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ROME'S GAMES OF DEATH
Morton M. Hunt
December 19, 1955
For 700 years gladiators met in mortal combat in Rome's huge arenas. Few lived to retire, but some became great heroes
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December 19, 1955

Rome's Games Of Death

For 700 years gladiators met in mortal combat in Rome's huge arenas. Few lived to retire, but some became great heroes

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After the bout, slaves rushed in to drag away the body and to sprinkle clean sand over the bloodied areas. In the stands other slaves flung out handfuls of free nuts, plums, pastry and cheese. Other bouts followed—horsemen with spears against javelin hurl-ers in two-wheeled chariots, archers on foot against swordsmen on horseback, heavily armored gladiators fighting blindly under visored helmets.

Such was the amazing Roman arena. The turnover in gladiators was high, but the source of supply was nearly inexhaustible. The games, as they were called, started in 264 B.C. as a part of funeral rites. For a long time the wealthy ran their own schools, and then in the last days of the Republic, Roman generals, consuls and tribunes, after political power, staged great free games for the common people.

By the time of Claudius (41 A.D.) there were 93 game days given at public expense each year, most of which involved gladiatorial fights (there were also chariot races, beast fights, burnings and the like). Mighty Trajan in 105 A.D. gave the public 123 continuous days of games to celebrate his victory in Dacia; nearly 10,000 gladiators fought during this series.

A typical three-day spectacle given the public to honor some victory or to celebrate the election of some ambitious man cost about $80,000, and even under the rule of the temperate philosopher-emperor, Marcus Aurelius, total expenses for public gladiatorial games ran $8 million a year, while private citizens hired perhaps another $16 million worth for private parties.

The Romans seldom thought of the games as horrifying. Eloquent Cicero wrote that "no better discipline against suffering and death can be presented to the eye." The records leave little doubt that Marius and his cohorts would have preferred to test the efficacy of Cicero's observation from the safety of the stands.

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