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Melvadius

Roman gladiator cemetery discovered?

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The Independent carries the story of the possible discovery of the remains of men who fought as gladiators in York under the headline of:

 

World's best-preserved gladiatorial relics are discovered in the suburbs of York

 

Eighty skeletons

Edited by Melvadius

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yeah fascinating stuff, the Times`headline "Roman gladiator cemetery discovered" would have been a more catchy as a topic starter :(

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yeah fascinating stuff, the Times`headline "Roman gladiator cemetery discovered" would have been a more catchy as a topic starter :(

Suggestion accepted - but I'm keeping the question mark ;)

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I post here basically what I have written also at RAT referring to the article by "The Guardian":

 

When reading this it seems to me that either they are talking about venatores (beast fighters) or noxi (condemned criminals). To me it sounds unlikely that a gladiator has a well trained right (sword) arm because as I can tell from my own experience a gladiator needs also a well trained left (shield) arm. To me this sounds more like a laborer of monotonous work such as a smith or any other craftsman etc. or a field worker.

 

Decapitation and hammer blows also point towards noxi because gladiators acc. to Junkelmann did not receive the hammer blow but only the noxi. Scars of animal bites of large carnivores point towards venatores or also noxi. Burial objects point to venatores as it would be unlikely that condemned criminals would receive a proper funeral.

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I post here basically what I have written also at RAT referring to the article by "The Guardian":

 

When reading this it seems to me that either they are talking about venatores (beast fighters) or noxi (condemned criminals). To me it sounds unlikely that a gladiator has a well trained right (sword) arm because as I can tell from my own experience a gladiator needs also a well trained left (shield) arm. To me this sounds more like a laborer of monotonous work such as a smith or any other craftsman etc. or a field worker.

 

Decapitation and hammer blows also point towards noxi because gladiators acc. to Junkelmann did not receive the hammer blow but only the noxi. Scars of animal bites of large carnivores point towards venatores or also noxi. Burial objects point to venatores as it would be unlikely that condemned criminals would receive a proper funeral.

 

I haven't yet read any of Melvadius' links to this story, but my own local newspaper's reporting suggests that these weren't condemned criminals: "All of the skeletons were buried with pottery, animals or other offerings, suggesting they were respected people, not criminals." The reporter is quoting Michael Wysocki, a lecturer in forensic anthropology and archaeology. Wysocki also explained the beheadings as having been "an act of mercy" for those gladiators who surrered horrific injuries during their fights.

 

Medusa, I always find your comments on gladiators and gladiatrixes interesting. What kind of mercy killings, to your knowledge, did the Romans practice on their mortally wounded fighters?

 

-- Nephele

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>>Medusa, I always find your comments on gladiators and gladiatrixes interesting. What kind of mercy killings, to your knowledge, did the Romans practice on their mortally wounded fighters?<<

 

I'll have a crack at this one if I may (I've been doing a bit of work on gladiators recently). Firstly, I'm not sure how often the question of 'mercy killing' arose. If a gladiator took a wound bad enough to require a 'mercy kill' then he's probably lost the bout, and the editor would signal the winner to supply the necessary kill in time-honoured fashion with a downward stab through the neck. (The infamous 'pollice verso' known - possibly wrongly - today as the 'thumbs down'.)

 

On those rare occasions when a gladiator won but was fatally wounded, there is no indication that he would be treated any differently from a fatally wounded citizen or soldier. i.e. He was probably taken from the arena and given palliative care and made as comfortable as possible until he died. (Think Maximus' end in the movie Gladiator.)

 

After all, some gladiators were Roman citizens and others were as popular as rock stars are today - they'd probably get some respect at their passing.

 

I'd go with the condemned criminal angle myself. Two criminals might be forced to fight to the death, but this did not make them gladiators, which was a highly specialized trade.

 

But also, once they had inflicted the death penalty, the Romans did not take it out on the corpse. The dead were handed to family or friends who could bury it with all honours. Consider St Peter, whose mausoleum still stands (and has grown somewhat) next to the circus of Nero where he was executed, or the last honours given to Jesus after his 'death' on the cross. So burial with elaborate grave goods might simply indicate well-connected individuals sentenced to the arena for being Christian, or on the wrong side in a rebellion.

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But also, once they had inflicted the death penalty, the Romans did not take it out on the corpse. The dead were handed to family or friends who could bury it with all honours. Consider St Peter, whose mausoleum still stands (and has grown somewhat) next to the circus of Nero where he was executed, or the last honours given to Jesus after his 'death' on the cross. So burial with elaborate grave goods might simply indicate well-connected individuals sentenced to the arena for being Christian, or on the wrong side in a rebellion.

 

Ah, that makes sense, and explains a lot. Although I wonder how much of the victim might be left for a proper burial after the lions had their share of him. Did they allow the lions to finish their meal, I wonder?

 

Thanks for the info, Maty!

 

-- Nephele

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Maty was faster than me to reply to the topic of "mercy killings" of gladiators and hence has said everything.

 

If the skeletons found at York had grave goods with them I would rather think they are of venatores because the lion bite (or bite from a large carnivore) points into that direction. The corpses of noxii were dumped somewhere without any grave goods and gravestones etc.

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More info on this link:

 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.p...467&ps=cprs

 

It includes this rather cryptic/unclear paragraph:

 

'On June 14, the researchers will launch a Web site with the basic evidence so the public can vote. The vote is a good way of introducing people to the problems of archaeology, Walker says. '

 

Think those of you on here with specialist knowledge could have quite an imput!

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Maty was faster than me to reply to the topic of "mercy killings" of gladiators and hence has said everything.

 

If the skeletons found at York had grave goods with them I would rather think they are of venatores because the lion bite (or bite from a large carnivore) points into that direction. The corpses of noxii were dumped somewhere without any grave goods and gravestones etc.

 

As disclaimer here - Medusa and I have been working closely on a couple of projects recently, hence our unanimity. My opinions on the topic have been strongly influenced by her expertise!

 

(Nephele will confirm my deplorable habit of exploiting the knowledge and enthusiasm of UNRV members ...)

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Building works usually, and so was the case in this instance.

 

Incidentially, I was under the impression that gladiators might also have their throat cut after 'death' in case they were faking it. Just a formality, you understand?

 

And regarding burials, whilst it's true that gladiators were interred, that was a mark of respect by those closest to him (or her). A popular succesful gladiator might be given such a burial, but what about the average criminal or volunteer? Such people were two-a-sestercii and of no great account, having become slaves by their own actions. If such a person was killed quickly, before establishing a reputation as a fighter or indeed forging close relationships, what chance did he have of a decent burial? Funerals and memorials cost money.

 

Now I'm not suggesting the gladiators body was butchered for food and distributed to the poor as happened with beasts, but at least one study in gladiatorial casualty rates has concluded that in Rome burial pits would quickly become overcrowded and raised the possibility that many dead gladiators were simply dragged away and thrown into the Tiber.

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Incidentially, I was under the impression that gladiators might also have their throat cut after 'death' in case they were faking it. Just a formality, you understand?

 

It is true that the throat of gladiators killed in the arena (no matter if killed during the fight or if they received the coup de gr

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I'm not confused in the slightest. Anyone entering the arena as a gladiator was by definition a performer, whether he was there by way of sale, judgement, or sef volition. As such, they were infama. Young men of higher birth volunteered as much as anyone else, and Augustus was forced to place restrictions on the numbers of the patrician class who were volunteering.

 

Noxii weren't allowed the privlege of fighting as gladiators. They were there to be slaughtered by way of an 'entertaining' execution. Typically two were in the arena and one had a weapon with which to kill the other. The winner would then be forced to hand the blade to the next noxius to enter the arena. And so forth.

 

That said, there were still gladiators who were effectively 'cannon fodder', though they still had some chance at least seeiong as they were armed. Experienced gladiators were valuable commodities. If he should die, his owner must receive monetary compensation for his loss, and thus these men were often paired off with newbie fighters who weren't such a risk. These newbies weren't expected to survive, though some did.

 

Further, many men were taken on to fill the ranks of a spectacular. These were not professional fighters either, and may have been recruited from all sources available, criminal or otherwise. The games organisers simply needed X amount of men and found them from where-ever they could.

 

Incidentially, Channel 4 shhowed a program last night about the forensic findings of these burials. It seems most died in their early twenties. Unusually, a fair number were decapitated, which would appear to be a local behavioural anomaly caused by their east european tribal customs (that was the apparent geographic origin of ther remains). One chap, who is believed to have been a retiarius, died around the age of forty. He had a longer right arm - a sign of intense physical training from puberty.

 

Make no mistake, this documentary made it brutally clear the violence and pain these men suffered. The forensic expert was almost gleeful in pointing out details of long term growth patterns and damage indications on the bones. One fascinating point which was played by actors but not stressed in the commentary, was the evidence that when one fighter fell, his opponent brought down the edge of his shield to break the fallen mans sword arm, thus preventing him from fighting on. There's no doubt that gladiators were serious fighters. As with the greeks, winning was everything.

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That said, there were still gladiators who were effectively 'cannon fodder', though they still had some chance at least seeiong as they were armed. Experienced gladiators were valuable commodities. If he should die, his owner must receive monetary compensation for his loss, and thus these men were often paired off with newbie fighters who weren't such a risk. These newbies weren't expected to survive, though some did.

 

Well, if there are no more newbies left because they all end up as cannon fodder as you've said then in the end there would be no old experienced fighters also because they either die as well or resign from the arena. The training was aimed to become a good fighter and of course giving the newbies a chance to to build up a career as gladiator. The costs invested in training, food, accomodation, ammenities were too high just to "breed" "cannon fodder". There were gregatim (mass fights) for which tirones were used but these were not frequently. More frequently was the duel man against man and only one pair at a time.

 

In German I would say to your above statement "da bei

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