Marius was a
favorite name among gladiators, who fought from 264 B.C. to circa 404 A.D. The
following account, based on available historical fact, pictures one Marius who,
unlike the fallen warriors in Gerome's painting on pages 56 and 57, was spared
by the galleries
This time I have
him," thought Marius. Sword raised high, he ran after the net thrower, down
whose left leg blood streamed. And then it happened: Marius stumbled on a
dagger handle half hidden in the sand and fell to his knees. Swift as a snake,
Pilodamus whirled about and in one smooth motion flung his coiled fishnet; the
knotted strands fell squarely over Marius' head and arms, tangling him
helplessly. In a moment of dreadful clarity, Marius studied the barbs of the
trident (a three-pronged spear) aimed at his belly, and then there was a
terrible white flame inside him as the net thrower thrust home.
his carelessness. For two and a half years he had been choking down the bitter
nausea as he marched into the arena to kill or be killed; only six more months
and he would have won his release. Then a mere two years of noncombat service
and he would have been free, perhaps even rich and respected.
detachment, he studied the sweating face of Pilodamus—Pilodamus, his cellmate,
drinking companion and friend, who gazed down now with a torn look and seemed
to say, I have no choice, Marius, it is not up to me, it is your life or mine.
Marius turned and looked at the crowd that filled the amphitheater, talking,
romancing, eating and shouting—the people who had cheered his victories, yet
who might now throw his life away as lightly as they spat out the seeds of the
plums they were eating.
Marius heard a
score of eager voices cry out, "Iugula [Slay him]! Iugula!" Slowly he
lifted his left hand with one finger raised in the traditional gladiator's plea
for life. The answer came: a swelling thunder of shouts—"Mitte [Let him
go]! Mitte!"—and the bright flashing of thousands of arms uplifted, thumbs
pointing upwards. Pilodamus lowered the trident, and a great wave of relief
swept through Marius; he was nearly disgracefully sick as the slaves carried
him gently off.
fortunate. Far more often the crowd would decide the other way and shout for
the death of a disabled gladiator; then the victor dared not hesitate, though
the wounded man be his brother. He must instantly strike the life from the
prostrate fighter, and receive victory with an impassive face. Only a little
more than half the gladiators who marched forth in the morning would sit around
the supper table that same night.
then that the job of the gladiator was not, by and large, one that men chose
voluntarily. Marius' story was typical: he had been captured, and along with
hundreds of his countrymen had been marched to Rome where he was singled out
for gladiator training at one of four special schools.
powerfully built themselves, decided on the basis of physique which men would
be trained in which styles of fighting. Marius was to become a Samnite, and
would fight with straight sword, helmet, light body armor and a large oblong
Not only was he
trained in the specific ways to fight a fellow Samnite, but also in the
considerably different techniques of fighting against a net thrower, a spear
caster, a horseman and others. In the final months of training, Marius worked
with double-heavy iron weapons, compared to which the real arena weapons would
His cell was a
cubicle of stone, his mattress a straw pallet. For his well-being, slave women
were offered him from time to time, special slaves massaged him after each
day's training and his diet and health were watched over by fine physicians.
But discipline was severe; when any gladiator broke a training rule, or cursed
at the ever-present soldiers, he might be whipped unconscious and thrown into
chains for weeks.