Roman Munera and Ludi

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
('A Day at the Games')

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please note that this section contains nudity, and violent and sexually explicit images and text

In ancient Rome, munera (Latin plural) were public works provided for the benefit of the Roman people (populus Romanus) by individuals of high status and wealth.
The word munera, singular munus (cf. English "munificence") means "duty, obligation", expressing the individual's responsibility to provide a service or contribution to his community.
Munera are owing to the private largesse of an individual, in contrast to the ludi, "games," athletic contests or spectacles sponsored by the state.
The most famous of the munera were the gladiatorial contests, which began as a service or gift rendered to the dead at funeral games.


Like much that is connected with the Munera and Ludi, the origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate.
There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BC, and thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life in the Roman world.
Its popularity led to its use in ever more lavish and costly games.
The gladiator games lasted for nearly a thousand years, reaching their peak between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD.

Literary Sources

Etruscan Gladiators
note that these gladiators fight naked -
a custom that was re-introduced after
the death of Augustus
Etruscan Munera
Early literary sources seldom agree on the origins of gladiators and the gladiator games.
In the late 1st century BC, Nicolaus of Damascus believed they were Etruscan.
A generation later, Livy wrote that they were first held in 310 BC by the Campanians in celebration of their victory over the Samnites.
Long after the games had ceased, the 7th century AD writer Isidore of Seville derived Latin lanista (manager of gladiators) from the Etruscan word for "executioner," and the title of Charon (an official who accompanied the dead from the Roman gladiatorial arena) from Charun, psychopomp of the Etruscan underworld.
Most Roman historians emphasized the Gladiator Games as a foreign import, most likely Etruscan.


The Etruscans are also credited with the introduction of the brutal, Greek Pankration - known to the Romans as the Pancratium.
Naked Etruscan Pankration Wrestlers
Naked Etruscan Pankration Wrestlers
The best evidence for Etruscan athletics comes from some 20 richly painted tombs that include athletic scenes in their decoration. The scenes depicted in these tombs clearly show that the Etruscans participated in many of the same events as the Creeks: including wrestling, and the Pankration. Many of the tomb paintings contain banquet scenes, and dancing along with athletics: these may be interpreted as representations of the 'funerary celebrations' held to honor the deceased.
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Homoeroticism in the
Roman Pancratium
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
The Roman Pancratium

While the Pancratium took time to become established as part of the Roman Games (mainly because the wrestlers competed 'in Graeco stilum' - in other words 'nude' - also, incidentally a Latin vulgar term for 'anal intercourse'), gladiatorial combats became an essential part of munera - which eventually became the 'Ludi Romanum' - (Roman Games).
By the Imperial Period, (the period of the 'Story of Gracchus') the Romans had also thoroughly adopted the Greek Pankration into their Ludi - (Games), however, for the Romans the Pancratium was usually fought 'ad mortis' (to the death), unlike the Greeks and Etruscans, where lethal bouts were not intentional.
The Roman Pancratium often contained a strong homoerotic, sexual element, as the contestants (as in the Greek Games) competed nude (unlike gladiators) - and for the Romans, nudity and sexuality were almost synonymous - except in the case of 'heroic nudity', in the visual arts, or practical nudity, as in bathing.
As Pancratium fighters were almost always non-Romans, and always slaves, nudity was allowed - if not encouraged, - as slaves were permitted, and often expected to appear naked.


The earliest known Roman gladiator schools (ludi), however, were in Campania.
Tomb frescoes from Paestum (4th century BC) show paired fighters, with helmets, spears and shields, in a propitiatory funeral blood-rite that anticipates early Roman gladiator games.
Compared to these images, supporting evidence from Etruscan tomb-paintings is tentative and late. 
The Paestum frescoes may represent the continuation of a much older tradition, acquired or inherited from Greek colonists of the 8th century BC.
Titus Livius - (Livy)
Livy dates the earliest Roman gladiator games to 264 BC, in the early stages of Rome's First Punic War against Carthage.
Decimus Iunius Brutus Scaeva had three gladiator pairs fight to the death in Rome's "cattle market" Forum (Forum Boarium) to honor his dead father, Brutus Pera.
This is described as a munus (plural: munera), a commemorative duty owed the manes of a dead ancestor by his descendants.

Gladiators of the Early Republic
The gladiator type used (according to a single, later source), was Thracian, but the development of the munus and its gladiator types was most strongly influenced by Samnium's support for Hannibal and subsequent punitive expeditions by Rome and her Campanian allies; the earliest and most frequently mentioned type was the Samnite.
Livy's account skirts the funereal, sacrificial function of early Roman gladiator combats and underlines the later theatrical ethos of the gladiator show: exotically armed barbarians, treacherous and degenerate, are dominated by Roman iron and native courage.
His plain Romans virtuously dedicate the magnificent spoils of war to the Gods. Their Campanian allies stage a dinner entertainment using gladiators who may not be Samnites, but play the Samnite role.
Other groups and tribes would join the cast list as Roman territories expanded.
Most gladiators were armed in the manner of the enemies of Rome.
The munus became a morally instructive form of historic enactment.


Valerius Martial
The most reliable and full description of the Roman Games is found in Martial’s book of poems ('The Book of the Shows'), which was written to commemorate the opening of the Flavian Amphitheater.
Marcus Valerius Martialis (March, between 38 and 41 AD – between 102 and 104 AD), was a Roman poet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561, of which 1,235 are in elegiac couplets. He is considered to be the creator of the modern epigram.
There is, of course, a some slight degree of wishful thinking and poetic license in the details of the spectacles described.
Nonetheless, this book is one of the very rare cases where we can bring together a work of ancient literature, a specific ancient building and what happened in it on one particular occasion.
The poems help us to glimpse not only what might have taken place there, but what a sophisticated Roman audience might have found to admire in these performances.
They bring us face to face with the (in Roman terms) exquisite inventiveness of cruelty: Martial starts describing the exotic, polyglot crowd which has turned up for the show.
Zeus and Ganymede
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The first ‘act’ he describes is not from what we now imagine to be the standard repertoire of these shows: gladiators and wild beast hunts, or alternatively executions.
Instead, it is a ‘charade’, more in keeping with the Roman theater than gladiatorial contests, reenacting a story from mythology - for the Romans a no less important and distinctive genre of displays in the amphitheater.
In this case the story played out is that of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete whom the god Poseidon (in order to punish her husband) made fall in love with a bull: the famous half bull/half human Minotaur was the result of the union.
Martial's poem appears to show that this event was acted out before the audience in the amphitheater.
Rape and Execution of a Slave-Boy
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There is other evidence for dramatic executions of criminals in the Roman arena along these lines, (presumably the woman would not have survived the encounter, which we may assume to have been some form of quasi-judicial punishment).
It appears that quite often condemned criminals were forced to take part in their own death scenes, as if actors in a play.
Later in the book, Martial focuses on the crucifixion of a man, who seems to have reenacted in the the punishment of a legendary Roman bandit called Laureolus, until he was put out of his misery by a wild bear.
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According to Martial, this criminal simultaneously reminded the audience of the myth of Prometheus, whose particular divine punishment was to have his liver continually devoured by vultures during the day and grow back again at night.
This is also an aspect of games that other writers pick out when they remark that criminals in the amphitheater take on the mythological roles of Attis (who castrated himself, or Hercules (burned alive).
Even closer to Martial’s woman and the bull is an episode in Apuleius’ brilliant 'novel' - 'The Golden Ass'.
Apuleius recounts how a woman convicted of murder was condemned, before being eaten by a beast, to have sexual intercourse in the local amphitheater with an ass - in fact the human hero of the story, transformed into an ass by a magical accident.
Apuleius - 'The Golden Ass'
The brainy ass is not convinced that the lion will know the script, and fears that it might well eat him instead of the woman, so he escapes before the performance.
On the other hand, we might be dealing with a rather different kind of charade.
The 'Man-Bull'
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It is not so much a question of how feasible the intercourse described would be; historians have been predictably ingenious with their solutions to that . problem, and have plenty of parallels from modern pornography to hand.
More to they point is that there is nothing here to disprove the idea that the ‘bull’ was in fact a man in a bull costume, and that the ‘reality’ of the union was simply a public rape performed in the arena.
In contrast to the common modern view of the crude sadism of the arena, Martial’s poems repeatedly emphasise - uncomfortable as this must be for us - the sophistication of what was on show, its clever echoes of the cultural and mythological (religious) inheritance of the Roman world, and the wily thoughts about representation and reality (“what had been merely myth became real punishment’) they prompt.
Slave-Boy Tortured
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Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the Roman Games is not how to explain the violence and cruelty that took place there, but how to explain the way the Romans described and explained that violence.
In the other poems that make up Martial's collection he develops these themes.
One playfully subverts the myth of Orpheus, the magician who could charm the animals: the Orpheus figure in this display works no such magic - he is torn apart by a bear.
But what of the gladiators ?
Only one single poem in the whole book features a gladiatorial bout.
We must assume that the hundred days of celebration saw combat after combat between the usual array of star fighters, hardened veterans and raw recruits, but here one encounter must stand for all. The fighters concerned were ‘Priscus’ and 'Verus’.
They were such an evenly matched pair that the crowd demanded their honorable discharge from gladiatorial service, and in the end the fight had to be declared a draw.
But, as so often, the eye of the poet (if not of the audience on the day; who knows ?) was as much on the emperor as on the spectacle in the arena itself.
It is the Emperor Titus, we are told, who enforced the terms for the bout, Titus who sent them rich rewards for their valor, and finally Titus who sent them the palms to mark their joint victory.
Roman Gladiators in the Arena
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
Roman Gladiators in the Arena
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016

Given our own image of these bloody combats, it is perhaps surprising that this courageous but apparently bloodless draw should be the only gladiatorial fight commemorated at the inaugural games in the Colosseum.

Even more surprising is that - so far as we have been able to discover, at least - this poem is the only account of a specific gladiatorial bout to survive from the ancient world.
We have plenty of boastful claims of gladiatorial numbers, a good deal of discussion about the appeal of the gladiators themselves and the valor of the fighting, and countless images of these distinctively dressed combatants, decorating everything from cheap oil lamps to costly mosaic floors.
Yet the only thing approaching a description of an actual contest between two individual gladiators is this tale of imperial generosity, and the ancient equivalent of a goalless draw in AD 8o.


In 216 BC, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, late consul and augur, was honoured by his sons with three days of Gladiatorial Munera in the Forum Romanum, using twenty-two pairs of gladiators.
Ten years later, Scipio Africanus gave a commemorative munus in Iberia for his father and uncle, casualties in the Punic Wars.
The context of the Punic Wars and Rome's near-disastrous defeat at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC) link these early games to munificence, the celebration of military victory and the religious expiation of military disaster; these munera appear to serve a morale-raising agenda in an era of military threat and expansion.

Mosaic of Naked Gladiators
The next recorded munus, held for the funeral of Publius Licinius in 183 BC, was more extravagant. 
It involved three days of funeral games, 120 gladiators, and public distribution of meat (visceratio data) – a practice that reflected the gladiatorial fights at Campanian banquets described by Livy and later deplored by Silius Italicus.
The enthusiastic adoption of gladiatoria munera by Rome's Iberian allies shows how easily, and how early, the culture of the gladiator munus permeated places far from Rome itself.
By 174 BC, "small" Roman munera (private or public), provided by an editor of relatively low importance, may have been so commonplace and unremarkable they were not considered worth recording.
In 105 BC, the ruling consuls offered Rome its first taste of state-sponsored "barbarian combat" demonstrated by gladiators from Capua, as part of a training program for the military.
It proved immensely popular.
The ludi (games), sponsored by the ruling elite, and dedicated to a deity such as Jupiter, a divine or heroic ancestor (and later, during the Imperium, the well-being and numen of the emperor), began to include the gladiator contests formerly restricted to private munera.

Late Republic

By the closing years of the politically and socially unstable Late Republic, gladiator games provided their sponsors with extravagantly expensive but effective opportunities for self-promotion while offering cheap, exciting entertainment to their clients.
Gladiators became big business for trainers and owners, for politicians on the make and those who had reached the top.
A politically ambitious privatus (private citizen) might postpone his deceased father's munus to the election season, when a generous show might drum up votes; those in power and those seeking it needed the support of the plebeians and their tribunes, whose votes might be won with an exceptionally spectacular show, sometimes even the mere promise of one.
Sulla, during his term as praetor, showed his usual acumen in breaking his own sumptuary laws to give the most lavish munus yet seen in Rome, on occasion of his wife's funeral.
During this period the practical differences between ludi and munera were beginning to blur.

Later Developments

Provincial Gladiators wearing Parade Armour
Gladiatorial games, usually linked with beast shows, spread throughout the Republic and beyond.
Anti-corruption laws of 65 and 63 BC attempted but signally failed to curb their political usefulness to sponsors.
Assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar
Following Caesar's assassination and the Roman Civil War, Augustus assumed Imperial authority over the games, including munera, and formalized their provision as a civic and religious duty.
His revision of sumptuary law capped private and public expenditure on munera, claiming to save the Roman elite from the bankruptcies they would otherwise suffer, and restricted their performance to the festivals of Saturnalia and Quinquatria.
Henceforth, the ceiling cost for a praetor's "economical" but official munus of a maximum 120 gladiators was to be 25,000 denarii ($500,000).
"Generous" Imperial ludi might cost no less than 180,000 denarii ($3.6 million).
Emperor Trajan
Throughout the Empire, the largest, and most celebrated games would be identified with the state-sponsored Imperial cult, which furthered public recognition, respect and approval for the Emperor, his law, and his agents.
Between 108 and 109 AD, Trajan celebrated his Dacian victories using a reported 10,000 gladiators (and 11,000 animals) over 123 days.
The cost of gladiators and munera continued to spiral out of control.
Legislation of 177 AD by Marcus Aurelius did little to stop it, and was completely ignored by his son, Commodus.
In addition to the huge, state sponsored games, there were, in most cities and large towns, small, privately owned amphitheaters which provided 'entertainment', at a price, and included gladiatorial contests, (and in the reigns of Nero and Hadrian Greek athletic contests - including wrestling and the Pancratium), along with public executions, and 'mythological' re-enactments.

Classes of Gladiators

There are at least 22 named types of gladiators recorded.
Many of these, however, are only known by name, and may well be either alternative names for other well known types, or rare, or regional types, only active in small areas of the empire, or during brief periods.
The 'andabatae' fought wearing a somewhat unlikely helmet, with only one eye-hole, herded towards the fight for the amusement of the crowd, and not part of the true gladiatorial contest.
We know they are a genuine type because Cicero makes a joking reference to the 'andabata' in a letter he wrote to his friend Trebatius Testa, who was stationed in Gaul.
The 'Oxford Latin Dictionary' regards the word as of dubious origin.
Some have argued that it is a Latin borrowing from Gaulish.
The arbelas is mentioned in only one source, a list of gladiators of the lanista C. Salvius Capito in the 1st century BC.
The name arbelas comes from the arbelai, a crescent shaped knife that shoemakers used to cut leather.
There are six known images that show a crescent shaped knife, and they are only fighting against retiarii or against each other.
This type of fighter is almost certainly also known as the 'scissor'.

Cestus - Naked Roman Boxer

The 'Cestus' was not in fact a gladiator, but rather a Greek style fist-fighter or boxer who wore the cestus, a brutal forerunner of the boxing glove.
Cestus almost always fought naked.


The 'dimachaerus' (Greek διμάχαιρος, "bearing two knives") used a sword or knife in each hand.


The laquearius was rarely seen - a novelty act - who tried to catch his adversaries with a lasso (laqueus).
He was equipped also with a dagger for use once he snared his opponent.


The 'murmillo' (plural murmillones) or myrmillo wore a helmet with a stylised fish on the crest (the mormylos or sea fish - but probably only on the 'parade helmet'), and also sometimes an arm guard (manica), a loincloth and belt.

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The murmillo carried a gladius (64–81 cm long).
Murmillones wear long greaves, and were typically paired with Thracian, but occasionally with the Retarius.


Provocatores wear a loincloth, a belt, and long greaves, and sometimes a manica on the lower right arm, and a visored helmet without brim or crest.
On occasions (in the later Imperial period) these gladiators were protected by a breastplate (cardiophylax) which is usually rectangular, later often crescent-shaped.
They fought with gladius.
They were paired only against other provocatores.


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The retiarius ("net fighter") developed in the early Augustan period.
He carried a trident and a net, although often the net was dispensed with, as it was often far from effective.
The retiarius wore a loincloth held in place by a belt, and usually an arm guard (manica) extending to the shoulder and left side of the chest.
He fought without the protection of a helmet.
A tombstone found in Romania shows a retiarius holding a dagger with four spikes (each at the corner of a square guard) instead of the usual bladed dagger.
This type of gladiatorial dagger became very popular, as it inflicted very bloody wounds.
Retiarii usually fought Secutores but sometimes fought Myrmillones.
The secutor ("pursuer") developed to fight the retiarius.
As a variant of the murmillo, he wore the same armour and weapons, including the tall rectangular shield and the gladius.
The helmet of the secutor, however, covered the entire face with the exception of two small eye-holes in order to protect his face from the thin prongs of the trident of his opponent.
The helmet was also round and smooth so that the retiarius net could not get a grip on it.

The above classifications are only suggestions, as a  wide diversity of evidence that survives, from many historical periods, and over a wide geographical area.
Different types of gladiators with different names there certainly were - but how exactly each one was equipped, what particular role they took in the fighting, and how that differed over the centuries of gladiatorial display throughout the whole expanse of the Roman empire is very hard indeed to judge.
The question becomes even more tantalizing when we try to fit into the picture the authentic items of gladiatorial armour that still survive - splendid helmets, shields, protections for shoulders and legs (or perhaps arms: - it is not always clear exactly which part of the body the makers had in mind).
Gladiator 'Parade' Greaves
Gladiator 'Parade' Helmet

There is a considerable quantity of this, most of it, about 80 per cent, from the gladiatorial barracks at Pompeii, excavated in the eighteenth century.
At first sight, even if it is not from the Colosseum itself, this material provides precious direct evidence of what an ancient combatant in that arena would have worn, only a few years before the Colosseum's inauguration.
In addition, it matches up reasonably well with some of the surviving ancient images of gladiators.
Yet it is far too good to be true, - quite literally.
Most of the helmets are lavishly decorated, with embossed with figures of barbarians paying homage to the goddess ‘Roma' (the personification of the city), of the mythical strongman Hercules, and with a variety of other more or obviously appropriate scenes.
It perhaps fits well with Martial’s emphasis on the arena’s sophisticated play with stories from classical mythology that one of these helmets is decorated with figures of the Muses.
It is also extremely heavy.
The average weight of the helmets is about 4-5 kilos, which is about twice that of a standard Roman soldier’s helmet, and the heaviest of these 'gladiatorial' helmets weighs in at almost 7 kilos !
Add to this the fact that none of them seem to show any sign of wear and tear - no nasty bash where a sword or a trident came down fiercely, no dent where the shield rolled off and hit the ground.
lt is hard to resist the suspicion that these magnificent objects were not actually gladiatorial equipment in regular use.
Some archaeologists, predictably have tried very hard to resist that suspicion, and have resorted to some desperate arguments in the process.
Maybe this Pompeian armour was a new consignment, not yet knocked around in the arena. Maybe the short length of the gladiatorial bouts meant that such weight of equipment was manageable for these fit men; it was not, after all, like fighting a day - long legionary battle.
Maybe - and this is where desperation passes the bounds of plausibility- the helmets were known to be so strong that no canny opponent would have bothered to take aim at them, hence their apparently pristine state.
Maybe - but much more likely is that this armour was the display collection, 'parade armour', used only perhaps when the gladiators paraded into the arena at the start of the show (to be replaced by more practical equipment as soon as the fighting started), or on other ceremonial occasions.
It was the also the kind of equipment that would best symbolize the gladiator on funeral images or other works of art.

'With a Turned Thumb'
Jean-Léon Gérôme - 1872
So, what the spectator would actually have seen in any amphitheater was probably much less like the figure reinvented by Gérome (who almost certainly had seen the Pompeian finds), and much more like the more lightly clad, though still recognizably ‘gladiatorial’, gladiators envisaged by Vittorio Carvelli, and similar to the rather more nifty fighters depicted in the casual graffiti from Pompeii
There is little reason to think that the gladiators regularly lumbered around the arena in their display kit.
But what, finally, of the standard programme of displays in the amphitheater: animal hunts in the morning, executions at midday, gladiators in the afternoon (with the public gladiatorial dinner the evening before to allow the punters to study form)?
lt is quite true that each of these elements is referred to by ancient writers describing the shows.
The question is whether or not it is right to stitch all these references together into a ‘programme’.
This is a trap modern students of Roman culture often fall into: pick up one reference in a letter written in the first century AD, combine it with a casual aside in a historian writing a hundred years later, a joke by a Roman satirist which seems to be referring to the same phenomenon, plus a head-on attack composed by a Christian propagandist in North Africa; add it all together and - you’ve made a 'picture', and 'reconstructed' an institution of ancient Rome.
lt is exactly this kind of historical procedure which lies behind modern views of what happened at a Roman bath, or at the races in the Circus Maximus, or at almost any Roman religious ritual you care to name.
And it lies behind most attempts to reconstruct the shows in the amphitheater too.
Why is it usually assumed that the lunch interlude was the time for executions ?
Because the philosopher Seneca writing in the mid first century AD, before the Colosseum was built, in a letter concerned with the moral dangers of crowds, complains that the midday spectacles in some shows he had attended were even worse than the morning.
'In the morning men were thrown to lions and bears, at noon to the audience' he quips.
And he goes on to deplore the unadulterated cruelty while explaining that its victims are criminals -robbers and murderers.
Execution by Garotting
That is the only evidence for the lunchtime executions.
In fact, there is just as much evidence for some kind of burlesque, or comedy interlude at lunchtime.
And that may have been what Seneca was expecting, when he writes that he was hoping for some (wit and humor’.
Why is it believed that gladiators regularly had a public meal the night before their show ?
Because Tertullian again, rather puzzlingly, claims that he himself does not recline in public ‘like beast fighters taking their last meal’.
There is certainly no evidence at all for the punters coming along to study form; in fact, we have no direct evidence at all for widespread betting on the results of this fighting.
That is an idea that comes mostly from the imagination of modern historians, trying to make sense of the shows by assimilating them to horse racing, or to ancient chariot racing, which certainly did attract gambling.

The Games

The earliest munera took place at or near the tomb of the deceased, and these were organized by their munerator (who made the offering).
Later games were held by an editor, either identical with the munerator or an official employed by him.
As time passed, these titles and meanings may have merged.
In the Republican era, private citizens could own and train gladiators, or lease them from a lanista (owner of a gladiator training school).
Opening Ceremony of the Munera Pro Gracchus
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From the Principate onwards, private citizens could hold munera and own gladiators only under Imperial permission.
Games were advertised beforehand on conspicuously placed billboards, giving the venue, date and the number of paired gladiators (ordinarii) to be used.
Other highlighted features could include details of venationes, executions, music and any luxuries to be provided for the spectators, including a decorated awning against the sun, and water sprinklers. 
Food, drink, sweets and occasionally "door prizes" could be offered.
For enthusiasts, a more detailed program (libellus) was prepared for the day of the munus, showing the names, types and match records of gladiator pairs (of interest to gamblers), and their order of appearance.
Copies of the libellus were distributed among the crowd on the day of the match.
Left-handed gladiators were advertised as an interesting rarity; they were trained to fight right-handers, which gave them advantage over most opponents and produced an interestingly unorthodox combination.

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Opening Pompa
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© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
Mythological Re-enactment
for the full story and more images go to:
No Ludi could begin without a 'Pompa' - opening procession - and sacrifices to the gods and the taking of the 'auspices.
Larger scale games often began with venationes (beast hunts) and bestiarii (beast fighting) gladiators.
Sometimes beasts were unharmed and simply exhibited.
Next came the ludi meridiani, of variable content but usually involving executions of noxii (sometimes as "mythological" re-enactments) or others condemned (damnati) to the arena.
There were also comedy fights; some may have been lethal.
Before the listed contests were fought, the gladiators would process into the arena, wearing heavy, ornamental and eaborate 'parade armour' (often now mistaken for the actual armour that they wore for fighting - which in fact was minimal and lightweight).
After the parade the fighters would often hold informal warm-up matches, using blunted or dummy weapons.
In late Republican munera, between 10 and 13 pairs could have fought on one day; this assumes one match at a time in the course of an afternoon.
Fights were interspersed or accompanied by music, perhaps intended to accentuate or follow the action.

The Combat

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'Speared in the Belly !'
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'Decapitated !'
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In the earliest munera, death was considered the proper outcome of combat.
During the Imperial era, matches were often advertised 'sine missione' (without release [from the sentence of death]), which suggests that missio (the sparing of a defeated gladiator's life) had become more common at the games. 
By common custom, the spectators decided whether or not a losing gladiator should be spared, and chose the winner in the rare event of a "standing tie".
Most matches employed a senior referee (summa rudis), and an assistant, to caution or separate opponents at some crucial point in the match.
A single bout probably lasted between 10–15 minutes, or 20 minutes at most; - spectators preferred well matched ordinarii, with complementary fighting styles, but other combinations are found, such as several gladiators fighting together or the serial replacement of a match loser by a new gladiator, who would fight the winner.

The Colosseum
Watching the Crowd entering
the Colosseum
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Colosseum - Reconstruction
The Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium), is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome.
Built of mainly of concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built and is considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering ever.
The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum.
Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus.

Colosseum - Section
Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).
These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).
The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.
The Colosseum's original Latin name was Amphitheatrum Flavium, often anglicized as Flavian Amphitheater. The building was constructed by emperors of the Flavian dynasty, following the reign of Nero.

Colosseum - Seating Section
Colosseum - Sectioned Plan
The name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal nude statue (made of gilded bronze) of Nero nearby (the statue of Nero was named after the Colossus of Rhodes).
This statue was later remodeled by Nero's successors into the likeness of Helios (Sol), or Apollo, the sun god, by adding the appropriate solar crown. Nero's head was also replaced several times with the heads of succeeding emperors.
Construction was funded by the opulent spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD led to the Siege of Jerusalem.

The Colosseum
The Colosseum could accommodate 50,000 people.
They were seated in a tiered arrangement that reflected the rigidly stratified nature of Roman society. 
Special boxes were provided at the north and south ends respectively for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, providing the best views of the arena.
Most amphitheaters has special boxes - originally for the 'Editor' (organizer) of the Games, but subsequently reserved for special guests of the owner of the amphitheater.
Pulvinar at the Amphitheater in Baiae
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
In deference to the box originally created for Gaius Julius Caesar in the Circus in Rome, such a box was often referred to (in larger amphitheaters) as the Pulviinar.
Flanking them at the same level was a broad platform or podium for the senatorial class, who were allowed to bring their own chairs. 
The names of some 5th century senators can still be seen carved into the stonework, presumably reserving areas for their use.
The tier above the senators, known as the maenianum primum, was occupied by the non-senatorial noble class or knights (equites).
The next level up, the maenianum secundum, was originally reserved for ordinary Roman citizens (plebeians) and was divided into two sections.
The lower part (the immum) was for wealthy citizens, while the upper part (the summum) was for poor citizens.
Specific sectors were provided for other social groups: for instance, boys with their tutors, soldiers on leave, foreign dignitaries, scribes, heralds, priests and so on.
Stone (and later marble) seating was provided for the citizens and nobles, who presumably would have brought their own cushions with them.
Inscriptions identified the areas reserved for specific groups.
Another level, the maenianum secundum in legneis, was added at the very top of the building during the reign of Domitian.
This comprised a gallery for the common poor, slaves and women.
It would have been either standing room only, or would have had very steep wooden benches.
Some groups were banned altogether from the Colosseum, notably gravediggers, actors and former gladiators.
Each tier was divided into sections (maeniana) by curved passages and low walls (praecinctiones or baltei), and were subdivided into cunei, or wedges, by the steps and aisles from the vomitoria.
Each row (gradus) of seats was numbered, permitting each individual seat to be exactly designated by its gradus, cuneus, and number.
The arena itself was 83 meters by 48 meters (272 ft by 157 ft / 280 by 163 Roman feet).
It comprised a wooden floor covered by sand (the Latin word for sand is 'harena' or 'arena'), covering an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning "underground").
'Sylvae', or recreations of natural scenes were also held in the arena.
Painters, technicians and architects would construct a simulation of a forest, with real trees and bushes planted in the arena's floor, and animals would then be introduced.
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
Main Entrance to the Amphitheater Gracchi
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Such scenes might be used simply to display a natural environment for the urban population, or could otherwise be used as the backdrop for hunts or dramas depicting episodes from mythology.
They were also occasionally used for executions in which the hero of the story – played by a condemned person – was killed in one of various gruesome but mythologically authentic ways, such as being mauled by beasts, castrated or burned to death. (see below for Ancient Roman Theater).

The Colosseum, however, was a victim of Roman megalomania, being far to large to allow many of the spectators to obtain a reasonable view of the performances.
While the privileged, on the lowest tier - senators and patricians - would be quite close to the action, spectators in the upper tiers would see the gladiators and other performers as tiny, insignificant figures.
Attendance, however, apparently remained strong - mainly because the state sponsored the Munera and Ludi and therefore they were provided free to a plebeian population in Rome who were, by and large, unemployed.


The theatre of ancient Rome was a diverse art form, ranging from festival performances of street theater and acrobatics, to the staging of Plautus's broadly appealing situation comedies, to the high-style, verbally elaborate tragedies of Seneca, and later the sexually explicit mimes, dramatizing mythological subjects.
Although Rome had a native tradition of performance, the Hellenization of Roman culture in the 3rd century BC had a profound and energizing effect on Roman theater and encouraged the development of Latin literature for the stage.
Roman drama, however, had never been much more than a plagiarism of Greek tragedy and comedy.
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'Theatrical' Performance in the Arena
'Achilles and Patroclus'
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Very little original drama was developed in the Roman Republic, but there had at least been some interest in literary drama.
Unfortunately, as far as Roman drama as a whole was concerned, it is clear that no one wrote for the stage except to make money.
Cities such as Pompeii, in which the majority of people were slaves and foreigners, showed a distinct lack of interest in the 'literary' theater.
For this reason something somewhat cruder developed.
Undoubtedly he aesthetic tastes of the majority of the Roman people centered on the sensual, and by the first century AD, mime and pantomime had replaced literary drama.
Mime was a completely separate entity from true tragic drama.
Farce and pantomime came to replace comedy and tragedy in the Roman Empire.
These mimes were centered around themes of murder and adultery: the amount of explicit sexuality and violence was extreme - even by Roman standards.
In an attempt to espouse a sense of realism, and titillate the audience, real sex acts and real violence often took place on stage.
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Dancer in the Arena
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It was at this juncture that the theater and the arena came together - after all, the Roman state categorized both activities as 'Ludi' - performed by 'infames'.
In ancient Roman culture, infamia (in-, "not," and fama, "reputation") was a loss of legal or social standing. As a technical term of Roman law, infamia was an official exclusion from the legal protections enjoyed by a Roman citizen, as imposed by a censor or praetor. More generally, especially during the Republic and Principate, infamia was informal damage to one's esteem or reputation. A person who suffered infamia was an infamis (plural infames). Infamia was an "inescapable consequence" for certain professionals, including prostitutes and pimps, entertainers such as actors and dancers, and gladiators. Infames could not, for instance, provide testimony in a court of law. They were liable to corporal punishment, which was usually reserved for slaves. The infamia of entertainers did not exclude them from socializing among the Roman elite, and entertainers who were "stars", both men and women, sometimes became the lovers of such high-profile figures as the dictator Sulla and Mark Antony. A passive adult homosexual, who was "outed", might also be subject to social infamia, though if he was a citizen he might retain his legal standing.

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'The Story of Gracchus tells the tale of a young Roman boy, brought up in Athens.
When his father is recalled to Rome, at the end of the Reign of the Emperor Nero, Marcus, and his father and mother travel from Piraeus (the port of Athens) to Brundisium (in South East Italy) by boat.
They newer reach their destination, however, as the boat they are traveling on is attacked by pirates.
Marcus' mother and father are cruelly killed, and Marcus is taken, by the pirates, to Cydonia, in Crete, where he is sold as a slave to a slave-dealer called Arion.
Arion sells on Marcus to a 'mystery buyer' at a fabulously high price, and after a high speed journey through the night, Marcus and Terentius, - the 'mystery buyer', arrive at a magnificent Villa in Baiae, near Neápolis.
It is there that Marcus' real adventure begins .....

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016