Friday, December 17, 2010

The life and death of a gladiator

The Daily Mail has recently published two very interesting reports. The first is about the discovery of the remains of a man believed to have been a gladiator in Roman Britain.

Tall, powerfully-built and with a killer instinct he would have been a fearsome sight - especially if you were a gladiator facing him in the ring.

Archaeologists do not know his name but are convinced the remarkable discovery of the Roman gladiator's bones in York provide a clear clue of where the amphitheatre was in the city.

Back when he was fighting for his survival in the ring 1,600 years ago, York was the Roman capital of the north and the ground underneath the Yorkshire Museum has long been thought of as the prime location for the site.

The remains of the British gladiator were found just 30cm below the foundations of the museum by builders carrying out refurbishment works.

He was very tall for a Roman, standing at 5ft 10in, and of muscular build. The average height for people living at that time was 5ft 3in.

Analysis of the bones, shows that the skeleton was once a powerful, athletic man who was stabbed at least six times in a fatal attack - including a powerful sword blow to the back of the head.

Because of the way his body was found without hint of burial ceremony experts believe he could have been a disgraced or defeated gladiator who was then literally thrown out with the rubbish after his savage death.

Experts at York Osteoarchaeology have now concluded the man was aged between 36 and 45.

Andrew Morrison, head curator of the Yorkshire Museum, said: 'This was a huge man for the Roman period who died a violent and bloody death.

'The physical evidence reveals he was a swordsman and that his body was literally dumped with the rubbish - there was no hint that he had been buried in a ceremonial way.

'But what is really interesting to us is that he was found in this area, which is not associated with Roman burials and that many believe could be where York's amphitheatre was located.

'It is far from certain but it could well be the case that this man was a disgraced gladiator who was brutally killed and then left to rot.'

There's more at the link, including several very interesting photographs.

The second article is a fictional reconstruction of how the doomed gladiator might have experienced the last day of his life, and how he might have died.

The gladiators’ skulls showed many livid scars through their ­close-cropped hair. Even on this cold ­British night in December, they wore no more than coarse homespun tunics, with broad leather belts at the waist, leaving their powerful arms and shoulders bare.

Their muscles were huge, their chests massive, their arms knotted and hands thick with snaking veins like ropes. Their jaw lines were as hard as iron. They were the dregs of society, often criminals or prisoners of war who had been plucked from ­obscurity and ­disgrace by trainers.

They had lost their honour, but fighting gave them a chance to escape execution. They existed on a level with actors, pimps and criminals.

. . .

Outcasts doomed to an early death, possessing nothing in this world but their courage, they were desired as well as despised, envied as well as feared. They were the Empire’s ultimate celebrities.

Ordinary men weighed down by the burdensome pettiness of daily life — laws, taxation, bureaucracy — envied the ­simplicity of their kill-or-be-killed lives, their status as icons of doomed glamour, of blood-sacrifice.

They were the most vivid symbols of Rome’s grim martial ethos. ­Gladiators put lesser anxieties behind them when they swore their terrible oath, the sacramentum gladiatorum, promising ‘to endure burning, beating, binding and ­slaying by the sword’.

After such an oath, little else could worry a man.

Again, there's more at the link.

Both articles are very interesting reading, particularly for history buffs, and highly recommended.



Anonymous said...

Aged 36 to 45 ??? That would indicate a long career in the arena
Paul in Texas

Old NFO said...

Interesting take on it, and I agree with Paul, that IS old for that time period, where 40 was considered elderly.