Friday, 5 September 2014

Samnite Gladiators enter the arena

Samnite Gladiators enter the arena

East of the Appenine Mountains from Rome lived a people known as the Samnites. These people had fought several wars against Rome between 343BC and 290BC, after which their country became a tributary state. In 90BC the Samnites rebelled but were defeated fairly quickly by an army led by Lucius Cornelius Sulla. By chance Sulla was a descendant of Publius Cornelius Rufinus who had defeated the Samnites in 290BC. Eager to be elected Consul, Sulla naturally decided to stage a munus - including gladiatorial games for the mob.

To add novelty and excitement to his games, Sulla brought a number of Samnite prisoners to fight in the arena. To add even more reality to the bloody spectacle these men were equipped with the same arms and armour they had used in the recent war. The Samnites had long been famous for the quality of their armaments, so the mob were eager to see Samnites fight with their native weapons.

The Samnites in the arena appeared equipped with a large rectangular shield, not too different from that used by the Romans, and with metal greaves to protect the shins below the shield. The weapon carried by them was a medium-length straight sword with a single cutting edge. It was the helmet which made the Samnite such an outstanding sight. The rounded metal crown was topped by an extravagant upright ridge which itself sprouted a stiff crest of dyed horse hair. Around the edge of the helmet was a wide metal brim. Rising from the junction between brim and helmet was a pair of flamboyant feathers, usually from pheasants or even peacocks.

The Samnites were a huge success with the crowd. Sulla was elected Consul and given command of the army sent to defeat King Mithradates of Pontus. He came back to be elected Dictator, an unusual and temporary post created only in times of crisis, and to rule Rome until he retired to his country estate in 79BC.

from "The Age of Gladiators" by Rupert Matthews.

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