Friday, August 21, 2015
"What These Women Love is the Sword!"
Full Inspiration and Co-Authorship Credit to Tim Jones
In the Roman Empire, the adoption of gladiatorial fights as state-sanctioned entertainment occurred around 100 B.C. Prior to then, gladiatorial fights were generally unorganized events that occurred in more private settings. Some theorize that gladiatorial events began as funeral tradition, intended to honor the dead through a display of bravery and manliness. Many theorize that the Romans borrowed the gladiatorial games concept from Greek and other more ancient civilizations, none of whom conducted the same on any large scale, or with any degree of widespread appeal. What we do know for certain is that by roughly 100 B.C., gladiatorial games were large, public, state-sanctioned events, conducted and intended for the entertainment of the masses in Roman society.
The most prolific displays of these gladiator fights took place at the Amphitheater in Pompeii, pictured above. The Amphitheater there was built circa 80 B.C. by a private citizen who donated the same to the government of Pompeii. With a capacity of nearly 20,000, the Pompeii Amphitheater held a very rowdy and bloodthirsty crowd, as men sometimes fought wild beasts and always fought each other, all for the pleasure of the crowd.
The elite and common Roman women of the time would have looked very much like this young lady, depicted above. The lower the social class assigned to her by birth, the more plain the robes worn would have been. From the onset, women were generally mixed with the men in the audience for gladiatorial games, according to most historians of Ancient Rome. In fact, Ovid's book, Art of Love (163-176), mentions that the gladitorial Amphitheater is an excellent place for young men to meet pretty girls. This strongly suggests that there was a less structured, more general seating arrangement at such games that prevailed, until at least a date late in the reign of Augustus. Overcrowding at events eventually led Augustus to decree that women would be relegated to the top and back of the amphitheater.
The "mixing" of the sexes went so far as to evoking fights between the members of the public, and having men and women copulating on the stalls - and not only at Circus Maximus. The ultimate play in the arena was a depiction of death, or rather, of the triumph of life over death (except in the sine missio matches, in which the winner was immediately to fight another, and another, until all had died), and that spectacle evoked lust passions of all sorts.
Women, as well as men, found gladiatorial contests, and gladiators, attractive. Some much-quoted epigraphic evidence suggests that this attraction might be sexual: at Pompeii, the retarius Crescens was known as "the netter of girls by night" and "the girls' darling." Thracians were a favourite symbol of manliness because much of their body was left visible to the audience. This obviously constituted a potential danger to the Roman male's control over his womenfolk. It proved impossible to put a stop to stories about sexual associations between gladiators and women of the elite, even including empresses. The wife of Marcus Aurelius, Faustina, was suspected of having had affairs with gladiators; as "only this could explain why her son Commodus was so interested in the sport." Many women wore hairpins and other jewelry dipped in gladiator blood, and some even mixed gladiator sweat - then considered an aphrodisiac - into facial creams and other cosmetics. Roman anxieties about the sexual attractions of women to gladiators are given expression by the fact that they are classified together with prostitutes in Roman legislation, and that grammatical texts associate the Latin word for the gladiator's trainer (lanista) with that for a pimp (leno).
Lydon (Duncan Regehr) defeats the Roman champion, as a lady of stature looks on, in the movie "Last Days of Pompeii" (1984).
Emotions ran high in the amphitheaters, where spectators are reported as screaming "Kill him!," "Lash him!," and "Brand him!" according to the letters of Seneca (7, 5). The loser earned a final, "He has it!," as in he has "death" or a "death blow." The winner was bestowed with accolades, remembrances and prizes, including money. The crowd was given the judging power of life or death over the losing gladiator. Still, deaths were more rare than often imagined.
The satirist Juvenal (Saturae 6, 110, ff.) recounted the amorous sentiments of a lady named Eppia for a particular heroic gladiator, his massive collection of disfiguring wounds having no dissuading effect on her, for he was after all a warrior.
Juvenal and his contemporaries noted that the popularity of the gladiators and their violent games had permeated the whole of society. It was common to find drawings of gladiators on the walls of caves and homes. Souvenirs and every-day usage items depicting gladiators and gladitorial acts were rampant. Many statues of the time showed gladiators together with the god of love, or with the god of fertility (Priapus - known for his large, erect phallus). Rumors were rampant that the wives of elite men, even senators and emperors, possessed and communicated their amorous crushes upon the stars of the arena. The graffiti of the time shows that the stars of the games were considered extremely sexually attractive, praised as lovers and the objects of the sexual enthusiasm of most girls and women. So much is this the case that a decidedly distraught Juvenal goes on to admit in his papers that, "What these women love is the sword!"
In other words, scenes like these, both above and below, were very common occurrences in the Roman Empire, as women of all ages, likes and classes fantasized about having sexual relations with these physically powerful gladiators.
Some, as this queen in blue, would watch the combatants battle in front of her in a private match, and become turned on as she carefully surveyed the damaged body of the dead loser.
The wives of the elite class would invite the well-hung and manly gladiators to their beds, sometimes in spite of or in front of their wealthy and powerful husbands, essentially cuckolding the leaders of Rome.
Although society has fought mightily in the last 2000 years to change our outlook on the concept of fights to the death for the entertainment of the masses, and for the sexual stimulation of women, this primitive concept remains alive in many of us. Our movies continue to reflect an inner desire for this kind of violence. The evolution of boxing into MMA is the result of this primitive burning desire to see a more violent form of competition. The sentiment that built the Coliseum, pictured above, still burns within many of us.