Panem et Circenses is an essay on the world of gladiators to try to find out who these men and women really were. It is a essay about people that were acclaimed, derided, insulted, loved and hated, and simply called “Gladiators”. In fact not may authors dared to try to explain the dark sides of this topic: who they really were?

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Chapter 4

Everything began with “posters” advertising the munera which were not, as done today, pinned to the walls, but rather were painted onto them. The crews in charge of this job focused on the most populated places such as popinae, cauponae (safer, classier taverns), and lupanaria (brothels). In order to create the announcements, these ancient billposters put down a layer of plaster on the chosen wall upon which they then painted their information. It was the job of the lanista, the manager and owner of the hired gladiator gym, to hire the billposters who would write the ads, and we can imagine the excitement and anticipation of the people who, at the sight of the billposters, crowded around them to steal the first information about the coming munus.   The city of Pompeii provides excellent examples of these posters because the disastrous eruption of A.D. 79 preserved a variety of them almost intact. Billposters in Pompeii, people such as those whose names are preserved like Celer, Secundus, and Vesbinus, wrote their announcements with red or black lettering against white lime. From one of these preserved posters we can read: “The troop of the aedilis Aulus Suetius Cerius will fight in Pompeii on May 31st; there are the sail (meaning the velarium, the overhead covering for shade, A/N) and venatio. Fortune to the Neronian gladiators“.[1] Along the external walls of the House of the Centenary in Pompeii, Æmilius Celer wrote: “Twenty pairs of gladiators paid by Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, priest of Nero son of Caesar Augustus, and ten pairs of gladiators paid by his son Decimus Lucretius Valens, will fight in Pompeii on the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th of April. There are venationes and the sail (again, meaning the velarium, the coverage for the shade, A/N)[2]. There was also another promotion on behalf of Decimus Valens: “Twenty pairs of gladiators offered by Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, perpetual flamen of Nero Caesar, son of the August, and ten pairs of gladiators offered by his son Decimus Lucretius Valens will fight in Pompeii on April 4th. There are beast hunts and naumachiae. Pol[ibius]wrote the ad.”[3] This last announcement was painted between A.D. 50 and 54 on the facade of a house on the Via dell’Abbondanza in Pompeii. These same types of posters were also put up in the nearest neighboring city to the host just like today when a play or a concert is announced and marketed. This, in addition to word of mouth, meant that the amphitheater would be packed, and a packed arena brought prestige and fame to the editor.  In the creation of fight-day pamphlets (similar to modern day programs), writers relied on a standard template which did not vary from city to city. It included: the occasion for the show, the name of the editor who was offering the show, the lanista‘s name (from whom the gladiators were hired), the number of gladiator pairs entering the arena, the name of the barrack to which the group belonged, the place where the munus would be given, the possible inclusion of other shows in the schedule (such as venationes, the presence of velarium and sparsiones, etc.), and other stipulations of various kinds for the public such as sine ulla dilationes, “without any other postponement”, or, si qua dies permittat,[4] “if they day will allow it” which is understood to mean an allowance for poor weather. The pamphlet then closed with the inaugural expressional, pro salute, “for the health” or feliciter. By comparing different pamphlets we can draw useful information on the social status of various editores who organized them as some details or specifications appear and disappear such as the presence of velarium and sparsiones. These were expensive and complicated to set up in the munus and so were the privilege of the rich few.




The night before the fight, in a town eager and excited for the start of the games, the organizer of the munus, the munerarius, offered an open-dinner for the fighters called the caena libera which also allowed the fans to attend as public guests. This dinner had a propaganda value for the munerarius as well as providing an opportunity to increase the sponsiones, the bets, because the betters were able to personally see and inspect the athletes on whom they would be placing their money. Once the last meal had been eaten, gladiators retreated in prayer to entrust to the various gods the tide of good fortune. So the provocator Mansuetus promised: “If I live I will donate my shield to Venus[5]. The most invoked deities were Hercules and Mars, while the venatores were obviously devoted to Diana, goddess of the hunt.  Not only gladiators, but also the spectators (and bettors) were also known to invoke deities or resort to sordid necromantic practices. Several times in amphitheaters the so-called tabulae defixionum were found. These “curse tablets” were often written on lead pages and were used to cast the evil eye, bad luck, or anything else which be useful in ruining the chances of a gladiator; they were also used to cause harm to a rival lover. Once the gods of Hades had been invoked on these tablets, the curse which was to come upon the victim was described in detail. From the amphitheater of Carthage comes to us an example of what a curse against a gladiator looked like: “Kill, eliminate, wound Gallicus born by Prima, right now within the walls of the amphitheater. Bind his feet, limbs, senses, the marrow. Block Gallicus son of Prima so that he cannot kill the bear and the bull, neither with one shot, nor with two, nor three shots. In the name of the living, omnipotent god, hear me, now, now, quickly, quickly. The bear crush against him and inflict injury![6].  At midnight the amphitheater opened for the public to allow them to choose the best available seats. Entrance was free, but that didn’t mean all the seats stayed that way as walk-up convenience could mean an expensive ticket for those who could afford to pay.


[1] CIL, IV, 1189

[2] CIL, IV, 1185

[3] CIL, IV, 7992

[4] CIL, IV, 1185

[5] CIL, IV, 283

[6] A. Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae, Paris, 1904, n.247





226 Pages
Many pics and illustrations

Edizioni Efesto, 2016
ISBN: 8899104980


Gladiators still exercise an indisputable fascination over the masses. But for what reason? Well, great sociologists have expressed themselves and have established that the gladiator represents for many what they would like to be: scornful of death, valiant, fighters. Of course, this vision, however, is the daughter of modern times. For most of them it was a misfortune to which they were condemned or which had to do without a choice, for others, the auctorati, a job. Certainly at the end someone will also have made a virtue of necessity but surely it is easier today to identify with them by sitting comfortably on the sofa at home admiring Maximus Decimus Meridius and perhaps envying him in part, often without dwelling on the historian, in that film, there is very little. To understand who these men and women really were, who often gave the masses fun and death with suffering, one must look at that sociological phenomenon with the eyes and mind of an ancient Roman, a decidedly difficult exercise for the “moderns”. I tried to take a trip to discover these men from 2000 years ago …


Everything began with "posters" advertising the munera which were not, as done today, pinned to the walls, but rather were painted onto them.

Chapter 4 – A day of games

The Emperor Augustus, on the occasion of the inauguration of his Forum, dug a basin to accommodate a naumachia ; it is mentioned in his Res Gestae. This basin measured 533 x 355 meters and the underground aqueduct Aqua Alsietina fed it.

Chapter 2 – The naumachiae

An important turning point came in 51 B.C. with the construction of a theater paid for by Caius Scribonius Curio which consisted of two theaters mounted on rotating platforms. As a theater, the two halves faced away from each other, but once they rotated to face each other, the two perfectly matched halves effectively created an ellipse and an amphitheater; so Pliny calls it, amphiteatrum, the first evidence of this word.

Chapter 6 – The amphitheater


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