The word sport is a foreign word in all languages, save English. It has been use for a mere 200 years. The current meaning of the word sport( as in fair, competitive, comparable, amicable) is young. And as such, stil developing in its meaning. Would it be so incomprehensible then the Death – the regrettable outcome, the accident- has links to disportare, the amusing diversion, the word from which the English word sport derives its roots?
Society and Sex
Stadium and circus: those are the only places where people can look themselves in the eye. That in itself is sufficiently wonderful. Under no other circumstances other than sex, can emotions soar to such heights. And with such lasting power. Is it really of no consequence if two men fighting before our eyes in the Arena bludgeon each other senseless or kill each other? And if the nevre racking allure of the unconscious strikes are not evaocatiove enough? What next? Boxing without time limit sor point system? Or does that already exist?
Blood and Fun
Entertainment derived from the lust for blood differentiates modern civilisation from its barbaric ancestors. It is said that mankind grew disgusted at the idea of bloody entertainment. How then doe sone explain the Spanish fascination with corridas? The Afghani pitting two dogs at each other’s throats? Cock-fighting in Thailand? Raw, bestial power? The vivid human courage as displayed on the stage in Operas? The aesthetics of dying?
Death and Play
For each game, there must be a set of clear and absolute rules which can establish its uniqueness in the rest of the world. Therefore death has no place in the rules of games. Death is the least of unique characteristics in life. What then appeals to us in car races? Technological curiosity? Tactical interests? Michael Schumacher and his colleagues all state that “as a racing driver one must live with the eventuality of death.” Could it mean the same as Morituti te salutant ( those who are about to die salute you)?
Between 1991 and 1995, The Austrian Archaeologicl Institute (ÖAI) under the direction of D. Knibbe conducted investigations, in course of a research Project, of the Holy Procession path between the Temple of Artemis and the city of Ephesus. In 1993 the digging team discovered a gladiator cemetery.
The gladiator cemetery of Ephesus is located at the North end of the Panayirdag, approximately 300m east of the stadium, at an angle between a highway covered with limestone slabes and the Holy Procession path. Titus Flavius Domenicus covered the road with a big hall(stoa). Remains of the stoa pillars, in the shape of huge limestone blocks, can stil be seen nowadays. There are, as well, in situ tomb reliefs originating from the turn of the 2-3rd century AD. At the height of its glory, Ephesus was the “New York” of the antiquity, during which time gladiator games came to full blossom.
In 1994, investigations were carried out on the skeletal remains of circa 120 individuals. The institute of histology – department of bones and biomaterial research – of the University of Vienna pursued further inquiries in 2001. Anthropological, pathological, social, occupational and trauma(lisons) questions were raised and investigated. The following exhibit should be contrived as one of the results of this research.
Origins and Evolution
It is presumed that the Roman took over the gladiator fight sites from the Etruscan.
Nevertheless, gladiators fail to fihure among the depiction of Etruscan funeral games. The most ancient recording was traced back to a mid-4th century BC grave in Paestum(Campania). In Rome proper, the earliest evidence stems from 264BC, from the graves of three gladiator pairs. Till the end of the roman rebuplic, gladiator fights were always associated to rich families’ obsequies celebrations. Hence the public attention would have been focused on the importance of the deceased and his family: “74 men are said to have fought for more than 3 days” ( 174 BC Titus Flaminius).
The private and religious significance of the gladiator fight steadily eroded until it was no more than a show fo people’s entertainment, or the stage for political pursuits. 6 000 gladiators were said to have fought during the funerary ceremony in honour of the dictator Sula in 78 BC. During the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, less and less gladiator fights were presented, and more and more cheap animal hunts were organised.
The cult-religious reverence character was metamorphosing into secular entertainment.
The first gladiator fights in Ephesus were held in the year 69 BC under the auspices of the roman commander-in-chief Lucullus. Here too, gladiator games were organised as part of the course in the expansion of the Roman Empire worship in the prior Hellenic east. To this purpose, in Ephesus, then the capital of the province of Asia, the eastern part of the stadium was converted into an elliptical Arena. Here, contrary to Rome, the organiser of the games was the archierus ( the high priest of the imperial worship).
Who could become a gladiator?
Fort he greater part, gladiators were recruited among prisoners of war, slaves and condemned offenders.
The ad gladium contestans (those with swords) fought in the Arena without prior training and which by rule of thumb, meant certain death. The ad ludum participants (from the gladiator scholl) would receive appropriate training and education, could prove their worth in the course of the fight and ultimately achive freedom. In conjunction to those mentioned above, there were hobby(volunteer) gladiators: citizens, senators, noblemen, even emperors could all pursue training in gladiator schools. Who publicly participated for the sake of Money would be ostracised. He had to swear beforehand the gladiator’s oath: “We swear this oath : to be burned, to be chained, to be defeated and to be killed by the iron…” Thus, all citizen rights and priviliges would be forfeited.
The participation of volunteers fluctuated greatly with time. More and more laws were promulgated prohibiting the enrolment of the nobility as gladiators. Stil, by the late republic, volunteers represented the majority: they were attracted by Money, fame, lust for fighting. The inclination toward sadistic tendencies and a thirst for killing played a certain allured role. Gladiators exhibited qualities such as valour and strength, discipline and training, stamina, a winning-drive and respect of death itself. They titillated the senses with their fascinating prximity to the forbidden, to blood and death. They exuded an aura of myth, glory, power and eroticism- they were the stars of the Arena.
The recruits of the gladiator scholl (ludus) benefited from a specialised training, and each weapon category was taught by a specialised teacher. In the initial phase, the exercises were practised with wooden swords on wooden posts. The instruction of the specific type of gladiator was developed according to his individual mental and physical abilities. Recruits were seldom trained in multi-weapon categories. Teaching with wooden swords resulted from the fear of maiming the trainee. Thus, the use of “sharp blades” (ferra acuta) was introduced only in the immediacy preceding the fiht. The first fight in public represented the Master test, by which, if the recruit survived, he would graduate to the rank of veteran (veteranus) with the appellation spectatus (witness: the public ). After three years, a commissioned gladiator was permitted to withdraw from fights. After 5 years, he was granted his freedom. Due to their extensive cobat experience, freed gladiators were often later employed as fencing teachers in the roman armies.
Food and Lodgings
It was in the best interest of the proprietor of a gladiator troupe (familia) to mantain his prodigy in good health and spirits. “In order for the body to develope to its full power, first hearty foods shall be provided, the powerful body parts will gain weight, so that fat and natural padding can develop…” Hence one could increase combat body weight as well as a natural protection against deep wounds, impeding damage to the musculature, the nevre pathways or excessive blooeding. Gladiators acquired the nickname of hordearii(barley eaters) because of the special high carbohydrate diet of pulses and barley. The day before the games, they nonetheless enjoy an extensive feast meant to boost their moral. For the most part, water and wine were served. After fencing exercises, specifically, gladiators would be served a drink of de-alkaline ashes, reputedly conductive to the healing process of harmed iner organs.
Gladiator schools were established predominantly in amicable climatic locations, such as Capua or ravenna : “ the locations should be as healthy as possible in order to promote a more efficient care and trainng of gladiators.”
Based on the examination of uman skeletons retrieved from archaeological excavations, modern day, state-of-the-art anthropological research permits a greater documenting and confirmation of findings in such realms as living conditions, age of death, gender, height etc. In the midst of these inquiries more questions are raised concerning nutrition and living habits, sustained illnesses, the social structure, the alteration of the skeletal frame due to particular employment activities.
The Institute of histology and embryology of the Vienna University(department of bones and biomaterial research) pursues various avenues of research in a systematic and modern approach.
During the reign of the emperors, the amphitheatre was the main setting for gladiator fights. In Ephesus, fights were held in the theatre and a smaller arena in the stadium. The greatest Arena, the Coliseum in Rome, could hold up to 50 000 spectators. The theatre in Ephesus, since its roman completion, can still sit today 25 000 people.
Fighting was always conducted in pairs. The opponents carried evenly balanced attack and defence weapons, in order to ensure equal oppotunities of fairness in combat. Yet another consideration was the quest for matching opponents of similar strength and skill. Team fighting ( gregatim= the aggregation, in the group) of gladiators only took place during the big munera, and seldom at that. Augustus , during the cours of 8 munera , had 10 000 gladiators fighting.
Two referees (suma and secunda rudis), clad in tunics, overlooked the fights. The suma rudis brandished a stick, a symbol in the Arena of official authority and disciplinary measures. The stick would be used to break apart combatants, to force compliance with regulations and to impose breaks.
Fighting rounds or periodical pauses were unheard of. There was no time limit to the duration of the altercation and the fight persisted till either defeat or death. The vanquished signalled his defeat either by lifting his hand with an outstreched index finger or by the laying down of his weapons and shield.