Posts Tagged With: gladiators

I Predict a Riot

Earlier this week I had the great privilege to spend an hour in a room full of engaged and enthusiastic Year 9 students talking about Pompeian graffiti. These students are studying for a GCSE in Classical Civilsation after school as part of The Iris Project at Cheney School. During the paper, in which I was introducing them to various aspects of graffiti and dipinti and the ways historians use these inscriptions, I was asked a question that rather took me by surprise. It wasn’t about graffiti, but about a wall painting that I was using to illustrate an event in Pompeii’s history which is related to a number of graffiti.

amphitheater_fresco_by_kerrybush-d6xo2k8

This painting, found in the House of Anicetus, ( I.iii.23 ) famously depicts the riot that took place in the amphitheatre in AD 59. We know this is a real event because Tacitus tells us about it:

Tacitus Annals 14.17
‘At around the same time, there arose from a trifling beginning a terrible bloodbath among the inhabitants of the colonies of Nuceria and Pompeii at a gladiatorial show given by Livineius Regulus, whose expulsion from the senate I have recorded previously. Inter-town rivalry led to abuse, then stone-throwing, then the drawing of weapons. The Pompeians in whose town the show was being given came off the better. Therefore many of the Nucerians were carried to Rome having lost limbs, and many were bereaved of parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate; they passed it to the consuls. When their findings returned to the senators, the Pompeians were barred from holding any such gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved, Livineius and the others who had instigated the trouble were exiled.’

In addition, there are a number of graffiti that illustrate the kind of animosity between neighbouring towns that may have contributed to, or resulted from, the event that Tacitus describes.

CIL IV 2183
Puteolanis Feliciter / omnibus Nuc{h}erinis / felicia et uncu(m) Pompeianis / Petecusanis.
Good fortune to the Puteolans; good luck to all Nucerians; the executioner’s hook to Pompeians.’

CIL IV 1329
Nucerinis / infelicia.
‘Ill luck to the Nucerians.’

One even accompanies a drawing depicting a gladiator holding a palm of victory:

glad

CIL IV 1293
Campani victoria una / cum Nucerinis peristis.
Campanians, in our victory you perished with the Nucerians.’

The question that was asked, however, related not to the graffiti but to the painting itself, or more to the point, how unusual it was to have a painting in one’s house that depicted such violence. On most occasions when I have come across a reference to this painting in a scholarly work, if the oddness of it is mentioned at all, it is done in a very offhand way of wondering why someone would wish to commemorate such an event (even if the Pompeians were considered the victors). I have never come across a comparison to other wall paintings in terms of the nature of the violence illustrated. In the moment when the question was asked, I was racking my brain for a similar scene – and I couldn’t think of a single one. The closest may be the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, which depicts a military battle. Still, as detailed as it is in regards to fallen men and distressed looking horses, it does not depict seemingly dead bodies still on the ground as we can see in the painting from Anicetus’s house. The very nature of gladiatorial combat is a gruesome and bloody sport to which Romans were largely accustomed, but sitting in an arena watching a contest which may result in spilled blood (but, contrary to popular belief, rarely death) is quite a different thing than displaying images of the dead or dying on the wall of your house.

The question, as raised by this student, made me think about the painting in a different way, and really wonder about the mindset of the person who had it commissioned. (I am now extremely curious to see if I can find anything comparable on the wall of a Roman house. If anyone has any examples – do let me know.)  This has been on my mind for a number of days, not just because of the nature of the question, but because of who asked it. It was a timely (and to be honest, necessary) reminder that for as much as I know and continue to learn about the ancient world, there is always a new and interesting way to think about things. More to the point, it is more often than not our students who point us in a different direction, and that our research, without our students, is lacking something essential.

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Drinking with Cucumae

In my recent trip to the Vesuvian cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, one thing that struck me anew is the distinct lack of dipinti, that is, painted inscriptions, on the walls of Herculaneum in comparison to Pompeii. This is not down to the smaller scale of the excavated city or a difference in the writing tendencies in the population, but rather seems to be simply a matter of surviving plaster surfaces. Unlike graffiti, which can be scratched into any hard surface, painting legible dipinti, most often used as a means of advertisement, required a flat smooth surface such as that provided by the painted plaster walls. In Pompeii, though these are now much damaged and faded, there are still large stretches of publicly accessible wall, such as that on the Via dell’Abbondanza, that preserve these texts. In Herculaneum, in contrast, there is a distinct lack of plastered exteriors.

DSCF7679.jpg

There are four dipinti that I am aware of in the scavi of Herculaneum today. Three of them are located on a single wall at Insula VI 14, at the entrance to the Bottega ad Cucumas. Two of these seem related, whilst the lowest on the pilaster is not.

Bottega_ad_Cucumas (1).jpg

The most prominent, in the middle, is a painted advertisement listing the cost of various types of wine, and is the origin of the name of the bar.

AE 1989: 182a
Ad cucumas.
‘To the vessels.’

This is written above a painting of four wine jugs, each labelled with a different price ranging from two to four and a half asses per sextarius (a unit equal to just over half a litre). This indicates that it wasn’t quantity so much as quality of wine that predicated cost. Above this, there is a painting of the god Sancus, a figure associated with trust and honesty, and may have been an attempt by the innkeeper to indicate to his patrons the wine was not overly watered down. Like the wine jugs, his painting is accompanied by a brief inscription:

AE 1989: 182c
Ad Sancum.
‘To Sancus.’

Unrelated to these two dipinti, in the lowest register of the wall is an advertisement for a gladiatorial game.

AE 1989: 182b
Nola // scr(iptor) / Aprilis a / Capua.
‘Nola. Aprilis from Capua wrote this.’

This is a wonderful little text, primarily because it is useful for demonstrating the regional network of gladiatorial games that operated in Campania (this is a subject I presented on at the 2nd North American Congress of Greek & Latin Epigraphy which will be published at some point in the future). This relatively straightforward dipinto ties three of the local communities together by attesting the work of a man from Capua in Herculaneum promoting an event in Nola.

Despite the relative paucity of dipinti in the city of Herculaneum, the three texts (and accompanying images) on this one wall provides a glimpse into the kind of thing one might have expected to find on every plastered surface of the town, had it survived antiquity. The richness of colour and design suggests that walking down the street in Herculaneum two thousand years ago would have been an overwhelming experience of sight. If this is the example, it is nothing less than travesty that more of the dipinti did not survive. I suppose the bright side is that at least this wall is preserved, both in situ, and (I’m slightly ashamed to admit) in the virtual world of Pokémon Go:
Screenshot_20160828-110002.jpg

 

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F is for Festius

Whilst finishing corrections to the manuscript that became my book, I discovered that one of the funerary inscriptions carved into the city wall in an area of poor burials between the Porta di Nola and the Porta di Sarno had been misread. CIL X 8351 was read as Aulus Fistius, but is in fact, Aulus Festius. The ‘i’ is actually an ‘e’.

Photo 1.JPG

The name ‘Fistius’ doesn’t actually occur anywhere else in the Roman world, whereas Festius does – including in Pompeii. There are a series of dipinti (CIL IV 1182-1184) that record a man named Numerius Festius Ampliatus, who was a lanista, organising gladiatorial games. The most famous of the texts naming Ampliatus was written in charcoal on a tomb at the Porta di Ercolano. As this dipinto was recorded alongside an elaborate stucco decoration of games, gladiators, and wild animals, his games are believed to have been quite the spectacle.

festius.jpg

The article that discusses my findings and the evidence for the mis-reading of the name of Festius has been published in the latest volume of Epigraphica. If anyone would like a PDF of the article, please email me here.

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Graffiti Fridays

I have been somewhat derelict in my blogging the last few months. This is admittedly because I have been working on a number of projects that haven’t necessarily lent themselves to writing posts, and I equally haven’t had the time to delve into the various bits and pieces I’ve been saving to write about. That said, I did recently have an idea for writing a short weekly piece to get myself back into the habit of posting regularly, and to further explore my love of graffiti.

With that in mind… Welcome to the first Graffiti Friday. This will be a brief weekly post on graffiti. It may be ancient or it may be modern, my only requirement for inclusion is something that caught my eye or intrigued me in someway. Here goes:

 

CIL IV 8031

 

 

Found in the vestibule of the House of Casca Longus (I.vi.11) in Pompeii, this graffito is part text and part figural:

CIL IV 8031
Munus te ub(i)q(ue)
“Games, you are everywhere.”

What is remarkable about this is that the letter ‘Q’ of the inscription is drawn in such way that it resembles the elliptical shape of an arena, the location where the ubiquitous games were held. This is a fabulous example of an image that illustrates the exact meaning of the text.

 

 

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