Ancient Roman gladiatorial competition: historical exploration and cognitive evolution
Speaker: Gao Fujin Lecture Venue: Shanghai Jiaotong University Online Class Lecture Time: April 2022
The Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Colosseum and the Colosseum, can be said to be one of the world‘s famous ancient buildings that you are familiar with. What we are discussing in today’s lecture is the gladiator who once used this place as an important stage.
Gladiators are also known as gladiators. Gladiator competitions in ancient Rome consisted roughly of three parts: man-to-man gladiatorial performances, “performances” in which foreign prisoners of war or slaves were subjected to dramatic executions, and beast-related fights (including man-to-beast or fighting between beasts). Gladiator competition, which is considered extremely cruel today, was once a delightful and enthusiastic entertainment for the ancient Romans for about 700 years in the history of ancient Rome.
Gao Fujin is a professor and doctoral supervisor in the Teaching and Research Section of the Outline of Chinese Modern and Contemporary History, School of Marxism, Shanghai Jiaotong University. So far, he has published more than 100 papers of various kinds; his writings include “On the History of Western Culture”, “Sun Worship and Sun Mythology – A World Perspective of a Primitive Culture”, “The breaking latest news of Earth and Human Culture: A General History of Civilization”, “By Exclusive” To a total of: Western people’s etiquette, customs and culture, “Chinese Symbolic Culture Atlas”, “European Cultural History”, “Ancient Roman Gladiator Activities Research” and so on.
A cruel historical memory
The gladiator competition in ancient Rome was originally a fist fight between people, and then gradually developed into a hand-to-hand fight between people and tigers, lions, bears, leopards, bisons and other wild animals. Later, in order to meet the Roman audience’s need for greater excitement, there was a life-and-death struggle between gladiators: two fighters fought each other with shields and weapons such as swords, tridents, and nets.
There are different views on the historical origin of Roman gladiatorial activities. It is generally accepted that the Romans learned their formal gladiatorial activities from the Etruscans. The Etruscans originally held this kind of activity as a religious ceremony, the purpose of which was to pay tribute to the dead hero. This bloody religious ceremony was considered a sacred and brave act at the time. In 264 BC, during the First Punic War, the first official gladiatorial competition was held in Rome, with three pairs of gladiators participating. Soon, more and more Romans began to “invest” in this kind of gladiatorial competition, and they held such ceremonies mainly to commemorate the dead, but also to increase the prestige of their own families. Over time, the latter purpose has become more prominent. The middle and late period of the Roman Republic was a stage of gradual development of gladiatorial activities. In the late 1st century BC, that is, the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, Roman gladiatorial activities entered a prosperous stage. At this stage, as the free people of Rome became more and more fanatical about this activity, some great nobles and consuls invested in holding gladiatorial competitions in order to win the support of citizens. The nobles of the Senate also competed against each other in gladiatorial competitions to gain more support and gain greater political prestige. The famous Caesar in Roman history also held large-scale gladiatorial competitions many times to satisfy the preferences of Roman citizens. In the era of the Roman Empire around the 1st century AD, gladiatorial activities gradually lost their original religious significance and evolved into an important public entertainment activity for the ancient Romans. During this period, it was common for the ancient Romans to hold gladiatorial competitions alone, or during Roman festivals, or to combine gladiatorial competitions with beasts and chariot races. The gladiatorial entertainment, which the Romans liked, gradually spread to the areas where Roman culture could spread along with the expansion and conquest of Rome, and the number of participants and the size of the arena reached a remarkable height.
Mosaic frescoes reflecting gladiators from the Roman era.Profile picture
At that time, the gladiatorial competition between people could also be subdivided into various types, among which are mainly the gladiatorial fights between two people and the collective gladiatorial fights. Gladiators who died in gladiatorial matches were usually carried to the morgue, and the door of the morgue was called the door of the “Goddess of Death”. After entering the morgue, the dead gladiators were also subjected to another vital attack to ensure that they were actually dying in a gladiatorial match and not pretending to be dead.
Large-scale beast-fighting shows are also an integral part of gladiatorial competitions. According to records, in 169 BC, 63 African lions and cheetahs, 40 bears and several elephants were hunted in a gladiatorial show. Due to the abundance of wild animal resources in ancient Rome, meeting the needs of gladiatorial competition became one of the important purposes of hunting activities at that time, which directly led to the continuous increase in the demand for rare live beasts, so that many beasts in the Roman ruled area were killed. Catching light early even affected the local ecological balance, so people turned their hunting attention to other places. As gladiatorial audiences demand fresher “stimulus”, new animal species, including tigers, crocodiles, giraffes, lynx, rhinos, ostriches, hippos, etc., have been introduced into the Colosseum to please the gladiatorial audiences. Later, the scale of this kind of beast has become larger and larger, and a single game requires 400 or even 600 lions.
By rough estimates, the ancient Romans’ obsession with gladiatorial competition lasted about 700 years. Gladiator competition also had an important influence in ancient Roman society.
Western scholars believe that the development of gladiatorial competition in fact stimulated the development of the Roman economy. However, during the reign of Rome, the organizers of gladiatorial competitions, including the senate nobles and emperors, did not have the subjective intention of using gladiative competitions to stimulate the economy, so even to a certain extent, economic development was indeed related to gladiatorial combat. The competition is only an objective promotion.
The gladiatorial competition, which was sought after by the ancient Romans, was extremely cruel to the losers. But during the prosperous period of gladiatorial entertainment, for the Romans at the time, watching gladiatorial fights was a “noble” entertainment. Even the representative of the Stoics, the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero admitted that (the gladiatorial competition) this kind of entertainment is a kind of good education, and the Romans believed that it can cultivate the spirit of composure, bravery, and death. This judgment of Cicero is very different from the judgment from the perspective of modern civilization, and to some extent reflects the degree of acceptance of gladiatorial competitions by the ancient Romans.
With the gradual decline of the Roman Empire, the once-popular gladiatorial competition has gradually reached its historical end. In 325 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine I decreed that gladiatorial competitions were banned. Although for the ancient Romans, hundreds of years of inertia will not be completely ended with a single order, but since then several Roman emperors have successively issued decrees prohibiting gladiatorial competitions. This bloody game was finally abandoned before the fall of the Roman Empire. After 403 AD, gladiatorial matches were no longer held in the Colosseum in Rome.
Gladiator who died while the audience watched
As the protagonists of this brutal competition, the gladiators consisted mainly of prisoners of war, prisoners and specially trained slaves. Armed with weapons such as shields and short swords, they fought in the arena to please the audience.
The Wrestler (1853) by the French painter Gustave Courbet.Profile picture
In gladiatorial competitions, death row prisoners and various prisoners enter the arena in two main ways: one is the real gladiatorial competition, and the other is to throw them to the beasts. The former is not necessarily a dead end, the latter is definitely dead. As early as during the Republic, Roman law stipulated that prisoners sentenced to death after court trials were generally handed over to the arena for the beasts to “feast”, and this process was “appreciated” by the audience. Those who committed felonies were not only sent to gladiatorial schools, but also known as “knives under the knife” or “beast Chinese food,” and they were either targeted by heavily armed gladiators and slaughtered, or slaughtered in droves. To the hungry beast.
Slaves were also the main constituent of gladiators, and they were called “gladiator slaves”. We mentioned earlier the first gladiatorial competition held by the Romans in 264 BC, in which the gladiators were slaves. From the late Roman Republic to the Empire, the vast majority of students in specialized gladiatorial schools were slaves. The source of slaves is more complicated: some of them are prisoners of war who become slaves. Among the victims of the gladiatorial competition in the Colosseum, there are prisoners of war from Carthage and other forces who lost the war with Rome; some are abducted or kidnapped and become slaves. slaves; some were plundered by pirates; others were sold by their masters – a situation in which the later Roman Emperor Hadrian had decreed that these sold slaves were restricted from entering gladiatorial schools unless Slaves enter by their own consent or by sin.
Romans, including free people, nobles and even emperors, often directly participated in this carnival-style competitive entertainment. In the later period of the Republic, the gladiatorial entertainment activities of the Romans gradually became prosperous, and among the gladiators there were members who were not forced but voluntarily entered the arena. According to research by scholar George Weir, “most gladiators went to the arena for profit” during this period. Many Roman freedmen sold themselves as gladiators, their purpose was to get a lot of money, as well as admirable group respect, worship and so on. Of course, some of them are out of madness, and a poet in Tiberius’ time said that those who sold themselves to the arena to die in the arena make themselves their enemies even when there is no war. According to the sources, the Roman emperor Caligula was initially so embraced that “when he was ill, people gathered around the palace for several nights, and some even swore to be gladiators in gladiatorial performances.” Two famous tyrants in Roman history, Nero and Commodus, also took to the arena many times. Roman Emperor Commodus fought many gladiatorial fights in the Colosseum and was always “the victor”. Although Commodus is said to be merciful in official and public games, according to the records of contemporary historian Cassius, Commodus often saw blood under the sword in private battles at home, killing or maiming a lot of people. opponent.
There has been a lot of discussion about the existence of female gladiators in history. Now through archaeological and documentary research, we can confirm that female gladiators did exist. The female gladiator appeared later in history. During the Roman Empire, there were gladiatorial matches between female gladiators and between female gladiators and others. The Roman historian Tacitus has recorded this information more than once; the two Roman emperors Nero and Domitian once held gladiatorial contests involving women. One of the sources of archaeological information is the relics of ancient Roman female gladiators unearthed in Halicarnassus, Turkey. However, due to the relationship between cognition and customs at the time, female gladiators were still banned at many times. For example, in 200 AD, the Roman Emperor Severus ordered that women should be banned from participating in gladiatorial competitions.
As gladiatorial competition became increasingly popular among the Romans, certain charismatic gladiators became heroes to the Romans. The ancient Romans worshipped warriors, and they paid homage to gladiators who displayed great courage. Relevant carvings from the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii recorded a sought-after gladiator at that time: “Seradus, three-time winner, three-time champion, Prince Charming in the eyes of young girls.” There was even a custom at that time. —If a Roman bride were to part her hair with a spear, she had better use a spear that had been soaked in the blood of a failed gladiator.
According to the researchers’ estimates, about 700,000 people, most of them young people with an average age of 18 to 25, died in the Colosseum during the centuries when Roman gladiatorial competitions were popular. They died under the watchful eye of gladiatorial match spectators, and their bodies were carried out through the gates of the Roman Empire’s grandest gladiatorial arena just to keep the audience entertained.
Behind the popularity of gladiatorial competition
The gladiatorial activities held by the ancient Romans not only brought us a cruel historical memory, but also brought us many inspirations. We can try to dig into and understand this question from more angles – why the Romans fell in love with this entertainment so fervently.
In order to explain this problem, it is necessary to pay attention to various relevant factors such as the economic, social and cultural background of the Roman era.
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy (2013).Xinhua News Agency
The historian Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, denounced this inhumane gladiatorial entertainment, calling it “a profession justly dismissed as the most contemptible by Roman law and custom.” The English poet Byron, who was especially famous for his condemnation of gladiatorial games, could not tolerate the ancient Romans who sought comfort in this game of bloody death, and he shouted angrily: “Come on, Goths, vent your wrath. !” Contemporary Roman gladiators have linked the rise and fall of gladiator competition to the eventual demise of the Roman Empire. Scholar Roland Auguste believes that the Romans had long been accustomed to slavery, and slaves had no dignity at all, “The Romans endorsed these strange moral codes, which we naturally condemned strongly… Because of this, the fall of Rome … seems more terrifying than death itself”.
There are also views that this is a spiritual refraction of the Roman expansion period at that time. For the ancient Romans, their lives were always connected with the process of conquest, which gave rise to entertainment such as gladiatorial competitions. Gladiator competition entertainment was so fashionable in ancient Rome that it quickly spread across the empire. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, during the reign of the famous Roman tyrant Nero, gladiatorial performances were often held, and the “Neronia” games named after him included such activities. The conclusion of Otto Kiefer, a researcher on the history of Roman culture, may explain to a certain extent why the Romans did not oppose gladiatorial entertainment at that time-even “many elegant and open-minded philosophers, such as Cicero, Tassi Tuo and Seneca (also had no objection) … under the Roman emperor, the whole society was interested in gladiatorial combat”.
In addition to various direct reasons, the frequent holding of gladiatorial competitions by Roman nobles and emperors was undoubtedly a political need. For example, by attracting Roman citizens to watch the games to win more support, the Roman emperors also used this to win over and control the Roman people. As the American scholar Allison Fordrel said: “The arena laid the cornerstone of a complex political ritual, not so much that it meant sugar coating to disguise coercion, but rather that the Roman ruler himself was performing a realistic performance. “Rituals in the arena are the emperor’s way of controlling through direct personal attitude changes to shape and manipulate popular emotional responses and to restructure the orders of the ruling class.”
There are also some psychological viewpoints that try to explain this problem from the perspective of human nature. For example, the ancient Romans’ pursuit of heroes has also become a spiritual boost for the pursuit of gladiatorial competitions. A large number of records show that even in the bloody and cruel environment of the Roman gladiatorial arena in those days, there were similar to today’s “star chasers”. Gladiators at that time would have their own “stage names” in order to increase their popularity, such as “Brawler” and “Tiger”. Obsessed ancient Roman spectators eagerly awaited the appearance of their star fighters at the game. In Rome’s largest arena, the Colosseum, many gladiatorial fans can stand or watch the matches from the hill overlooking the Colosseum. At that time, in order to have a seat, many Romans came here before dawn. In the surviving Roman mosaics, there are also plot descriptions of young women expressing reverence to gladiatorial stars with palm branches symbolizing victory and wearing wreaths on their heads. For another example, did the enthusiasm of the ancient Romans for gladiatorial competitions come from some kind of subconscious acceptance of violent stimulation by human nature? Some viewpoints of modern behavior studies hold that aggressiveness, thrill-seeking, and pleasure-seeking are also part of human nature, and modern social mechanisms, legal systems, moral habits, etc. are all effectively controlling and dispersing these human natures. On the contrary, it can be inferred that in the Roman era before these mechanisms were established and perfected, these negative parts naturally waited for a gap, which eventually evolved into the frenzy of gladiatorial competitions in the Roman era.
From a historical point of view, each era has its own cultural background. The ancient Romans’ enthusiasm for gladiators cannot be judged by today’s moral standards. Of course, not criticizing the ancients does not mean condoning the people of today. The demise of the cruel gladiatorial competition itself is a coordinate of the development of human civilization. Certain elements of cruelty must always be vigilant.
Chinese people’s cognition and research on ancient Roman gladiatorial competition
Looking at the history and research process, the Chinese people’s cognition of ancient Roman gladiatorial fighting has gone through a process of acceptance and dissemination in the form of “dots, lines and planes”, and this process has gone through hundreds of years.
In the thirteenth year of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (AD 1674), Nan Huairen, a missionary in China, wrote “The Map of Kun”, which mentioned the Colosseum and illustrated it. The description of the Colosseum in “Said” naturally accompanies the knowledge of the gladiators: “A public playground was built in the Roman House of Europe, Italy, and Asia. The floor, more than 22 feet high, is built with beautiful stones. The diameter of the empty field is 76 feet. Under the building, there are many kinds of wild animals and many caves. At the time of public music, the beasts are released to fight on the field, and the audience sits around the round platform The levels are connected to each other, several feet high, and can accommodate 87,000 people. There are walking paths between them, which do not obstruct each other. This scene has existed since 1,600 years.” “Kun Yu Tu Shuo” After it came out, it had a great influence at that time and was included in the Collection of Ancient and Modern Books, which was officially repaired by the Qing Dynasty. The historical facts of the Colosseum and the gladiators gradually entered the Chinese people’s field of vision.
After that, Fan Shouyi, a native of Shanxi, traveled to Europe during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, and left a travel diary, “A Record of Personal Experience,” in which he also recorded his impressions of the Colosseum, the stage where the gladiators used to be. He described that at that time in the city of Rome, “there was a house that was neither a palace nor a temple. Its rooms were like towers, round in shape, with five floors connected up and down, with more than 10,000 rooms, and the surrounding windows could be seen layer by layer. It was a lion breeding place in ancient times. It’s half over.”
According to Nan Huairen and Fan Shouyi’s writings, the main function of the Colosseum at that time was to raise wild beasts. Therefore, it may be inferred that their attention to the gladiatorial competitions in history was more focused on the fighting of wild beasts. This cognitive tendency of the Chinese people to gladiatorial competition continued into the late Qing Dynasty. In the Xianfeng years of the Qing Dynasty, Guo Liancheng from Hubei traveled to Rome. In his book “Journey to the West”, he recorded his visit to the Colosseum. It also mentioned that the use of the Colosseum in ancient Rome was “animal enclosure”. .
After the founding of New China, scholars had a wider understanding of Roman gladiators, and the focus on gladiatorial competition began to be more inclined to the brutality of the game. In the 1970s, due to the attention of the academic circle on the Spartacus (later translated as Spartacus) uprising, the cruelty of Roman gladiatorial matches, especially the tragic experience of gladiatorial slaves, was further recognized at that time. Spread, and two popular, introductory books “Spartacus” and “The Story of Spartacus” appeared.
The commercial press’s “Chinese translation of academic masterpieces” series of translated works on the history and characters of ancient Rome also had an impact on later research, such as the Roman historian Tacitus’ “breaking latest news“, “History”, “Agurico” La Biography, Li Wei’s History Since the Founding of the City, Plutarch’s Biography of Greco-Roman Famous People, Suetonius’ Biography of the Twelve Roman Emperors, etc., all present some ancient Roman entertainment activities and sports. Athletics, including the content of gladiatorial competitions, have become the original literature mainly cited by domestic and foreign researchers since modern times.
Beginning in the 1990s, linear dissemination, systematic introduction and even research on the historical facts of gladiators appeared gradually. During this period, monographs on the history of Rome were published successively, including Zhu Longhua’s “Roman Culture and Classical Tradition”, Yang Gongle’s “Outline of Roman History”, Li Yashu and Yang Gongle’s “Ancient Roman History”, and Yang Gongle’s “Roman Social and Economic Research” Wait.
Entering the 21st century, domestic monographs on gladiator research have also appeared, such as “Gladiator: Memory of a Cruel History” co-authored with Hou Hongying. With the continuous expansion and in-depth study of world history, the translation and introduction of Roman history is also advancing rapidly, and the translation of historical figures related to gladiatorial activities has increased, including David Short’s “Tiberius” and Hans Polsander’s “Emperor Constantine” (both translated by Xu Shunan, 2001), “Roman Emperor Nero” by Arthur Wegol (translated by Wang Yizhu, 2003), David Shaw Special’s “Nero” (translated by Li Dan and Zhao Beibei, 2003), Xie Le Utchenko’s “Critique of Caesar” (translated by Wang Yizhu, 2010), John Williams’ “Augustus” (Zheng Yuantao) Translation, 2018) and so on.There have also been translations of monographs and literary theories about gladiators and their activities, such as[荷]Gladiator: The Deadliest Game in History by Fick Major (translated by Li Xiaojun, 2009),[英]Gladiator: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Rome by John Marama (translated by Xiao Huan, 2003),[美]The Winner’s Crown: A History of Athletics from Homer to the Byzantine Age by David Porter (translated by Cao Zhengdong, 2017),[英]”Gladiator” (translated by Cao Ning, 2021) by Philip Matissek, etc. According to incomplete statistics, since the 21st century, there have been no less than 50 translations on Roman history and its topics.
Domestic research has been fruitful in the past ten years, showing a series of “flat” results. Academic research and public interest complement and complement each other. The popularization of cultural history research, coupled with the development of the Internet since the 21st century, has also increased the public influence of gladiator-related topics, which in turn has promoted further academic excavation of this topic. A series of subdivided studies such as “whether women participated in gladiatorial combat”, “consumers of gladiatorial activities”, and “how gladiatorial entertainment went to the provinces of the Mediterranean region” appeared one after another.
However, comparing many monographs and related monographs at home and abroad, compared with the gladiatorial activities that lasted for seven centuries in history, there are some shortcomings in research due to the lack of original materials. For example, some specific topics are yet to be explored in depth, regional horizontal comparative studies are rare, and evaluations from different disciplines and era perspectives are rare. Specifically, the first is the analysis of the reasons for the changes in the status of gladiators, the in-depth exploration of the essential reasons for the rise and fall of gladiatorial activities, and the analysis of the general environment during the Roman Empire. rather lacking.
In terms of research trends, on the basis of the continuous excavation and research of new archaeological data (including inscription data), scholars from abroad (mainly the United States, Italy, Germany, France, Britain, etc.) are relatively concentrated in the field of cultural history. Minor points, such as inscriptions and lamps related to gladiatorial activities, have become important circumstantial evidence for special research. With the deepening of research, especially with the discovery and arrangement of new inscription materials, new topics and details about gladiators have become research hotspots. Most of this content is still in the introduction stage in our country, and needs to be further refined and analyzed. Research in depth.
“Guangming Daily” (10th edition on June 18, 2022)