Author Topic: Of Games, Gladiators, Emperors and Grandiose Spectacles  (Read 382 times)

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Offline Aafaque Ehsen

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Of Games, Gladiators, Emperors and Grandiose Spectacles
« on: March 05, 2017, 07:55:31 PM »

Of Games, Gladiators, Emperors and Grandiose Spectacles





History can be very fascinating; and of course, very relevant.

Those Romans of yore, they were great innovators indeed. Historians of antiquity tell us that the Romans had a funeral blood-sacrifice rite in the 3rd. century BCE called munera in which gladiators [Latin gladius = sword, gladiator = swordsman; plural gladiatorii] fought till one of them was vanquished. Livy tells us that  the earliest Roman gladiator games were held circa 264 BC, in the early stages of Rome's first Punic War against Carthage. Livy's account barely touches the funereal, sacrificial function of early Roman gladiator combats and underlines the later theatrical ethos of the gladiator show: splendidly, exotically armed and armoured 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 and armoured in the manner of the enemies of Rome. The munera were gradually transformed into a morally instructive form of historic enactment in which the only honourable option for the gladiator was to fight well, or else die well.

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. The popularity of this spectacle accelerated the evolution of the  ludi (state games), sponsored by the ruling elite and dedicated to a deity such as Jupiter, a divine or heroic ancestor (and later, during the Imperium, to the well-being of the Emperor and the Empire.

By the closing years of the politically and socially unstable Late Republic, state-sponsored gladiator games provided their sponsors with extravagantly expensive but effective opportunities for self-promotion while offering exciting and cathartic  entertainment to their citizens.

Over time, gladiators evolved into big opportunities 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 laws to give the most lavish munus yet seen in Rome, on the occasion of his wife's funeral.

In 65 BCE, newly elected curule aedile Julius Caesar topped Sulla's display with games he justified as munus to his father, who had died twenty years earlier. Despite an already enormous personal debt, he used three hundred and twenty gladiator pairs in silvered armour. He had wanted more but the nervous Senate, mindful of the recent Spartacus revolt, fearful of Caesar's burgeoning private armies and even more fearful of his overwhelming popularity, imposed a limit of 320 pairs as the maximum number of gladiators a citizen could keep in Rome. Caesar's showmanship was unprecedented in scale and expense and also in setting aside a Republican tradition of munera as funeral offerings. The practical differences between ludi and munera rapidly blurred.

Gladiatorial games, usually linked with beast shows, spread throughout the Republic and beyond. Anti-corruption laws of 65 and 63 BCE attempted but signally failed to curb the political usefulness of such grandiose spectacles to sponsors. Following Caesar's assassination and the Roman Civil War, Augustus assumed Imperial authority over the games, including munera, and formalised 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" official munus employing a maximum 120 gladiators was to be 25,000 denarii; a "generous" Imperial ludi might cost no less than 180,000 denarii. Throughout the Empire, the greatest and most celebrated games would now 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.

Times have certainly changed, but not the habits and doings of power elites.


« Last Edit: March 30, 2017, 09:59:09 PM by Nimrata Chandramukhi »
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Offline Doreen Mckay

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Re: Of Games, Gladiators, Emperors and Grandiose Spectacles
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2017, 11:11:04 AM »


Fantastic allusions; great metaphorical piece.

Offline Aafaque Ehsen

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Re: Of Games, Gladiators, Emperors and Grandiose Spectacles
« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2017, 09:29:31 PM »



Thanks Doreen.
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Offline Shatoongrri

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Re: Of Games, Gladiators, Emperors and Grandiose Spectacles
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2017, 10:02:30 AM »



Another spectacle is about to be put up in Lahore.