Monday, January 4, 2010

Deadliest Warrior: Gladiator!

So, now that we know who fought on season one, let’s talk about the warriors themselves, their methods, their weapons, and why they were chosen for the show. Let’s start with the Roman gladiator, and his female counterpart, the gladiatrix.

First of all, the experts representing the gladiator on the show were Ancient Weapons Specialist Chris Torres, Gladiator Combat Instructor Steven Dietrich, and modern-day gladiator, Former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell.

Chris and Steven chose the weapons to be tested, and Chuck wielded a few of them. All the while they spoke of manly things and congratulated themselves for being so manly. Much like real gladiators. The weapons chosen were the Cestus, Sica, Trident and Net combo, Roman Scissor, and the Sling. The gladiator in the fight reenactment was seen with a round shield as well, but none was used in the tests.

Now, if you’re thinking that’s an awful lot of stuff for one guy to carry in a fight, you’re right. The gladiator on the show was a composite of several different gladiators. A real gladiator wouldn’t have all of those weapons on him at once. In fact, real gladiators were divided into classes, each specializing in a certain fighting style.

Gladiators were slaves or criminals condemned to death, but some were paid volunteers. Either way, the Romans wanted to make sure the fight would be entertaining, so they trained these men (and women) in different disciplines and equipped them with different weapons and armor. The gladiator took the oath “to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, to die by the sword.” Let me tell you, against weapons like these, that’s an oath easily fulfilled.

A basic class was the murmillo. The name comes from the mormylos or fish-shaped crest on the helmet. The murmillo carried a gladius, or short sword, and a tall rectangular shield known as a scutum. He had protection on his head, arms, and legs, but if he wanted to avoid a stabbing death, he had to use the shield.

The murmillo was often paired with the thraex, who carried a smaller round shield, and the sica, a curved sword that had the cutting edge on the inside of the curve. Some were double-edged, but the main purpose of the weapon was to curve around the edge of the other guy’s shield and put a hole in his body. One could also use the sica to stab upward through the chin and kill in one hit.

The trident and weighted net were wielded by the retiarius. He wore little or no armor, so his main defensive tactic was to use the net to entangle his opponent, and then stab him from the safety of the trident’s distance. He also had a knife to finish off his opponent, since it was traditional for a gladiator to die from a slash to the throat. He was often paired with a secutor, who was equipped similarly to the murmillo, but wore a different helmet to better protect his face from the trident. And let’s face it, you don’t want to get stabbed in the face with a three-pronged spear.

Some gladiators weren’t given a weapon other than the cestus, the ancient world’s equivalent to the brass knuckle. It was a weighted leather glove that head metal plates, spikes, and studs attached to it. It effectively triples a boxer’s punching power. Chuck Liddell tested the weapon on a side of beef and managed to break the cow’s ribs.

Chuck also tested the scissor, used historically by gladiators of the same name. Not much is known about this type, other than their weapon, but oh, what a weapon! The scissor consists of a metal tube that encases the entire forearm, and a grip inside the tube. The dangerous part of the weapon is a crescent-shaped blade resembling an open pair of scissors. The idea of this weapon was to thrust it straight at a person and split them in half. Think I’m exaggerating? Chuck did the very same thing to a cow.

Another weapon tested was the sling, which as near as I can tell wasn’t used much by actual gladiators, but the show’s creators probably wanted to give the gladiator a distance weapon to compensate for his opponent’s bow. The sling was a simple leather strap that was used to propel a stone at killing velocity. The most famous use of a sling in warfare, of course, was the battle of David and Goliath. On the show it was depicted as being used by escaped gladiators, fighting their way to freedom.

Another couple of gladiators worth mentioning were the hoplomochus and the dimachaerus. The hoplomochus was outfitted much like a Greek soldier or hoplite, with a round shield, a spear, and a short sword. The dimachaerus was the guy who went totally agro with a sword in each hand.

And while they weren’t mentioned on the show, gladiatrices or female gladiators were known to fight in the games. The longest historical reference to them was a scathing passage by Roman poet Juvenal. You can find it anywhere on the internet that references gladiatrices. He obviously doesn’t like women assuming any kind of masculine role, but I’ll bet he never said it to any of them, since there aren’t any historical accounts of Juvenal dying with a sword in his crotch.

Evidence suggests that gladiatrices were armed and armored the same way as their male counterparts, down to the bare chests. And I’ll bet Juvenal enjoyed that, whatever he might claim. Unfortunately, there’s not much else known about them, but if they’re anything like fantasy depictions of woman warriors, they are not to be trifled with. Probably the reason there's little documentation of them is because this was a male-dominated sport, and the Romans considered them an entertaining addition. Still, the fact that they were allowed to fight at all places them in a certain esteem in Roman society.

So now you know a little more about one of history’s most famous blood sports, so there’s not much mystery as to why they would put a gladiator on the show. As far as being historically accurate, who cares? It was an awesome fight. Next up, his opponent, the Apache!

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