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5. Such combats soon passed into public entertainments exhibited at public festivals by the magistrates, to please the people, and the number of those engaged in them increased till it rose to that of small armies. After his triumph over the Dacians,1 even the virtuous emperor Trajan* thought it becoming his character, to send 10,000 prisoners into the arena at a time, to fight together to the death.
6. Gladiators, however, were not always prisoners of war. Slaves, condemned criminals, and men who fought of their own choice, for hire, swelled the number. Offenders condemned to fight were required to be killed within one year, or were free after three years, if they survived—according to their sentence. But the mass of the gladiators in ordinary times were those who made such a life their profession, for hire. For such, there were regular training schools, in which they were not only taught how to fight to the best advantage, but dieted carefully, to secure their greater vigour. These schools were established in the healthiest parts of Italy.
7. A gladiatorial show was announced by playbills like those of our theatres, with the number who were to fight, and the names of the special favourites. When the day came the men were led in procession along the arena, where, as they passed the seat of the emperor, if he were present, they saluted him with the touching words—" All hail! we, who are about to die, salute thee." They were then matched in pairs, and their swords were examined to see that they were sharp. At the sound of a trumpet the battle began, and continued till one was wounded. The people then shouted in token of the unfortunate man's defeat, and he lowered his arms, in sign of submission. It now depended on the spectators whether he was to be killed or spared, and this they showed by turning their thumbs down if he were to be saved, or up, if he were to be stabbed to death.
8. Ingenuity strove to multiply modes of battle between these wretched creatures. Some had to fight with helmets that came over their eyes and blinded them; some in complete armour; some on horseback; some from chariots. Some tried to snare their opponent with a noose, others with a net, their opponents having a shield and sword, while they had only a javelin or a fish spear. The dead men were dragged out by an iron hook thrust below their breast bone.
9. The buildings in which these horrible spectacles of slaughter •were exhibited were in many cases of amazing size. The Coliseum at Rome, commenced by the emperor Vespasian* and completed by Titus,' held more than 80,000 spectators, and was a ■wonder of skill in all its details. There was no roof, for the southern climate, always bright, made one useless, but immense
awnings were stretched across to keep out the sun when necessary.
10. The numbers of men killed in the gladiatorial shows were immense, and they were only suppressed by the growing power of Christianity. Step by step the butcheries had grown more horrible. Thousands were sometimes killed in one day, to please the mob, and women, including high-born ladies, had, at last been seized with the madness of fighting, and had gone into the arena, to delight the populace with the sight of their murdering each other.
11. Christian preachers had for generations inveighed against such barbarities, but the self-devotion of an unknown monk at length stopped them finally, in the reign of Honorius." In the midst of a grand show of gladiators he leaped into the arena and parted the combatants in the name of Christ and God. The mob, baulked of its prey, sprang on him and stoned him to death, but an edict was speedily issued forbidding such spectacles for ever. One true and noble martyr stayed the plague which had slain its tens of thousands.
12. Great hunts of wild beasts, often of the most savage kinds, were another amusement of the Romans, in their amphitheatres. Lions, tigers, bears, panthers, elephants, hippopotami,* crocodiles, bulls, the rhinoceros,7 serpents, and many other kinds of creatures, were let loose against men, with what results may be imagined. On so wide a scale were these shows earned out, that at the opening of the Coliseum 5,000 wild beasts, and 4,000 tame animals were killed. To heighten the effect, the arena was often converted for the time into a rocky wilderness, huge trees being set up on it, and artificial rocks piled in confusion to imitate nature.
Sea fights were a third kind of spectacle also in vogue. Arrangements were made for flooding the arena to such a depth that vessels filled with sea-gladiators could manoeuvre with ease. But such battles were more commonly fought on some lake which afforded ample space. In the sea fight given by Titus three thousand men engaged, and a great proportion of them were killed. In another battle on Lake Fucinus8 there were 19,000 combatants, and fifty ships on each side.
Thank God, Christianity has banished such things for ever.
1 Da'cians, the inhabitants of Dacia, a Boman province on the north bank of the Danube. It stretched on the east, along tho Black Sea, from tho mouths of the Danube, north to tho river Boug in Russia. On tho south
it followed the Danube as far as the present city of Belgrade, thus inclosing the present Roumania and part of Hungary. It was conquered by Trajan and nia<lc into a Boman province, A.D. 100.
THE COLISEUM AT ROME.—Byron.
George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron, was bor n in London in 1788, and became a p33r at the age of 10, by the death of his great uncle. His writings display lofty genius, often used for the noblest, but sometimes degraded to the most unworthy ends. Spoiled in boyhood, he grew up generous, wayward, impulsive and without self-control, but beneath all this there were noble qualities which his early death prevented from ripening. He died, fighting for the Greeks, in 1824, at the age of 37. The following extract Is from "Childe Harold."
Now welcome, thou dread power!'
Nameless, yet thus omnipotent,* which, here
"With a deep awe, yet all distinct from fear.
Their ivy mantles, and the solemn scene
That we become a part of what has been,
And grow unto the spot, all-seeing but unseen.
And here the buzz of eager nations ran
In murmur'd pity, or loud roar'd applause, As man was slaughter'd by his fellow man.
And wherefore slaughter'd ? Wherefore, but because
Such were the bloody circus' genial laws
And the imperials pleasure? Wherefore not?
Of worms-on battle plains or listedo spot?