Sunday, 23 September 2012

Cena Libera - a Gladiator's Last Supper

By the first century AD, the format of a munus, or show in the amphitheatre, had become well established. The crowd knew what it was likely to see, although novelties were always welcome, and the editor staging the show knew what he had to provide.

Some weeks before the event was due to take place the editor, who was holding the munus to honour a dead father, uncle or other relative, would contact the lanista of his local gladiatorial troupe, or would choose one out of several if he was in an area with more than one lanista running a business. Together the two men would decide how elaborate the munus was to be, how many gladiators would perform, how many animals would be displayed and a whole list of other details. Much depended on how much hard cash the editor was willing to pay, and to what extent he could bargain prices down with the lanista. Once agreement had been reached, the editor had relatively little to do except turn up on the day and enjoy the adulation of the crowd.

It was the lanista who would send out men skilled in sign writing to daub graffiti on the public walls. These notices detailed the date and time of the munus, where it was to take place and who was the editor. As the date approached, the signs would be rewritten to boast of the programme of events and the lavishness of the coming display. Two or three days before the munus there was usually a parade through the streets or the Forum. The gladiators would march in column, followed by boys carrying their weapons. The wild beasts were trundled along in cages on carts and the various performers would follow behind. The night before the games it was traditional for the gladiators, animal hunters and others to be treated to a sumptuous banquet by the editor of the munus. This cena libera, as it was known, always took place in a public area so that the crowd could come to eye up the combatants who would be in the next day’s events.

from THE AGE OF GLADIATORS by Rupert Matthews
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