Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome

By Donald G. Kyle | Go to book overview

5

DISPOSAL FROM ROMAN ARENAS: SOME RITUALS AND OPTIONS

No loving mother shall lay thee in the earth, nor load thy limbs with ancestral tomb. To birds of prey shalt thou be left; or sunk beneath the flood, the wave shall bear thee on, and hungry fish shall suck thy wounds.

(Virgil Aen. 10.557-60, Loeb)


Rituals of death and removal

Death was not the last act in the arena. Ancient art depicts the collection and deaths of animals, and even the brutal punishment of damnati, but most works stop short of the actual killing (and hence short of the removal and disposal) of gladiators. The moment of decision was the height of a gladiatorial combat, the peak of spectator empowerment, the scene to immortalize. 1 Providing the shows was more glamorous than cleaning up after them, but self-advertisement sometimes extended to the indecorous task of disposal. The suspense and the sport ended with death, but the violence, the involvement of the spectators, and the spectacle were not over.

A summary account of the pomp and circumstance of the arena, 'a day at the spectacles', covering the preparations, the preliminaries, and the conduct of the actual combats or killings, seems de rigueur for works on Roman life. 2 Auguet also gives an embellished reconstruction of post-mortem rituals and removal of defeated gladiators:

a personage who seemed as if he had been removed from the wall of an Etruscan tomb entered the arena; he was clothed in a closefitting tunic and wore long boots of supple leather. His face was not altogether human. He had a nose like the beak of a bird of prey and held a long-handled mallet in his hand. He was the Etruscan Charon, preceded by a Hermes Psychopomp, brandishing a red-hot caduceus which he applied to the flesh of the vanquished man to make sure that he was really dead and not merely unconscious or wounded. Then, this proof established, Charon took possession of the dead by striking him with his mallet. As soon as

-155-

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