An Irresistible Gladiator Show

Few could resist the attraction of the gladiator combats.

Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome (public domain photo)

Gladiators came from the dregs of society and the combats were rude and cruel; and yet they seduced not only the rabble but the patricians and leaders of the state, who also came to watch the killing and the gore.

The most famous account of an irresistible attraction comes from St. Augustine. He was able to turn away but his friend Alipio got hooked.
Alipio’s parents had sent him to Rome to study law, says Augustine, and one day some of his classmates had the idea to go and see the combats. Alipio, who was a fine, sensitive young man, refused to go with them. The very idea horrified him. But his friends cheerfully picked him up and carried him off to the Colosseum. “All right,” Alipio told them. “You can take my body there, but you won’t be able to make me look at what goes on. I will sit with you but keep my eyes closed. It will be as if I weren’t there.”

He held out for awhile but suddenly the crowd roared. One of the gladiators had fallen to the ground wounded. Fans were all surprised but they were angered or disappointed or gladdened, depending on the fighter they supported. One hundred thousand spectators stamped and shouted at the top of their lungs. Alipio was so curious to see what had incensed them that he peeked between his fingers. “And so he received a greater wound in his soul than that gladiator had received in his body,” says Augustine. “Because afterwards with the spilled blood he drank in the joy in cruelty.” From that moment on he became a crazy fan of the combats and never missed a show.

Roman mosaic of gladiators and "referees", now in the Museo Arqueológico de Madrid

Roman mosaic of gladiators and “referees”, now in the Museo Arqueológico de Madrid

Nevertheless there were some men and women in all the centuries who did resist.

Julius Caesar (public domain photo)

Julius Caesar, who sponsored many gladiator shows and even founded a gladiator school, didn’t himself show any interest in the fights while he sat in the ring. He used the time to write letters and dispatches and rarely even looked up from his work.

Seneca ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo by Calidius)

And Seneca called them barbaric and de-humanizing at a time when Rome’s degeneracy seemed at its height (Nero).


This entry was posted in archaeology, history, Mérida, religion, Romans, Spain and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to An Irresistible Gladiator Show

  1. Thanks. I visited Caceres and Merida and nearly missed Trujillo and having made the effort to drive there I am so glad that I didn’t. Missed that monastery so that is an excuse to go back.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Andrew. Thanks, I’m glad I got you blogging. I was impressed by that race track in Merida too. I hope you made it to Trujillo while you were in Extremadura and to the Monastery of Yuste. I went over to your blog and enjoyed reading some of the great posts. Wish I could travel like that. I’ve been looking up (in Vasari) a story about Michelangelo and the Ponte Vecchio to tell you.

  3. Two things to say – 1, Two years ago your blog inspired me to start my own, thanks for that and 2, I have just returned from a trip to Extremadura and I found the Roman ruins in the town of Merida to be fascinating. The temple and the amphitheatre of course but most of all the race track at the circus that had me wandering about in awe of what they achieved.

  4. Pingback: The Best Book of the Time « Great Names in History

  5. Miki says:

    I have been in that amphitheater in Merida… quite touching to see it here again… Extremadura is anyway my favourite region in Spain…

  6. 100swallows says:

    I haven’t seen it in a long, long time, Madame Monet, but I loved it when I saw it. I think the re-creation of the chariot racing and the circus was very accurate. And I remember Heston as a great actor. I read that the author of the book, Lew Wallace, was a Civil War general. I don’t know where he got the idea for his novel. Now you got me curious..maybe I’ll look into it. Thanks.

  7. wpm1955 says:

    What is your opinion about the movie Ben Hur, with Charlton Heston? (It’s one of my favorite movies.) Is it based on any real historical figure? (the figure of Judah Ben Hur, of course)

    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine

  8. erikatakacs says:

    An interesting account again. I’m glad to hear that there were people even back who thought it was wrong. And others that couldn’t stomach it.Seneca must have been the minority though.

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