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Seneca on Gladiatorial Contests

I  chanced to stop in at a midday show, expecting fun, weight, and some relaxation, when men's eyes take respite from the slaughter of their fellow men. The preceding combats were merciful by comparison; now all trifling is put aside and it is pure murder.  The men have no protective covering.  Their entire bodies are exposed to the blows, and no blow is ever struck in vain. . . . In the morning men are thrown to the lions and the bears, at noon they are thrown to their spectators. The spectators call for the slayer to be thrown to those who in turn will slay him, and they detain the victor for another butchering. The outcome for the combatants is death; the fight is waged with sword and fire. This goes on while the arena is free. "But one of them was a highway robber, he killed a man!" Because he killed he deserved to suffer this punishment, granted. . . . "Kill him! Lash him! Burn him! Why does he meet the sword so timidly? Why doesn't he kill boldly? Why doesn't he die game? Whip him to meet his wounds! Let them trade blow for blow, chests bare and within reach!" And when the show stops for intermission, "Let's have men killed meanwhile! Let's not have nothing going on!"

[Source: Moral Epistles of Seneca, in N. Lewis and M. Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia, 1955), p. 230.]

N.B. In this passage, Seneca is not describing a contest between gladiators but between criminals. The key statement is "The men have no protective covering." Many thanks to Dr. Louise Zarmati, Lecturer in Education, University of Western Sydney. See Jo-Ann Shelton (1998) As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History, 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.355-6, esp. note 297.

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