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Slaves fought at funeral of rich Roman

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Mosaic showing the fight of gladiators
Mosaic showing the fight of gladiators

During the funeral of a wealthy Roman slaves had to fight with each other. This was done because it was thought that the blood calms the gods, and the show relaxed a family in mourning. This custom was initiated by the Brutus family, when in 264 BCE a family member died – Decimus Brutus. Then, a fight between three warrior pairs was arranged. 

Gladiatorial games were initially associated with Roman funerals. The first gladiators were called bustuarii. It comes from bustum that is, the pile on which the dead were burned. Most likely, there was a habit of killing people on the grave of some known person. It was to be a kind of bloody sacrifice.

As Rome was expanding and many slaves came to Italy, gladiatorial struggles were organized on an increasing scale. At the end of the third century BCE at the funerals of the aristocrats, fights usually were taken by dozens of prisoners of war.

With time, munera became more an “advertisement” for their organizers than a real tribute to the deceased. While in the past only the family used to watch the fight in the silence, later many people accidentally came out, curious bloody spectacle and loudly “cheering” the gladiators. Gradually, the religious rite turned into entertainment for the people. In 183 BCE the family of the deceased Publius Licinnius Crassus organized munera, in which 200 prisoners took part.

  • Katherine E. Welch, The Roman Amphitheatre: From Its Origins to the Colosseum
  • Lidia Winniczuk, Ludzie, zwyczaje i obyczaje starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu, Warszawa

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