|Posted on March 22, 2009 at 12:25 AM|
The cheers and cries of the Roman crowds echoed through the city laneways. Pompeian’s from all walks of life hurried excitedly towards the amphitheatre. Today was May 15, Mercularia, and these games were held in honour of the messenger god Mercury. Merchants, fishermen, farmers, businessmen, and slaves all file into the grand arena. I jog to catch up with them, for the opening ceremony is about to commence.
As I enter the great, stone building, I am once again overwhelmed by its bold architecture and enormous size. A huge, dusty battlefield lies at its heart, some half a mile in circumference. The field is scaled by almost a hundred rows of stone seating, stretching up into the sky. Massive pillars line the structure and amoung them a sea of bodies floods through the stands, all searching for a place to sit. I make my upwards, until I see my friend Gaius beckoning me over. We greet one another and laugh, before sitting down. We chat for several minutes as the rest of the crowd settle down.
Eventually, Lokous the Speechmaker, approaches on a platform and announces its commencement in honour of the god Mercury. We all bow our heads as a sign of respect to the hosts of Olympus, and the great barred gates of the amphitheatre creak open, releasing the hungry warriors from within.
Three gladiators from each side of the field charge out of the gates; swords drawn and shields at the ready, bloodlust raging in their eyes. They collide mid-field and a vicious battle ensues. The fight lasts for ages, and all around the arena the crowd cheers with terror and delight. Eventually it comes down to two-on-one, and though he puts up a good fight, he is cut down by the others. The two remaining gladiators throw up their hands in triumph and the crowds applaud their strength. Suddenly, however, more gates are opened, and two lions are released onto the field. The gladiators move quickly to the far side of the field. The lions stalk towards them. They have most likely been starved for weeks before this day, and will be hungry for meat. The crowd becomes deathly silent now. The gladiators stand back to back as the fierce creature’s edge forward. They are ready to defend themselves, but the lions are biding their time. Then one of the gladiators strikes without warning, piercing the lion gut. The other lion pounces on him, wrestling him to the ground and then going to work of his face. The wounded lion, mad with pain attacks the other warrior, knocking him unconscious and dragging him back to his den. The crowd continues to cheer, their love of violence spurring them on.
The games continue through out the day. The two lions are killed by five more gladiators, who are then attacked by three gladiators on chariots, and eventually the games culminate with an epic free-for-all between 30 warriors. The victors at the end of the day are given the thumbs-up by Lokous and the cheering audience, and so retire wearily to their barracks until next months games.
Gaius and I stand up and make our way through the bustling, chattering crowd. We find the exits and make out way into the near empty streets. We discuss today’s games; how frightening and thrilled we were to see the fights. We walk into the local tavern to collect our winnings. I manage to break even, but Gaius makes a tidy profit. We order some drinks and sit down in the corner of the bar. We toast to Mercury and gladiators who died in his honour, and skull down our drinks.