Gina Danna is my guest today in our continuing series called Travel Back in Time. Gina is a fellow member of the Love Historicals group. Take it away, Gina!
Thanks, Anna. Great to be here.
Today, we have the famous—movie stars, rock stars, royalty, etc.—that come across in our media in every format, both the good and the bad. But what of yesteryear? Did people have celebrities that they followed and admired? Yes, even in Ancient Rome, they existed. They were the gladiators.
The blood sport of the gladiators lasted for roughly 500 years, starting before the time of Spartacus and lasting well to the end of Rome. The Colosseum itself was built as a monument to Rome for their spectacles and its structure was mimicked throughout the empire in the various cities that hosted the games. Gladiators were slaves, the majority men of recently conquered nations. Turned into slaves, these men could be sold to trainers who taught them how to fight. Some who were condemned to die were subjected to their deaths in the arena, killed by beasts, executed by gladiators or sentenced to die as gladiators.
The men who owned gladiators were called lanistas, a title that stood in the lower social rank of Roman society. It wasn’t a political office, so they had no favors to grant but their stable of fighters became one of the favorite sports of the day.
A lanista kept his gladiators at his ludus, or gladiatorial school. There, the doctore trained these men on their fighting skills. Doctores usually were former gladiators that had survived their prime fighting years and now could teach others the techniques to win.
Fighters were often given new names, their old ones thrown to the wind. Fight names could be anonymous, the most popular being Valerius, Sergius, Valens, Servius or Servillus; or sometimes they used Felix, Narcissus, Victor, Maximus, Sabinus, Flamma or Cygnus. One of the most popular gladiators took the name Spartacus, the Thracian turned gladiator who led a slave rebellion in the Empire, but his true name is lost to history. These men were taught in the ludus using wooden swords (gladius) and wooden shields. The program trained them skills against the palus, which is a wooden pole on a stand, or in contests fighting each other with the practice weapons to prevent true injury.
They were given a specialty to fight. A few examples—
Provacator—The Challenger, he wielded a short sword, a long rectangular shield and wore a protective sleeve (manica), a greave (leather piece to protect leg) and cardiophylax (for chest)
Murmillo—The Fish Man, he had a short sword, large rectangle or oval shield, helmet that covered the face with a fish-fin on top, padding on sword arm and greave
Retiarius—The net-man, his weapon was the trident and a net with a dagger for back-up, no helmet, the shield was the galerus, fitted to the shoulder as part of the arm-guard. The arm that didn’t carry the trident was padded.
They all fought barefooted since the flooring of the arena was sand, thus they gained better footing without shoes.
Gladiators had the best in the way of treatment over normal slaves in many respects. They ate well as they needed strength, health and endurance to win and ‘elevate’ their lanista’s house. If they were injured, the medicus gave them the best medical treatment available because they were investments, with money and time spent on their fighting abilities. But their careers were rather short-lived, averaging 2-3 years with only up to perhaps 13 matches. Unlike Hollywood’s depiction, the games were not held weekly but depended on the event like a religious holiday or the triumphal return of the Emperor from battle. Nor did a gladiator fight in every game but many did see action at least 2 times a year.
Games lasted all day with the spectacle extended over days if needed. Lower ranked gladiators, ones from less prestigious houses, fought in the morning along with the animals contests involving animal on animal or the venator, who fought the beasts, as a warm up to the real gladiator fights. Noon was lunch and the executions of criminals. Many spectators remained and ate at their seats versus losing them because the biggest draw was the afternoon games where the best of the best fought. Many contests did not end in death. When one gladiator bested another, the loser, nailed to possible death by the winner, could raise two fingers in the air, seeking missio, surrendering with life and the opportunity to fight again.
The crowd was highly involved in the games. Besides cheering for their favorites, they could also demand life for the downed man or death, leaving the outcome to the emperor or who ever was the highest dignitary at the games to decide. On rare occasions, the mob in the stands could demand freedom for the winner, if he was champion and they were moved by his winnings. Freed, he’d be given a ceremonial wooden sword, the rudis, that granted his freedom but he had to keep it with him to remain free or be resubmitted to slavery. The rudis was also presented to a retiring gladiator as well.
Gladiators were the rock stars of the period. The streets on the way to the Colosseum were lined with vendors selling drawings of the champions, souvenirs of their hair, clothing snips and blood. The blood of a champion was believed to cure many ailments and solve infertility. But for those who died during the games in the arena, their bodies were pulled off the sands and disposed of in rather inglorious ways.
The fascination over the gladiators and their intense bloody games still grabs our attention today. The Colosseum remains standing, after almost 2000 years, having been gutted by the Vatican for its marble, sacked by invaders, numerous wars and pollution. But what if the ghost came back? Would they be popular today as well? I think, as sad as this sounds, they would be extremely popular. Hail Caesar!
Here’s a blurb for my latest release, Love and Vengeance, due out April 24th.
Marcus, a Roman citizen sentenced to die as a gladiator, accused by his wife and brother of a crime he did not commit. Yet death eludes him and he rises to become champion of the sands. The title he does not want. He seeks revenge but his victories in the Colosseum bestow monetary rewards he can use to save a beautiful slave, Gustina, from certain death by the beasts. She gives him a taste of love in a world full of lies, betrayal and murder.
But his overwhelming desire for vengeance, for blood and the kill, brings a higher price tag –can he satisfy the demon inside him and face the truth? A truth that will kill the woman he loves?
Here’s a bit more about Gina:
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Gina Danna has spent the better part of her life reading. History has been her love and she spent numerous hours devouring historical romance stories, dreaming of writing one of her own. Years later, after receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in History, writing academic research papers and writing for museum programs and events, she finally found the time to write her own stories of historical romantic fiction.
Now, under the supervision of her three dogs and three cats, she writes amid a library of research books, with her only true break away is to spend time with her other lifelong dream – her Arabian horse – with him, her muse can play.