The gladiator’s world was a Roman world. According to tradition, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 B.C. The legend says that Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of the war god, Mars. As infants, they were abandoned in a basket by the River Tiber. There they were found by a she-wolf, who carried them back to her den and protected and nurtured them until they were old enough to survive on their own.1
It was when he was a young man that Romulus established the city that bears his name by carving its borders with a plow. Watching his brother work hard and doing nothing to help, Remus teased his brother, making fun of his hard labor. When he could take it no longer, Romulus flew into a rage and attacked his twin, killing him. Romulus then became Rome’s first king.
THE FIRST GLADIATORS
The first known gladiatorial combat in Rome took place at the funeral of a nobleman named Junius Brutus in 264 B.C.2 His sons Marcus and Decimus revived an ancient Etruscan custom of having slaves fight at the funeral of a great leader in the belief that such a sacrifice would please the gods. During the ceremony, three pairs of slaves were forced to fight to the death. In 216 B.C., twenty-two pairs of slaves fought at the funeral of a man named Marcus Lepidus. Sixty pairs of slaves fought when Publicus Licinius died in 183 B.C. These slave fighters were now known as bustiarii, or funeral men.3 By the time of Julius Caesar, any direct association with funerals and religion was gone, and these fighters, now known as gladiators, meaning swordsmen, were a powerful force in Roman politics. He bought the affection of the people with magnificent banquets and spectacles that were open and free to the public. Caesar then estab...
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...n’t enjoy the thought of hungry fish waiting for them if they fell into the water.
THE END OF THE GLADIATORS
From the first recorded gladiator fights in 264 B.C. to their final abolition almost seven hundred years later, countless thousands died in the arena, all victims of some of the greatest exhibitions of brutality in history.10 Like all great empires, Rome reached the height of its power and then, over a long period of time, began to collapse. In A.D. 404, a tragic event finally put an end to the gladiators. A Christian monk named Telemachus jumped into an arena in Rome and tried to separate two fighters. The crowd went berserk, climbed over the walls into the arena, and tore the monk limb from limb. In response to this very ugly incident, the emperor Honorius immediately and permanently banned all gladiator combats. The era of the gladiator was over.
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