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Gladiatorial fight – secutor and retiarius

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic showing the fight of the secutor and retiarius gladiators
Roman mosaic showing the fight of the secutor and retiarius gladiators

One of the most popular gladiator fights in ancient Rome was the clash of secutor (“the chaser”1) and retiarius (“net-man”). Roman mosaic from the 3rd century CE depicts perfectly the way of fighting of the “net-man”, who tried to keep his distance and immobilize his rival at all costs by throwing a net with sinkers on him and then stabbing him with a trident.

Secutor, for a change, by using heavy armor (helmet, shield, shin), could defend himself more effectively against blows; however, due to lower mobility and greater effort, it had to strive for a quick settlement of the fight. What’s more, he could not get caught in the net and had to parry the blows of the opponent’s trident. Using his shield, he picked up attacks and had to get close enough to deliver a blow. Retiarius sometimes possessed a dagger which he could try to defend in close contact.

There are two battle scenes on the mosaic – the bottom one shows the moment when the net was thrown onto secutor (Astyanax); the upper one is the moment when retiarius (Kalendio) is knocked to the ground; surprisingly when the net was on the opponent. The result of the match is unequivocal – secutor won, because his name is marked with the word VICIT (“winner”); next to the name of retiarius there is a crossed “O” – an abbreviation of the word OBIIT (“died”). It turns out that the net was not successful and did not hinder the secutor movement.

Isidore of Seville compares secutor to Vulcan and retiarius to Neptune, alluding to the eternal rivalry between fire and water.

The mosaic dates from the 3rd century CE and now it can be admired at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid (Spain).

  1. The term "Chaser" came from the fact that this type of gladiator was trying to catch up with the mobile "net-man"; Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, XVIII.55. Another term was contraretiarius.

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