Chapter XIV - Spectacula

Please note that this chapter contains sexually explicit and violent images and text. If you strongly object to any of these images please contact the blog author at and the offending material can be removed. Equally please do not view this chapter if such material may offend.

This chapter forms the prelude to Chapter XV 'Dies in Ludi' ('A Day at the Games' - Markos' first visit to a Roman Ludi)), and gives much detailed and useful information about Roman amphitheatres, and the nature of Gracchus' involvement in the Games.
While we often talk about 'amphitheatres' and 'arenas' ('arena' is actually Latin for sand - 'harenam'), such structures were also often known by the older term, 'Spectacula' (from which we derive the word 'spectacular').
An amphitheatre, also known as a 'spectacula', is an open-air venue used for entertainment, performances, and sports. The term derives from the ancient Greek ἀμφιθέατρον (amphitheatron), from ἀμφί (amphi), meaning 'on both sides' or 'around' and θέατρον (théātron), meaning 'place for viewing'.
Amphitheater at Pompeii
Ancient Roman amphitheatres were oval or circular in plan, with seating tiers that surrounded the central performance area, like a modern open-air stadium. In contrast both ancient Greek and ancient Roman theatres were built in a semicircle, with tiered seating rising on one side of the performance area. Ancient Roman amphitheatres were major public venues, circular or oval in plan, with perimeter seating tiers. They were used for events such as 'Ludi' - including gladiator combats, venationes (animal hunts) and executions - and also, in Hellenised areas, and under Hellenised Emperors (Nero, Hadrian etc) for Hellenic Games (gymnastics, athletics. wrestling and boxing) and also for theatrical performances (see below), and re-enactments of mythological dramas (see 'Sporus' Chapter XI). Genuine 'munera' were no longer celebrated in amphitheatres, and were only rarely performed during the empire in private venues (see 'Munera ad Augustum'). About 230 Roman amphitheatres have been found across the area of the Roman Empire. Their typical shape, functions and name distinguish them from Roman theatres, which are more or less semicircular in shape; from the 'circuses' (akin to 'hippodromes') whose much longer circuits were designed mainly for horse or chariot racing events; and from the smaller 'stadia', which were primarily designed for athletics and footraces. The earliest Roman amphitheatres date from the middle of the first century BC, but most were built under Imperial rule, from the Augustan period (27 BC–14 AD) onward.
Gracchus' Arena in Baiae
A Roman amphitheatre is normally made up of 3 main parts; the 'cavea', the 'arena', and the 'vomitorium'. The seating area is referred to as the 'cavea' (Latin for 'enclosure'). 'Cavea' is formed of concentric rows of stands which are either supported by arches built into the framework of the building. The 'cavea' is traditionally organised in three horizontal sections, corresponding to the social class of the spectators: The 'ima cavea' is the lowest part of the 'cavea', and the one directly surrounding the arena. It was usually reserved for the upper echelons of society.
The 'media cavea' directly follows the 'ima cavea;, and was open to the general public, though mostly reserved for men. The 'summa cavea' is the highest section and was usually open to women and children, (this section was not included in Gracchus' private arena in Baiae). The front row was called the 'prima cavea' and the last row was called the 'cavea ultima'. The 'cavea' was further divided vertically into 'cunei'. A 'cuneus' (Latin for 'wedge'; plural, 'cunei') was a wedge-shaped division separated by the 'scalae', or stairways. The arched entrances both at the arena level and within the 'cavea' are called the 'vomitoria' (Latin "to spew forth"; singular, 'vomitorium') and were designed to allow rapid dispersal of spectators.
Gracchus' hobby was the 'Ludi' - the 'Games'.
This was not at all unusual for a Roman male, although it was not entirely in keeping with his love of all things Greek.
Gracchus, however, was very unusual, in that he could afford to indulge his hobby in ways that others could only dream of.
Gracchus not only had his own 'stable' of handsome young gladiators, wrestlers, boxers and others, but, in addition, he had built for himself his own amphitheatre in the town of Baiae, close to his villa.
When the word amphitheatre is mentioned, people almost always think of the Colosseum, (more correctly known as the 'Flavian Amphitheatre', in Rome).

That amphitheatre, however was unique, as regards its size and its facilities, and would not be completed until AD 80.

The 'Colosseum' or 'Coliseum', also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: 'Amphitheatrum Flavium'), is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome. Built of mainly of concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built and is considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering ever. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, and was completed in 80 AD by Titus.
Arena at Pompeii
Arena at  Cumae
There were two other amphitheatres near Baiae, apart from the one owned by Gracchus. One was was situated at Cumae, and one at Pompeii. The amphitheatre at Pompeii was was the first amphitheatre to be built of stone, in 80 BC, - built with the private funds of Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius, (before amphitheatres had been built of wood - or 'Munera' and 'Ludi' (Games) had taken place in fora (town squares), and other large public spaces.) The amphitheatre at Pompeii was subsequently buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, that also buried Pompeii itself and the neighbouring town of Herculaneum - (Gracchus' amphitheatre at Baiae, however, survived). The amphitheatre at Cumae was very small, and also of very early construction.

But back to our story .....  Gracchus charged spectators for the public 'Ludi' (Games) that he staged in his amphitheatre, but this was not a significant source of income for him.
(Gracchus' main sources of income were from the buying, selling and leasing of slaves, the importation of Greek paintings and sculptures, the production of 'opus caementicium', and the agricultural produce derived from his vast estates in Latium, Campania and Achaea (Αχαΐα).
Gracchus, of course, took no direct part in these commercial activities, as it was considered unworthy and dishonourable for a patrician to indulge in 'trade' - and so it was Gracchus' freedmen, led by Terentius, who were actually responsible for Gracchus' fabulous wealth.
At the time that Gracchus introduced Markos to his amphitheatre, the amphitheatre at Pompeii was inoperative because of a ten year ban, imposed by the Roman authorities, as a result of serious rioting by supporters of opposing teams of gladiators.
It was the day after Gracchus' interview with Markos.
Gracchus, himself, was feeling rather at a loss, as his 'right-hand man', Terentius was on a 'fool's errand' to Brundisium, and would not be back for some days.
Gracchus felt that he now had to involve his young protégé, Markos, in more aspects of his life, and so he decided to take Markos to his amphitheatre - to introduce him to the world of the 'Ludi', and its 'entertainments'.
Interlude - Historical Evidence for the Roman Games

There were, we are led to believe, many types of gladiators, but the various classifications are only suggestions, as a wide diversity of evidence survives, from many periods, and over a wide geographical area.
Different types of gladiators with different names there certainly were - but how exactly each one was equipped, what particular role they took in the fighting, and how that differed over the centuries of gladiatorial display throughout the whole expanse of the Roman empire is very hard indeed to judge.
The question becomes even more tantalizing when we try to fit into the picture the authentic items of gladiatorial armour that still survive - splendid helmets, shields, protections for shoulders and legs (or perhaps arms: - it is not always clear exactly which part of the body the makers had in mind).
There is a considerable quantity of this, most of it, about 80 per cent, from the gladiatorial barracks at Pompeii, (see above) excavated in the eighteenth century.
At first sight, even if it is not from the Colosseum itself, this material provides precious direct evidence of what an ancient combatant in that arena would have worn, only a few years before the Colosseum's inauguration.
In addition, it matches up reasonably well with some of the surviving ancient images of gladiators.
Yet it is far too good to be true, - quite literally.
Most of the helmets are lavishly decorated, with embossed figures of barbarians paying homage to the goddess ‘Roma' (the personification of the city), of the mythical strongman Hercules, and with a variety of other more or obviously appropriate scenes.
It perhaps fits well with Martial’s emphasis on the arena’s sophisticated play with stories from classical mythology that one of these helmets is decorated with figures of the Muses.
It is also extremely heavy.
 Greave from Pompeii
Gladiator Helmet from Pompeii
The average weight of the helmets is about 4-5 kilos, which is about twice that of a standard Roman soldier’s helmet, and the heaviest of these 'gladiatorial' helmets weighs in at an almost ridiculous  7 kilos !
Add to this the fact that none of these items of armour seem to show any sign of wear and tear - no nasty bash where a sword or a trident came down fiercely, no dent where the shield rolled off and hit the ground.
It is hard to resist the suspicion that these magnificent objects were not actually gladiatorial equipment, in regular use.
Some archaeologists, predictably have tried very hard to resist that suspicion, and have resorted to some desperate arguments in the process.
'Maybe this Pompeian armour was a new consignment, not yet knocked around in the arena.
Maybe the short length of the gladiatorial bouts meant that such weight of equipment was manageable for these fit men; it was not, after all, like fighting a day - long legionary battle.
- and this is where desperation passes the bounds of plausibility- 'the helmets were known to be so strong that no canny opponent would have bothered to take aim at them, hence their apparently pristine state.'
'Maybe...' - but much more likely - is that this armour was the display collection, -'parade armour', - used only when the gladiators paraded (the Pompa) into the arena at the start of the show (to be replaced by more practical equipment as soon as the fighting started), or on other ceremonial occasions.
It was the also the kind of equipment that would best symbolize the gladiator on funeral images or other works of art.


And what of the standard programme of displays in the amphitheatre: animal hunts in the morning, executions at midday, gladiators in the afternoon (with the public gladiatorial dinner the evening before to allow the punters to study form)?
lt is quite true that each of these elements is referred to by ancient writers describing the shows.
The question is whether or not it is right to stitch all these references together into a ‘programme’. This is a trap modern students of Roman culture often fall into: 'pick up one reference in a letter written in the first century AD, combine it with a casual aside in a historian writing a hundred years later, a joke by a Roman satirist which seems to be referring to the same phenomenon, plus a head-on attack composed by a Christian propagandist in North Africa; add it all together and - you've made a 'picture', and supposedly 'reconstructed' an institution of ancient Rome'.
It is exactly this kind of historical procedure which lies behind modern views of what happened at a Roman baths, or at the races in the Circus Maximus, or at almost any Roman religious ritual you care to name.
And it lies behind most attempts to reconstruct the shows in the amphitheatre also. 
Arena Execution
Why is it usually assumed that the lunch interlude was the time for executions ?
Because the philosopher Seneca writing in the mid first century AD, before the Colosseum was built, in a letter concerned with the moral dangers of crowds, complains that the midday spectacles in some shows he had attended were even worse than the morning.
'In the morning men were thrown to lions and bears, at noon to the audience' he quips.
And he goes on to deplore the unadulterated cruelty, while explaining that its victims are criminals - robbers and murderers.
That is the only evidence for the 'lunchtime executions'.
In fact, there is just as much evidence for some kind of burlesque, or comedy interlude at lunchtime.
And that may have been what Seneca was expecting, when he writes that he was hoping for some 'wit and humor’.
Why is it believed that gladiators regularly had a public meal the night before their show ?
Because the unreliable christian writer, Tertullian, rather puzzlingly, claims that he himself does not recline in public ‘like beast fighters taking their last meal’.
There is certainly no evidence at all for the 'punters' coming along to study form; in fact, we have no direct evidence at all for widespread betting on the results of this fighting (which was strictly speaking illegal).
That is an idea that comes mostly from the imagination of modern historians, trying to make sense of the shows by assimilating them to horse racing, or to ancient chariot racing, which certainly did attract gambling.
Gladiator Oil-lamp
Roman Mosaic
Naked Gladiators Fighting
Perhaps most surprising of all, considering all the depictions of gladiators in the contemporary media, is the fact that it appears that there is only one account of a specific gladiatorial bout to survive from the ancient world.
We have plenty of boastful claims of gladiatorial numbers, a good deal of discussion about the appeal of the gladiators themselves, and the supposed 'valour' of the fighting, and countless very imaginative, and probably inaccurate images of these distinctively dressed combatants, decorating everything from cheap oil lamps to mosaic floors (mainly in the distant provinces).
Yet the only thing approaching a description of an actual contest between two individual gladiators is the ancient equivalent of a 'goalless draw' in the Colosseum , in AD 8o.

Once again, back to our story ......
For Gracchus, it was important to have Markos involved in the running of the amphitheatre in Baiae.
Because of Novius' interpretation of the oracle of Apollo, Gracchus had come to believe that his time was 'limited' - and that 'death' ('Thanatos) was 'stalking' him - and that Apollo had chosen Markos to continue much of Gracchus' 'work' - and part of that work - probably the simplest and easiest, was the rnning of the Amphiteatre and Ludus in Baiae.
The God θænətɒs - Thanatos
In Greek mythology, θænətɒs - Thanatos - (Death - from θνῄσκω thnēskō "to die, ) was the daemon personification of death. He was a minor figure in Greek mythology, often referred to, but rarely appearing in person. His name is transliterated in Latin as Thanatus, but his equivalent in Roman mythology is 'Mors'. The Greek poet Hesiod established in his 'Theogony' that Thánatos is a son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness) and twin of Hypnos (Sleep). 
"And there the children of dark Night have their dwellings, Sleep and Death, awful gods. The glowing Sun never looks upon them with his beams, neither as he goes up into heaven, nor as he comes down from heaven. And the former of them roams peacefully over the earth and the sea's broad back, and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit within him is pitiless as bronze: whomsoever of men he has once seized he holds fast."
In Roman times, Thanatos came to be seen as a beautiful 'Ephebe' (young teenage boy). He became associated more with a gentle passing than a woeful demise. Many Roman sarcophagi depict him as a winged boy, very much akin to Cupid. He is often depicted dressed in black and carrying a sword. Also in Roman times, he letter θ, the first letter of Thanatos' name, was written on arena score cards, to indicate which individuals had been killed in the arena. (See Reflections on Roman Tales - The Truth about Gladiators)
 Markos, however, was still relatively young (the boy was not exactly sure of his age - probably very middle teens), and while well educated, and speaking both Greek and Latin, he had little practical experience of the adult world.
Having been brought up in Athens, he had little or no experience of the Roman 'Ludi' - having been involved in the typically Hellenistic 'Gymnasion' (generally, the Greeks, particularly in Athens, were no lovers of the Roman Gladiatorial Ludi - despite the fact that it had its origins with the Greek influenced Etruscans).
So Gracchus decided to take Markos to his amphitheatre in Baiae.
Gracchus remembered the words that Markos had spoken the previous morning - "Now I am happy here in your 'domus'.", and therefore he was no longer concerned that Markos would try to run away.
Markos' Slave Collar

Gracchus therefore took the unprecedented step of informing Vulcan, (the blacksmith and metal worker we met in Chapter III), that Markos should be fitted with a silver slave-collar with an unobtrusive 'catch', so that it could be removed when necessary.
Vulcan appeared to be shocked, and also puzzled, as he had never been asked before to make such a collar - but lacking the ability to speak, he was unable to communicate his concern to Gracchus.
Gracchus, however, was obviously aware of Vulcan's feelings, and was prepared to make an explanation, knowing that Vulcan would be unable to tell anyone else.
"It's difficult to explain, Vulcan, but the gods have demanded that this boy is given special treatment.
Sometimes he is to appear as 'freeborn', and sometimes as a slave.
The gods promise that he will be faithful, and not leave us - so he may be trusted.
So I need you to help to perform the will of the gods.
But this is our secret."
Vulcan nodded and bowed.
He was a simple soul, although a superb craftsman, and Gracchus knew that an appeal to the authority of the gods would ensure his co-operation.
And so Vulcan got to work with a will.
Gracchus wanted the people running the amphitheatre - who normally had little or no contact with Gracchus' villa in Baiae - to think of Markos, (because he did not wear a collar), as 'freeborn', (which Gracchus now, for various reasons, believed to be the actual fact).
In that way the boy would receive more respect - a respect which Gracchus wanted Markos to grow to accept, and eventually expect.
Markos, therefore, was very surprised when a messenger-boy knocked on his door, waking him up early, and then took him down to Vulcan's workshop, to have his new slave-collar fitted.
It was identical to his previous collar, so no one would notice the change, but now Markos could take it off when Gracchus required him to appear 'freeborn', and Markos could also take it off to sleep, as he often found it uncomfortable to wear in bed.
On Markos return to his room, after having the collar fitted, he was equally surprised to find that a fine new white tunic had been left on his bed.
There then followed another knock on the door, and another messenger boy informed Markos that he was to get dressed, (and wear the bracelets, that Gracchus had given him for the 'convivium'), and report to Gracchus at the main entrance.
Gracchus, who was talking to another of his freedmen, was waiting for him, and curtly told Markos to go and wait in the carriage, which was parked in the driveway.
Markos got into the carriage, and sat nervously waiting.
When Gracchus joined Markos, the carriage immediately started on its short journey to the amphitheatre.
"So Marcus.", Gracchus began, using the Latin form of  Markos' name. "You are looking very smart in your new tunic."
"Thank you, Dominus." Marcus respectfully replied.
"Today we are going to my amphitheatre.
As for as my people there, as far as they are concerned you are my 'nephew', and you will refer to me as 'uncle'.
So now you may take off your slave-collar - and I will look after it for you until we return to the villa."
Gracchus mentioned the slave collar with a gleam in his eye, as if it were some 'naughty' secret that only he and Markos were sharing.
"As for my people at the arena - Petronius you have met before, but he is completely trusted, and will be discreet.
One other boy, Atticus, you will have seen before, - he fought in the 'munera', during the 'convivium'.

He will, however, be fighting today, and he will not be leaving the arena alive."

Markos had no choice but to agree to Gracchus' subterfuge, but he was surprised and rather shocked that Gracchus seemed so certain of the outcome of Atticus' fight in the arena.
It was only a few minutes until the fast moving carriage entered the town of Baiae, and stopped outside Gracchus' amphitheatre.

Now most readers, when the term amphitheatre is used, will automatically think of the 'Amphitheatrum Flavium' - usually referred to, inaccurately, as the 'Colosseum'.
At the time of our story, however, nothing like the 'Colosseum' had ever been built, despite the fact that it appears, anachronistically, in numerous films (Quo Vadis', 'Demetrius and the Gladiators', ect. etc.). The original film, 'Spartacus' (1960) (right), did accurately use a small amphitheatre, but was inaccurate as amphitheatres, in the time of the republic, were temporary structures, built entirely of wood, and not stone. (It is also believed that gladiators did not wear sandals or footwear - bare feet had a better grip on the sand.)
The nearest the mass media has ever got to a realistic image of a gladiatorial setting in in early Roman times - before our story - (in a public fora, although the fight was inaccurate) was in the HBO TV mini series, 'Rome' (left) - and, of course, it was a lot cheaper for the production company than building even a wooden amphitheatre, as was used at the time. (There is a problem, again however, with the sandals).
Gracchus' amphitheatre was unusual, in that it was built almost entirely of concrete, faced with Travertine stone, and other marbles.
Compared to the monstrous 'Amphitheatrum Flavium' (only built much later, and where only the spectators in the most privileged areas could actually see in any detail the events on the sand), Gracchus' arena was small, and compact, giving all the spectators a excellent view.
It was mainly patronized by very wealthy Roman visitors to the 'beach resort' of Baiae (it's from where we get the English word 'bay'), and those patricians who owned lavish holiday villas in the area.
A fee was charged for entry to the amphitheatre in order to view Gracchus' entertainments (mainly to keep the 'plebs' out - although no profit was made from this).
In providing his entertainments, Gracchus was not aiming at providing 'panem et circenses'.
Such diversions were distractions, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, and were offered as a 'palliative', by either the Roman State, or aspiring politicians - and had been described by Juvenal as 'bread and circuses (Games)'.

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (right) - known in English as Juvenal, was a Roman poet active in the late 1st and early 2nd century CE, author of the 'Satires'. (Note, however, that Juvenal lived after this story, and therefore his mention is somewhat anachronistic)
Gracchus, however, had no interest in, or need to curry favour with the 'plebs' (the poor and mainly unemployed) - 'politicking' was not his 'game' - and he wanted a sophisticated and appreciative audience for his 'shows'.
As we have said - the arena was Gracchus' personal indulgence - his 'hobby'. 
The entertainments that Gracchus enjoyed providing were not restricted to 'Ludum gladiatorium' (Gladiatorial Games), however, but in keeping with his 'pan-Hellenism', the entertainments also, on occasions, consisted of drama and comedy - 'ludi scaenici' - (including 'mime').
Roman Plays were presented in the daytime, sometimes before, sometimes after, the noon meal. The average comedy was about two hours long. The characters wore Greek dress. Wigs were employed, a grey wig for an old man, black for a young man, and red for a slave. For the greater part of Roman history the profession of acting was confined to men, the women's parts being taken by youths. There was no limit to the number of actors. Division into acts or scenes was made only when the actor left the stage to prepare for the next appearance. During such intermission a flute player entertained the audience. In both comedies and tragedies probably some of the dialogue was sung, as in modern opera.
Roman Mimes. The most popular of the stage entertainments were the mimes - short scenes given by two or three actors, with spoken dialogue. In these skits the actor impersonated rustics, sight-seeing provincials, pompous officials, and other decent but dull types. Of course such a figure, once connected with the ancient dignity of the patricians, could easily be converted into burlesque. The dialogue of the mimes was in verse. The wealthy, as at Baiae, as well as the lower classes delighted in mimes.

Pantomime Dancer
Pantomimes - the Roman word does not have the same meaning as it has today. The shows, usually given by a single male dancer, were of three kinds: simple mimicry without music or words, but with dancing; secondly, mimicry with instrumental music; and thirdly, mimicry with music and words - the latter frequently given to a chorus. Some of the pantomimes were modifications of the Atellan fables and Satyr plays. Often they reproduced tales of which were (by modern standards) sexually explicit, illustrated fully and unmistakably, by exaggerated gestures, and displaying various passions and emotions. Cymbals, gongs, castanets, rattles and drums were used. The dancers appearing in pantomimes were much admired for their outstanding beauty.

Pancratium Wrestling
Judicial Torture
Actors were never recognized as skilled professionals, and were considered 'infamia', as with gladiators and professional athletes who appeared naked in public. Performers of lower class, (including slaves), danced, often naked, and in a sexually explicit manner, and the wealthy patrician class was happy to be entertained, while supposedly disproving.

Gracchus and Marcus at the Amphitheatre
The day was hot, with brilliant sunshine, the street was busy, and groups of 'well-heeled' patricians were gathering in anticipation of the amphitheatre opening.
The ornately decorated entrance to Gracchus' arena rose up before them, as the carriage came to a halt.
Young slaves quickly moved forward to open the carriage door, put in place a portable wooden step, and ensure that the crowded pavement was kept clear.
Gracchus stepped out, and was followed immediately by Marcus.
As the slave-boys bowed respectfully, Gracchus and Marcus entered the main prothyrum (foyer), where Petronius, Gracchus' older teenage slave (and the model for the statue of Apollo), was waiting for them - with his twinkling eyes and flashing smile - and Marcus was entranced.....

and the story continues -
'Gracchus and Marcus spend the day at Gracchus'  Amphitheatre in Baiae - where they witness the defeat and death of young Atticus - an 'arranged' death, partly designed to keep the secret of Marcus' freeborn status...'

(A Day at the Games)

Please note that this chapter contains sexually explicit and violent images and text. If you strongly object to any of these images please contact the blog author at and the offending material can be removed. Equally please do not view this chapter if such material may offend.

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