Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Poor Diodorus

Gladiator battles were to Rome what football is to the United States (and soccer to the rest of the world). Successful gladiators could attract huge fan followings and achieved a certain celebrity status, as athletes do today. If a gladiator was successful long enough, he was usually given his freedom and allowed to go into retirement, resting upon his laurels. So rabid were the Romans about their gladiator fights and loyal to their home teams that, like the example of Vancouver recently, riots could break out if things did not go their way. At a game in Pompeii once, taunting turned to stone-throwing between the Pompeians and the visiting Nucerians, resulting in deaths and injuries during the subsequent riot. It was so bad that Emperor Nero banned gladiator games for Pompeii for ten years (after the ban they would get to enjoy it for another ten years before Vesuvius ended gladiator games in Pompeii permanently). Graffiti and higher-quality wall painting boast of Pompeii's victory over Nuceria Alfaterna, despite the ban.

An ancient Roman tombstone from modern-day Turkey was donated to a museum in Belgium following the Great War, and the epitaph on this remarkable piece of stone has finally been figured out by some classicists. It is unusual because it describes the way that the victim, Diodorus, died. "After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately. Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me."

The summa rudis was the referee in gladiatorial games, often times a former gladiator himself. One rule in combat was that if a defeated gladiator requests submission and it is approved by the owner, he will forfeit the fight and leave the arena unharmed. Another was that if a gladiator fell on accident, he would be permitted to get up and grab his weapons before the fight resumed. It seems that Demetrius had surrendered to Diodorus, who then spared his life and backed off, expecting to have won the fight. However, the summa rudis--through either incompetence or treachery--deemed Demetrius' fall to have been accidental, allowing the defeated gladiator to get back up and kill or mortally wound Diodorus. His family and friends were upset enough to curse the summa rudis in the epitaph. Poor Diodorus.
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