more than the entertainment of a supposedly 'morally bankrupt' society, or a mere tool manipulated in the hands of a privileged, educated few, (the patricians), who wished to distract or intimidate an impressionable public (the plebs).
The gladiator, too, was more than just a vicious fighter in a vicious 'sport,' the embodiment of Roman sadism, brutality and callousness - as is often implied by modern commentators.
Roman Sacrifice
The violence and aggression of both the Games and the gladiator personified key elements of Roman life, including religious practice, and the display of masculine virtue ('virtus'), so highly valued by Rome's citizens.
An integral part of daily life, like sacrifice, the Games were characterized not only as obligation, but as an expression of commitment to the people of Rome.
The gladiator, in his position as both adored 'hero' and abhorred 'villain', participated in the Games as an agent and representative of the Roman people.
He absorbed the undesirable traits of the community, and purged the community of them as he both fought, and often and died.
He performed in ways that evoked admirable (if aggressive and violent) qualities, and memorable acts found in the literature, myths and legends that Romans used to define themselves.
THE ORIGINS OF THE GAMES

Evidence for the earliest origins of gladiatorial combat is unreliable and has long been the subject of debate.
General consensus favours the idea that they grew from Etruscan funerary practices and athletic events, but Campanian origins have also been proposed.
There is literary support for both the Etruscan and Campanian theories, but none of the sources relied upon in either case are more persuasive than the others.
Likewise, the material evidence used to reinforce the two theories is by and large too ambiguous to be entirely convincing.
The case for the Campanian origins of gladiators is made via evidence such as that found in Book 9 of Livy' s 'History of Rome'.
Samnite Warriors
Here, Livy tells us that after a battle in 308 between the joint forces of Romans and Campanians against the Samnites, the victorious Romans dedicated captured arms of the defeated Samnites to the gods, while the Campanians, "out of pride and hatred of the Samnites armed gladiators, who were the entertainment at their banquets, in the ostentatious arms [of the defeated] and called them by the name of Samnites."
This passage, however, is hardly conclusive.
We can glean little from this beyond the fact that armed combat was used as entertainment at Campanian feasts by the end of the 4th century BC.
This is certainly not compelling evidence that the Campanians invented the practice.
It is also important to note that the sources who mention Campanian enjoyment of gladiatorial combat do so disparagingly.
heir indulgence in this type of entertainment highlights the immoral ways of Campanians, and foreshadows Capua's betrayal of Rome during the Hannibalic war.
It seems unlikely that the Romans would adopt a practice with negative connotations, invented by people whom they grew to hate ardently - let alone adopt that practice as a means of paying tribute to their honoured dead.
Some other source for the Games, one which perhaps both Romans and Campanians drew upon, would be more believable.
The literary evidence in support of Etruscan origins is also problematic.
Etruscan Munera
Nicolaus of Damascus says in his 'Athletics' that the Games were a practice the Romans were given by the Etruscans.
Tertullian admits to some uncertainty about the origins of gladiatorial combat, but based on the authority of his sources he attributes the origins to the Etruscans.
Isidorus of Seville offers further evidence of Etruscan origins based on the etymology of the word 'lanista', the technical term for the procurer and trainer of gladiators.
Material evidence for the origins of the games is also ambiguous.
Etruscan tomb paintings like those in the Tomb of the Bigae are offered in support of Etruscan origins.
Etruscan Munera
In the Tomb ofthe Augurs at Tarquinia, the painting of a figure labeled "Phersu" is, some argue, evidence of an early form of wild animal combat similar to later 'venationes'.
Some tomb paintings found in Paestum are similarly used to argue for Campanian origins.
The origin of gladiatorial combats is probably not a historical question answerable in terms of a single origin or location, a single original context, and a simple linear transmission.
Combats, sacrifices and blood sports were simply too widespread in antiquity.
The best historical approach, therefore, is to concentrate on the context of Rome's adoption and development of the gladiatorial spectacle.
Rome's motives for adoption may have differed from the original purpose of 'munera' elsewhere. 
Equally, one would question why it should be assumed that the games were a foreign import.
In the tremendous variety of human endeavour, the idea of duelling as a performance, whether for the living or the honoured dead, is not such an unusual concept.
It may well be that the Roman version of gladiatorial combat was the systematization of a practice common to Italic peoples, and not an import at all.
Sacrifice of Captives
One concept stands out in this discussion, however, and that is the repeated evidence of the close association of gladiatorial contests with funerals, and rites and sacrifices for the dead.
In the end, although it is impossible to say where the Games came from with any certainty, it is quite safe to say that they were chiefly connected to funerary ritual.
In fact, there is no truly compelling reason why one need commit to one theory of origins over another.
At the very least, we can agree that, as Tertullian states, once upon a time, "because it was believed that the souls of the departed are propitiated with human blood, men of old used to sacrifice captives or slaves at funerals".
EARLY HISTORY OF THE GAMES

The generally accepted date for the introduction of the Games in Rome is 264 BC, when Decimus Junius Brutus, and his brother Marcus, sponsored gladiatorial combats in honor of their deceased father, Junius Brutus Pera
There is some indication that Games were held in the city prior to this time, but the dates and details of previous instances are undocumented.
It is probably safe to imagine that if Games were held prior to these, they must have been very simple and small considering that only three pairs of gladiators fought on this occasion.
Whether or not the gladiatorial combats held in honour of Junius Brutus Pera were truly the first in Rome, it is significant that they are clearly stated as being part of a funerary ritual.
Obviously, gladiatorial combat had not, and could not, have been a part of every funeral, but another source, Servius, indicates that these particular rituals (gladiatorial combats) were considered obligatory.
This event was not simply in response to death, but in response to the death of an important man of particularly high status.
Munera Pro Gracchus
Following the gladiatorial combats held for Junius Brutus Pera, similar events were sponsored in honour of other deceased men of high rank.
The scale, popularity and frequency of these - what were termed in Latin as 'munera' - all grew exponentially.
By the end of the end century BC, it had become apparent that this method of paying tribute to the dead did not only reflected the prestige of the departed, but could also hold great benefits for the living, as a means of making a grand impression on a large number of citizens.
Consequently, the 'Games' were increasingly exploited, particularly towards the end of the Republic, and 'munera' were often postponed until they could be held at more politically advantageous times.
Progressively successful manipulation of the Games inspired those who were politically ambitious to continue to court popularity among the masses by sponsoring Games, however, as it was impossible for every aspiring demagogue to have a conveniently deceased relative of appropriate status, and additional pretexts for the Games were found.
Gaius Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar, most notably, by passed the requirement of a dead male relation when he held games in honor of his daughter in 45 BC, eight years after her death.
In the first century BC, rival generals expanded and conflated existing spectacles, and imported or invented variations to court popular support ... In theory or pretext 'munera' under the Republic were always associated with death and funerary honours, but aspiring politicians clearly felt that they had to provide such spectacles as events in themselves.
The manipulation of munera was obviously becoming a problem,and laws were instituted in order to curb the use of the games for personal gain, but certain individuals always found ways to circumvent regulations.

LUDI - THE IMPERIAL PERIOD

As a result of the exploitation of the munera during the last few decades of the Republic, the appearance and function of the munera had changed.
By this time, there was little hope of maintaining or recovering their original purpose, at least, not in its entirety - if, indeed, any desire to preserve their original intent even existed.
The Roman people had long since developed a taste for elaborate spectacle, and their political leaders had responded in kind.
In 44 BC, just months before his death, the Senate honoured Julius Caesar by means of a decree that all games in Rome and Italy would henceforth include one day dedicated to him.
In 42 BC, gladiatorial combats was for the first time included in 'ludi' (not to be confused with 'munera'), - religiously motivated state sponsored events held in Rome on a regular basis, which often included chariot races, theatrical performances, athletic competitions, triumphal displays, or some combination of the above.
The organization of these 'ludi' (Games) was the delegated responsibility of elected officials, and they were yet another way that individuals gained and maintained status.
It was not long then, before 'munera' and 'ludi' became nearly synonymous.
Venatjones, or beast hunts, were rather naturally combined with gladiatorial combats, since the exhibition and, more often than not, killing of animals for the purposes of entertainment or ritual was nothing new to Rome.
Execution of Criminals
Execution of Criminals
The spectacle of the execution of criminals (this normally only applied to slaves, however), had also been a long established, both within Rome and in Italy, and in the provinces, so the ultimate inclusion of capital punishment as a part of the games is unsurprising.
Military triumphs, too, shared many of the elements present in the now extended games (exhibition of physical prowess, exotic and extravagant goods, public largess, capital punishment) and so their association with gladiatorial combat was to be expected.
The Games, at least in the capital,  eventually merged various types of spectacle into a grander and more complex whole.
Octavian Augustus
By the late first century BC, Rome had what might be called 'conglomerate spectacles', which conflated pretexts (e.g. funerals, victory ludi, magisterial duty, electoral largess, hunts, public banquets, patronage, and punishment), and were soon institutionalized by Principate.
The "conglomeration" of Games began with their incorporation into ludi, as mentioned above, and was further regularized and institutionalised during the reign of Augustus.
In 22 BC he placed the organisation of official imperial munera in Rome in the hands of the praetors, but strict limitations were also placed upon the number of days, money and combatants for each event.
Official Imperial schools for gladiators were later created, and the Roman state became intimately involved in the trade and regulation of gladiators.
During the Empire, the Games had become a regular feature of Roman life, and one which persisted until its collapse, and even beyond.

THE GAMES AND SACRIFICE

Just as it is practical to examine the origins and history of gladiatorial combat, so too discussing the basics of Roman sacrificial ritual will also help to facilitate clearer comparisons between the Games and sacrifice, and assist in emphasising  the idea that the Games were a distinct type of 'ritual'.
Roman religious life was incredibly diverse, and became increasingly so as the Empire's borders grew, and new forms of worship were introduced from the provinces.
As a result of this, the reduction of its history and variety into a simple overview is impossible.
Even focusing on a single, central facet, such as sacrifice, is problematic.
Sacrifice was ubiquitous, not only in Roman life, but in antiquity at large, and was subject to a great deal of variation.
The act of sacrifice fulfilled a range of functions.
Roman Blood Sacrifice
It could be petitionary, expiatory, or votive.
It could be a public event, held in front of a temple, and performed by a religious official, or a private ceremony, performed in the home, by the head of the family.
Offerings could fall into two categories, depending on the type of sacrifice being conducted: blood and bloodless.
Blood sacrifice consisted predominantly of the slaughter of pigs, sheep, goats and cattle, although other animals such as dogs, horses and cockerels could be used depending on the ceremony.
Bloodless offerings could include objects such as garlands of flowers, offerings of grain, sacrificial cakes, honey, milk, salt wine, fruit, incense or perfume.
In linking sacrifice to the Games, however, it is essential to focus on public sacrifices, held in honour of the gods, because a great number of people participated in, and benefited from, these rituals.
In his 'Roman Antiquities', Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Διονύσιος Ἀλεξάνδρου Ἁλικαρνᾱσσεύς) provided a description of a sacrifice that is particularly relevant, both because it was a public, and because it was a part of the 'ludi magni', 'Great Games', which did not include gladiatorial combat, but were a somewhat similar combination of spectacle and religious practice.
Dionysius' description is also convenient because it is an exemplary model of the six part 'ideal' form of Roman public sacrifice -
  •  the procession (pompa) of victims to the altar;
  • the prayer of the main officiant at the sacrifice, and the offering of wine, incense, etc. as a 'libation') at the altar;
  • the pouring of wine and meal (mola salsa) over the animal's head by the main sacrificant;
  • the killing of the animal by slaves;
  • the examination of the entrails for omens;
  • the burning of parts of the animal on the a
  • altar, followed normally (except in some cases where the whole animal was burnt) by a banquet.
Religious Procession - Alfred Lord Leighton
Dionysius begins with an extensive account of the pompa with which the ceremony commenced.
Young men on the verge of manhood, either on foot or on horseback, depending on the status of their fathers, were at the head of the procession 'in order that strangers might see the number and beauty of Rome's youth'.
Charioteers and contestants in the athletic competitions followed behind the young men.
Three bands of armed Pyrrhic dancers organized according to age came next, accompanied by flute and lyre players.
After these, yet another band of dancers followed dancing in a 'bawdy', erotic style known as sicinnis, impersonating satyrs, and mocking the dancers who had come before them.
Dancers - Alma Tedama
Yet more lyre and flute players followed them, and after them came people carrying censers with incense, and various sacred vessels.
Lastly, the images or statues of the gods were brought forth on the backs of participants.
This procession began on the Capitoline, continued through the Forum and ended at the Circus Maximus, where the consuls and priests then sacrificed oxen.
The subsequent sacrifice described by Dionysius is so similar to the established Greek ritual that he is convinced that the founders of Rome were Greeks from different places who had assembled in Italy,
The consuls and priests followed the expected pattern:
'After washing their hands they purified the victims with clear water and sprinkled corn on their heads, after which they prayed, and then gave orders to their assistants to sacrifice them.
Some of these assistants, while the victim was still standing, struck it on the temple with a club, and others received it upon the sacrificial knives as it fell.
After this they flayed it and cut it up, taking off a piece from each of the inards, and also from every limb as a first-offering, which they sprinkled with grits of spelt, and carried in baskets to the officiating priests.
These placed them on the altars, and making a fire under them, poured wine over them while they were burning.'
It is easy to see from Homer's poems that every one of these ceremonies was performed according to the customs established by the Greeks with reference to sacrifices.
Pre-ceremony preparations were equally important, and included bathing, dressing in clean clothes, putting on ornaments and wreaths, and often abstaining from sexual activity.
Sacrificial victims were likewise "dressed-up," with garlands, gilding on their horns and woolen fillets.
Once the pompa began, both the participants and their offerings "departed from the everyday world, moving to a single rhythm and singing."
The procession carried participants from the secular world to a sacred place, where an altar and fire awaited them.
Virgins led the charge, carrying baskets or other vessels containing the sacrificial implements and a censer was used to "impregnate the atmosphere with the scent of the extraordinary."
There was musical accompaniment, usually the flute.
Here, the Roman scheme differs because of their use of male youths, rather than virgins, as the leaders of the procession.
Phyric Dance - Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema
This is undoubtedly symbolic of the Roman partiality for male strength, beauty and vigor.
It is also notable that the youthful male Pyrrhic dancers are not a feature of Greek ritual.
Upon reaching the designated sacred area, participants marked off a circle by carrying the sacrificial implements around the assembly, once again separating the sacred realm from the secular.
A description of this act is missing from Dionysius' account, but it is possible that this was simply an understood part of the pompa, and something he did not deem worthy of mentioning.
The victim's willing participation was an important element of the process, and a sign that a higher will was commanding compliance.
The sprinkling of the victim's head with water (or 'mola salsa') caused the animal to nod or bow its head, which was perceived as a gesture of acceptance.
In ancient Roman religion, 'mola salsa' ("salted flour") was a mixture of coarse-ground, toasted emmer flour and salt used in every official sacrifice. It was sprinkled on the forehead, and between the horns of animal victims before they were sacrificed, as well as on the altar and in the sacred fire. It was a common offering to the household hearth. The substance was described as 'pius' ("reverently prepared" in this sense) and castus ("ritually pure"). The 'mola salsa' was so fundamental to sacrifice that "to put on the mola" (Latin 'immolare') came to mean "to sacrifice," hence English "immolation." Its use was one of the numerous religious traditions ascribed to Etruscan tradition.
Naturally, animals were not always fully cooperative, but in principle, the victim had to indicate its consent, particularly by lowering its head.
For this reason, it would generally be tied by a harness fastened to a ring at the foot of the altar so that, with a little help from the sacrificer, it would make the gesture of acquiescence.
Once the victim showed its submission, the knife was finally uncovered, a few hairs from the animal's head were shorn off with it and thrown into the fire.
Attendants then struck the death blow and blood was finally spilled.
Once the act of violence had been completed, there was an examination of the entrails by a seer.
Participation in sacrifice created, strengthened and maintained social bonds.
Whether it was through one's place in the order of the procession or through the carrying of implements, or the actual physical violence of the ritual, every member of society had a place, and a purpose.
Complicated social structures found expression in the diverse roles the participants assumed in the course of the ritual, from the various "beginnings," through prayer, slaughter, skinning, and cutting up, to the final banquet.
Each participant had a set function and acted according to a precisely fixed order.
The sacrificial community is thus a model of society as a whole, divided according to occupation and rank.
Sacrifice was a means by which an individual indicated his membership and place in the community, and whereby social hierarchies were upheld.
Roman Games, too, fulfilled similar functions in Roman life.
The Games cannot only be classified as ritual simply because of their recursive quality, but because they contained many elements analogous to those just described.
ROMAN GAMES and ROMAN SACRIFICE

The Roman games varied widely in scope and schema over the centuries.
Although they were often subject to the creative impulses and extravagance of Editores (Games Organisers - like Gracchus and later, Marcus) and Imperatores (Emperors), basic elements were nevertheless adopted and consistently repeated.
A certain degree of 'variatio' or innovation was surely a necessary facet of the Games in their role as both 'spectacle' and 'entertainment', but their repetitive features contributed to the establishment of a formulaic pattern which, on some level at least, still maintained the essence of the original religious and ritualistic nature of the 'munera'.
The supposedly 'tainted' blood of the slaves, who were to appear in the Games, was ritually unsuited for - what was originally - a funeral offerings, and the abstemious behaviour of such slaves, prior to their appearance in the arena was similar both to the special preparations of participants in a sacrifice, and to the preparation of a victim.
Pompa for Vespasian
The washing, depilation (removal of body hair - note that very few of the fighters in the Story of Gracchus have any body hair - and in most cases not even pubic hair), and abstention from sexual activity, as well as the anointing of the skin with oil had a cleansing aspect, giving the gladiator a physical purity and perfection comparable to that demanded of animals in regular blood sacrifices.
The Games, like sacrifice, also began with a 'Pompa'.
Tertullian (many years after the period of our story) notably marks the religious aspect of thr Pompa procession with the disgust one might expect from a Christian author criticising demonic idolatry and pagan practices.
A more objective source, a grave relief of a 'munera' from Pompeii, helps to further illuminate the procession.
Lictors lead the pompa, dressed in togas, bearing the fasces.
Fasces
Lictors
They carried rods decorated with fasces and, outside the pomerium, with axes that symbolized the power to carry out capital punishment. Dictatorial lictors had axes even within the pomerium. They followed the magistrate wherever he went, including the Forum, his house, temples, and the baths. Lictors were organized in an ordered line before him, with the primus lictor (the principal lictor) directly in front of him, waiting for orders. If there was a crowd, the lictors opened the way and kept their master safe, pushing all aside except for Roman matrons, who were accorded special honor. They also had to stand beside the magistrate whenever he addressed the crowd.
They are followed by 'tubicines', or trumpeters, who are in turn followed by men with platforms on their shoulders carrying the images of gods and possibly deified emperors.
Behind these are figures carrying writing tablets and palm branches, presumably to record victories and reward victors.
The editor followed the 'score-keepers'.
Still more officials and then more musicians follow the editor.
Pompa for Marcus Octavianus
This 'pompa' is similar to that of a regular sacrifice as already described, but it seems to be a more masculine adaptation.
The procession, rather than ending at a temple or other sacred precinct, led to the amphitheatre, yet another area defined by a boundary, separating the ordinary from the extraordinary.
There, the audience took their places - very much according to their status and rank in the Roman social hierarchy, just as the participants in the aforementioned sacrifice.
High status individuals occupied the lowest seats, next to the arena.
Behind them, and further from the sanded performance area, would be the 'lower orders'.
The amphitheatre was therefore an ideal, more and more orderly and spatially arranged microcosm of Roman society.
Executions and torture were an important part of the Games.
It was at this point that the greatest number of human deaths occurred.
Gladiators, though sometimes criminals, and almost always slaves, were of a slightly different class than 'noxii'.
In the early spectacles all the human victims came from the same class of social outsiders - uncontrollable slaves, (like Atticus), captives, deserters, and criminals.
'Damnati' included both gladiators and noxii, but there was a hierarchy of skill, virtue and hope.
'Professional' gladiators were agonistic (fighters): theirs was a life or death struggle, but for noxii there was 'no contest,' for they had not been selected for gladiatorial training.
As non-citizens beyond the rights and obligations of 'mos' and 'lex' (e.g. the right to exile, suicide, or normal execution by beheading [ad gladium - by the sword]), 'noxii' faced 'summa supplicia' -the worst forms of aggravated capital punishment.
'Noxii' had shown contempt for the law, the Roman people and their rulers.

Noxii Tortured and Executed as Prometheus
Their lives were therefore forfeit, and an expendable commodity for public demonstrations of Roman hegemony.
In the imperial period, executions were increasingly staged as re-enactments, sometimes of famous battles, or more often reenacted scenes from mythology, which were sometimes referred to as "fatal charades".
Because 'noxii' were generally frightened, untrained amateurs, these performances did not always remain faithful to the stories on which they were based, however, in a society where mythology was the cultural currency, the ritual events of ordinary life might naturally be set in a mythological context; or - to put it more broadly, Greco-Roman mythology provided an all-encompassing frame of reference for everyday Roman experience - (see: Chapter XV Dies in Ludi - Chapter-XX Novus Imperator - Chapter XXIII Ludi Honorem Vespasiani - Chapter XXXIV Ludi ad Auspicari Novam)
A superficial appropriateness was quite adequate; points of detail did not have to correspond exactly in all cases.
Humiliation of Torture and Death
The functions of these public executions were retribution, humiliation, correction, prevention and deterrence.
On the issue of humiliation, which was central both in the staging of the execution, and in the behaviour of the spectators, the humiliation of the offender further validates the processes of the law by distancing the onlooker from the criminal, and reducing the possibility of a sympathetic attitude towards him on the part of the spectators.
Public Execution
The public nature of Roman execution shows that one purpose of humiliating the miscreant was to alienate him from his entire social context, so that the spectators, regardless of class, were united in a feeling of moral superiority as they ridiculed the miscreant.
This may certainly be the case, but it seems reasonable to add to this (and the other functions) yet another objective to the public executions - one of religious observance.
This may not have been a conscious action on the part of the spectators, but awareness is not necessary for a correspondence with other rituals to exist.
Arena Crucifixion
Within the jeers and irreverence of the audience are echoes of Greek religious practices, namely those of the Thesmophoria and Dionysia, rituals which prominently included ridicule and sexually explicit obscenity.
These rituals re-established order by means of a temporary lack of composure and the disregard of codes of proper behaviour, and which had connections to blood and death (in the case of the Thesmophoria) and involved theatrical displays (in the case of the Dionysia).
Re-enactments of episodes from myth and history brought tradition to life before the audience's eyes.
The main feature of a day at the Games, however, was undoubtedly the combat.
This could include Roman boxing, and the Roman Pancratium (a form of 'no holds barred' wrestling and boxing combined) both of which could prove fatal to the defeated contestant.
The main event, however, was the gladiatorial combats.
Roman Pancratium
Roman Pancratium
This could include Roman boxing, and the Roman Pancratium (Greek Pankration - a form of 'no holds barred' wrestling and boxing combined) both of which could prove fatal to the defeated contestant.
The main event, however, was the gladiatorial combats.
Before the actual fighting began there was an 'official' inspection of the weapons, a display of the instruments of encouragement mentioned in the gladiatorial oath, and a general showing off by the contestants.
Then, at a signal from the 'munerarius' (director of the contest), a trumpet sounded, and the first pair of gladiators were matched against each other.
Gladiator's Oath
Seneca's description of the gladiator's oath is particularly compelling because he conflates this oath not only with military service, but with the commitment one must make to virtue.
"You have promised to be a good man," he says, "having enlisted under oath, which is the greatest chain binding you to good judgment. .. The words of this most honest compact are the same as those of the most base: 'to be burned, to be bound and to be killed by the sword,' from those who loan their strength to the arena.
Seneca was not amiss in comparing the oath of the gladiator with that of the soldier, since the soldier swore to completely obey his officers, the law and the regulations of camp, and to not abandon the standards.
He consecrated both himself to the Gods, in the event that he failed to uphold this oath, and also his possessions and family.
Virtue, for both the soldier and the gladiator, was complete, unquestioning obedience - a willingness to suffer any hardship, and to sacrifice one's own life.
The gladiator, by his oath, transforms what had originally been an involuntary act to a voluntary one, and so, at the very moment that he becomes a slave condemned to death, he becomes, in a certain way,  a free agent and a man with a certain kind of honour to uphold (although not the honour ascribed to a free citizen).
The gladiator's oath sheds light on the various dimensions of his status.
Loathed Figure - or Embodiment of Excellence
As a criminal or slave, he was part of the class of loathed 'infamous' figures, but through his oath he aligned himself with what was to an extent noble and virtuous.
His struggles were not cowardly or base - or at least should not be sen as such.
He was simultaneously the lowest of the low, but by triumphing, he could become the embodiment of a certain, circumscribed kind of excellence.
His success in battle could be equated to some degree with the successes of Rome's valued soldiery, while his defeat was representative of the fall of any enemy or some other undesirable.
Moreover, because the oath was taken supposedly willingly and freely, the murder was changed to an act of mutual complicity, a conspiracy between victim and executioner, gladiator and spectator.
The contradictory nature of the gladiator's reputation further illuminates his dual role in the "sacrifice" of the games.
Public Sacrificial Offering
It is not a stretch to suggest that the death of the gladiator, originally a funerary offering for an individual, eventually became analogous to a typical public sacrificial offering, for the benefit of the community - and this probably explains the longevity and repetitive nature of the institution.
Just as the games changed over time from rare, private events into public spectacles with much wider intentions and significance, particularly after being combined with 'ludi', the gladiator as an offering also increased in scope.
More than just an instrument of mediation between men and Gods, this victim absorbed and provided an outlet for, all the internal tensions, feuds, and rivalries pent up within the community, and possessed many of the qualities of a 'scapegoat'.
The gladiator, as either a criminal, slave or other type of 'liminal' being, was perceived as being in opposition to, outside or damaging to ordered society.
His death could 'purge' the community of a harmful element.
At the same time, his association with meritorious qualities, which aligned him with figures of devotion and 'virtue', made him in a strange way a valuable.
The willingness with which he made his oath and faced death further associated him with the willing sacrificial animal victim, who nodded his head in assent.

The sacred executioner is also seen as a figure of guilt who is banished from society, yet carries with him society's gratitude for taking upon himself the burden which would be too heavy for his fellows to bear.
'Sacred Executioner'
Sacrificial Death
The gladiator, however, was not banished from society, but he was denied the full range of rights guaranteed to other Romans.
He was not considered a fully functional member of the community.
He did, however, receive the gratitude of the community in their cheer,s as he performed as the community's vicarious agent in the execution of the most extraordinary and powerful of sacrifices.
His separation from the community allowed them to enjoy all the benefits of his actions, without themselves partaking in, or incurring, the taint of crime.
Both through his death and through the action of killing, the gladiator protected and purified the people.
The victorious gladiator also fulfilled the role of a "sacred executioner," which is a figure who, in instances of human sacrifice, 'slays another person, and as a result is treated as both sacred and accursed'.
Just as Romulus killed Remus, gladiator killed gladiator, and Rome was safer, stronger, and intact because of it.
Lastly, there is a correspondence between the Games and sacrifice, in the fact that food was often distributed at Games.
The distribution of food was not simply an act of benefaction, a means of pacifying an idle plebeian class with "bread and circuses, and thereby gaining popular support.
This was a communal meal, a banquet, just as that at the finale of a religious sacrifice.
By means of this element, the entire community was unified in a banquet that was a symbolic, acknowledgement of the necessity of death in the continuation of life.
CONCLUSIONS

The search for examples of allusion within the Roman Games is ultimately can be fruitful, both in terms of allusion to literature, and in terms of allusion to other customs and rituals, but we have only scratched the surface.
Even in the most simple terms, the comparison between the Funeral Games for Patroklos, and the Roman Games, as well as comparisons to Roman literature, begins to show the 'munera' as a ritual which alluded to other practices and conventions.
What becomes most clear in any sustained examination of the Roman Games is that they were an incredibly complex, complicated development of and amalgamation of various practices and purposes over an extended period of time.
Due to their endless intricacies, it seems unlikely that a fully comprehensive account of the Games will ever be composed, but it is clear that the Games are intimately linked to both funerary and sacrificial rituals.
The Roman Gladiator
To think of the Games as simply a 'perverse' form of entertainment or as a means of pacifying and manipulating a fickle crowd (the plebs), for political gains does not do justice to the full extent of their history and functions.
Given their similarities to public sacrifice, and to the beneficial, unifying qualities of such a practice, the concept of the Games must be expanded, and we must recognize that they included many elements which alluded to the daily, fundamental customs of Roman life.
Likewise, the gladiator was a multifaceted figure who performed a variety of roles, and who cannot be defined simply as an entertainer of low or undesirable status.
When victorious, he was a sacrificial officiant by proxy, a surrogate military and political competitor and a 'stand-in' mourner.
In defeat, he purged the community of undesirable qualities.
He was, in many ways, a didactic character, who presented both good and bad examples, and in some ways taught Romans how to be truly Roman.


reproduced with permission - (with edits) - from Vittorio Carvelli's
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016

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VITTORIO CARVELLI