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The Queensland Museum is not the first to try to understand gladiators as sporting heroes. However, this analogy causes more problems than it solves. The vast majority of gladiators were either prisoners of war or criminals sentenced to death. Gladiators were the lowest of the low; violent murderers, thieves and arsonists.

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Even your most badly behaved football team at their most morally blind would have had no trouble in rejecting this crew. Gladiators in Rome were regarded as fundamentally untrustworthy and outside of legal protection. It is more useful to think of gladiators as prisoners on death row than as David Beckham with a net and trident.

In fact, the evidence of such citizen gladiators is extremely slim. It was almost certainly extreme desperation that forced them into the arena rather than a desire to be remembered by posterity. At another point, the exhibition suggests that the crowd saw reflected in gladiators the virtues of the soldiers who guarded the empire. Such talk would have had any self-respecting Roman legionary reaching for his short sword.

Ancient Rome

Representing gladiatorial combat as sport also inevitably underplays the religious dimension of the fighting. The exhibition includes some fabulous tomb paintings from the city of Paestum, which illustrate the origins of gladiatorial combat in the funerary rites for the dead.

The training of the gladiators

These are wonderful works, which deserve to be much better known; however, they are a rare intrusion into an otherwise secular narrative. Gladiatorial combats never stopped being religious events.

The gladiators themselves were deeply implicated in the Roman theology of the divine, death, and the relationship between mortal and immortal. These spectacles were Roman sermons written in blood. The final problem with focusing on gladiators as sporting heroes is that it tends to isolate their combat from the other elements that made up the games. Beast hunts and the executions of criminals were just as popular, possibly even more so. They were not precursors to the main event or entertainment for the intervals. The executions of criminals could involve extravagant mythological tableaus.

Prisoners were dressed as Hercules and burnt alive. The fatal flight of Icarus towards the sun might be re-enacted for the audience. Certainly, these elaborate, gruesome affairs captured the attention of ancient writers far more than the gladiators who accompanied them.

A little of history

Wealthy Romans seemed far more preoccupied with obtaining suitably rare fauna for their spectacles. For the poorer members of the audience, the beast hunts had an added attraction. Often the animal meat was distributed to the audience members to take home. They were literally watching their dinner being butchered in front of them. It is a second-century CE mosaic that features what appears to be a female hunter facing off a giant tiger. Who is this woman? Evidence for female hunters like female gladiators is practically non-existent.

Is she part of some mythological tableau? A woman pretending to be an Amazon? Or a man dressed up as a woman? Is this a scene from real life at all? She is an enigma and a worthy reminder that the real secret of the appeal of Roman combat spectacle is that it raises more questions than it answers.


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Shah — Oxford, Aberdeenshire. UEA Inaugural lecture: Alternative performance measures: do managers disclose them to inform us, or to mislead us? For instance Lusius Quietus was one of Rome's greatest African generals in the movie it is Maximus, he was of minor significance.

Quietus served under Emperor Trajan. The Emperor named him his successor to the Imperial Purple. Quietus and other African soldiers defended the Dacians. Moreover, when the Jews revolted, Trajan sent Quietus to suppress the revolt, which he did with extreme severity. The Jews called the rebellion "The War of Quietus. Interestingly, at least ten Africans became Emperors of Rome. With regard to the subject of religion, three Africans became popes in Rome. They were Victor A. Gelasius A.

It was Victor who sent a letter to the Eastern Churches requesting them to observe Easter on the same day as the Western Churches. The Eastern Churches refused and Victor excluded them from his communion. Afterwards, Victor was killed in the sixth persecution under Emperor Serverus. It is befitting to say that all three of these African popes contributed immensely to the development of Christianity in Rome. Romans and Blacks, By Lloyd A. Osei The African Publication Society, Ethiopian gladiators did exist but constituted a small minority.


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  • They generally fought as retiarius trident and net. There really was a gladiator named Oenomaus who was one of the leaders in Spartacus' slave army but he was not black. He was a Gaul. From Wikipedia :. Oenomaus was a Gallic gladiator, who escaped from the gladiatorial school of Lentulus Batiatus in Capua. I've read most of the Roman historians and the Greek historians who wrote about Rome, I don't remember reading any specific references to black gladiators. If you want to claim that there were some, then please cite the work where that is mentioned.

    Otherwise the notion of blacks in the sports arenas of ancient Rome is just a modern affectation. We have lots of blacks in our sports arenas so we project that image back two thousand years in our fiction. There was indeed in the TV series 'Spartacus' a prominent black gladiator. There was also one in the feature film 'Gladiator'.

    More recently in the film 'Pompeii' there were several black gladiators. Among the actors who portrayed gladiators a substantial proportion were black. Surely that must be wrong. I don't think there are any references to black gladiators in Tacitus, Suetonius, Livy or Caesar. You would expect there to have been black gladiators to have been mentioned in Vegetius or Aurelius - but there are no such references. Blacks in the sense of sub-Saharan peoples were rare in Rome.

    The Sahara was in the way. Ethiopians could come up the Nile and did, but West Africans like those who much later became African-Americans were very unusual.

    Who were Gladiators?

    There were few West Africans in Europe until the fifteenth century when the Portuguese sailed south. Gladiators were slaves and black slaves would have been rare and probably very valuable. Being a gladiator was however a popular profession. The emperor had to restrict young men from good families becoming gladiators. There were too many volunteers. So black slaves may not have been allowed in the arena.