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Gladiators - heroes or victims ?


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Author Topic: Gladiators - heroes or victims ?  (Read 717 times)
N. Truth Seeker
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« on: August 06, 2007, 03:53:47 am »

Ever thought who these gladiators were? Or, does this mean that 'civilization' and brutality must go hand in hand ?

I guess we've all heard about this term 'gladiator' but few of us really know the depth of this savage culture and the repugnance of the elite mentality in nurturing the tradition.

You folks must be wondering how I suddenly thought of this topic. Well, I've read the detailed history many times. Then, this evening I was watching the movie "Spartacus" - the 2004 production. I thought we must know more about this culture than just its title.
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Gladiators: Heroes of the Roman Amphitheatre
By Professor Kathleen Coleman


The ancient Romans are often seen as bringing civilisation to the western world, but they regarded the slaying of gladiators as a normal form of entertainment. Kathleen Coleman describes what went on, and examines the society that accepted such barbarity without question.

Conscripts and volunteers
Today, the idea of gladiators fighting to the death, and of an amphitheatre where this could take place watched by an enthusiastic audience, epitomises the depths to which the Roman Empire was capable of sinking. Yet, to the Romans themselves, the institution of the arena was one of the defining features of their civilisation.

Hardly any contemporary voices questioned the morality of staging gladiatorial combat. And the gladiators' own epitaphs mention their profession without shame, apology, or resentment. So who were these gladiators, and what was their role in Roman society?

The Romans believed that the first gladiators were slaves who were made to fight to the death at the funeral of a distinguished aristocrat, Junius Brutus Pera, in 264 BC. This spectacle was arranged by the heirs of the deceased to honour his memory.

Gradually gladiatorial spectacle became separated from the funerary context, and was staged by the wealthy as a means of displaying their power and influence within the local community. Advertisements for gladiatorial displays have survived at Pompeii, painted by professional sign-writers on house-fronts, or on the walls of tombs clustered outside the city-gates. The number of gladiators to be displayed was a key attraction: the larger the figure, the more generous the sponsor was perceived to be, and the more glamorous the spectacle.

Most gladiators were slaves. They were subjected to a rigorous training, fed on a high-energy diet, and given expert medical attention. Hence they were an expensive investment, not to be despatched lightly.

Remarkably, some gladiators were not slaves but free-born volunteers. The chief incentive was probably the down-payment that a volunteer received upon taking the gladiatorial oath. This oath meant that the owner of his troupe had ultimate sanction over the gladiator's life, assimilating him to the status of a slave (ie a chattel).

Some maverick emperors with a perverted sense of humour made upper-class Romans (of both sexes) fight in the arena. But, as long as they did not receive a fee for their participation, such persons would be exempt from the stain of infamia, the legal disability that attached to the practitioners of disreputable professions such as those of gladiators, actors and prostitutes.


Continue reading this important history
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Ruhi_Rose
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2007, 04:58:44 pm »

Salaam Alaikum and hey brother! this is an intriguing topic you've zoomed into. I mean, it's intriguing because of it's sheer brute and barbarity. Yeah, I saw that 2004 production of Spartacus. The leading role of Spartacus is played by a Russian or Serb actor, I forget his name. I could say, I watched this movie and yet I didn't. I kept turning my head away from it and walking off the room time and again because there was just too much violence. I keep wonderin' ... if such a culture existed in any Muslim society of the medieavel ages or even among any pre-Islamic society that later converted to Islam .. I can imagine the bashing and yelling in the rest of the world. It would have certainly lasted uptil now and beyond. However, being associated stictly with the Roman culture who are conveniently presented as the pioneers of finnesse and sophistication, many western historians try to shamelessly give this brutal practice a touch of class to hide their embarrassment. My pleasure of reading this article was that Kathleen Coleman was an exception with no reservations of exposing people the way they were.

This story you linked by Kathleen Coleman was astonishing. My head got flooded with queries and loud comments. The following are a few I'd like to scream about to cool my head Grin


"Most gladiators were slaves. They were subjected to a rigorous training, fed on a high-energy diet, and given expert medical attention. Hence they were an expensive investment, not to be despatched lightly."

"expensive investment" ?? lol - perhaps the most well fed gladiator would be a similar attraction among the amphitheatre spectators as Titanic's box office hit in 1997! If this is civilization, may the world remain uncivilized.


"Remarkably, some gladiators were not slaves but free-born volunteers. The chief incentive was probably the down-payment that a volunteer received upon taking the gladiatorial oath. This oath meant that the owner of his troupe had ultimate sanction over the gladiator's life, assimilating him to the status of a slave (ie a chattel)."

Okay, so this meant even those who were free men but poor joined the hideous sport for money. This must have been someone who didn't care for his life on bit, just wanted his family to survive. He would probably give the "down-payment" to his family and himself be 'promoted' to the status of a chattel slave. I can hardly believe this ........... but I have to cause it's true!


"Some maverick emperors with a perverted sense of humour made upper-class Romans (of both sexes) fight in the arena. But, as long as they did not receive a fee for their participation, such persons would be exempt from the stain of infamia, the legal disability that attached to the practitioners of disreputable professions such as those of gladiators, actors and prostitutes."

This means that receiving money was cleverly and conveniently made a drawback for those poor gladiators who might have needed money for their families even though they might not have cared for themselves. Some would be called "prostitutes" and some "gladiators." So what was the official title for those who didn't receive money for their families to go to their deaths?


"There were some dissenting voices: the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius found gladiatorial combat 'boring', but he nevertheless sponsored legislation to keep costs at a realistic level so that individuals could still afford to mount the displays ..."

The philospher emperor's philosophy of concern only took him as far as money. Just too pathetic for words.


"Both pagan philosophers and Christian fathers scorned the arena. But they objected most vociferously not to the brutality of the displays, but to the loss of self-control that the hype generated among the spectators."

So the religious personalities, the pagans and Christians clerics, only expressed their disapproval to the rowdiism of the spectators. It's like having a soccer match today in which the players are poised to kill each other. But the authorities are only worried about cheering and jeering of the crowds. I think, even the Talibans might not fall this low ... or probably only the Talibans can compete with the Romans.


"Gladiatorial displays were red-letter days in communities throughout the empire ... The combatants paraded beforehand, fully armed. Exotic animals might be displayed and hunted in the early part of the programme, and prisoners might be executed, by exposure to the beasts."

Was this supposed to be the 'opening ceremony' of this 'sport' ? Shocked Shocked Shocked


"The combatants (as we know from mosaics, and from surviving skeletons) aimed at the major arteries under the arm and behind the knee, and tried to batter their opponent's skull."

 Shocked Cry I'm lost for words ...


"The thirst for thrills even resulted in a particular rarity, female gladiators."

As if all this isn't enough to leave one's mind reeling with shock, the practice of bringing female gladiators for the greater joy of the audience also existed among the Romans.
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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2007, 05:53:52 pm »

Ah! wonderful read, really. I'm so interested in such topics. This is one of those I've always studied and researched much. The link by Kathleen Coleman is great PT. Thanks. It's concise, clear and to the point .. best of all, as Rose mentioned, it's totally unpretentious and exposes the culture as it is.

And yes, I'm also watching Spartacus. The 2004 production is a long movie, about 4 hours. So they showed 2 hours yesterday on Sunday, and will show part 2 tomorrow at 9 p.m. As per history, the rebellion led by Spartacus loses to the Romans and scores of slaves are lined up and crucified. I would like to see how this is presented in the movie.

Thanks Rose for your very enlightened comments. I've had those thoughts in my mind always. This was such such a shameful practice. I wouldn't justify it even if the people of the stone age practiced it, let alone a symbol of civilization like the Romans.
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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2007, 04:00:21 am »

great thread folks ..  teethsmile


And yes, I'm also watching Spartacus. The 2004 production is a long movie, about 4 hours. So they showed 2 hours yesterday on Sunday, and will show part 2 tomorrow at 9 p.m. As per history, the rebellion led by Spartacus loses to the Romans and scores of slaves are lined up are crucified. I would like to see how this is presented in the movie.


So .. what did they show in the second part, sis?  did it conform with history?
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2007, 04:39:26 am »


So .. what did they show in the second part, sis? did it conform with history?


Yeah, saw part 2 last Tuesday. It was wonderful. The basic theme conformed with history. Was a very good presentation. The slaves' uprising was brutally crushed by the Romans. Spartacus was eventually killed and many others too. All defeated male survivors were crucified, lined along the road leading to the Roman emperor's residence. It was a horrible sight. Normally one would expect such a road to be lined with trees and flowers. But this one was lined with bodies hanging on crufixes. They claimed that more than half the trees of the area were cut down to make hundreds of crufix.

Of course there were certain details which I'm sure were concocted to make the movie interesting for viewers. E.g. Spartacus' wife (or mistress) who participated in the rebellion by joining the group didn't go to the battlefields, so she survived. But some Roman authorities were secretly very kind with few of these survivors, especially with the women and elderly. They quietly freed them and sent them home. Spartacus' wife was one of them. But I don't think this is historically true. There's no Roman in recorded history who was so gentle with prisoners of a revolt.

However, it was a very entertaining movie and exposed the Romans in a very truthful way.
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