13.4.05

A Gladiator of Corduba (Hispania)

The past week I visited the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum in my city, Córdoba, Spain, formerly the ancient Roman city Colonia Patricia (website of the Museum: here). A collection of funerary inscriptions dedicated to gladiators is preserved in the museum (see here, for a relevant collection of epitaphs, in Latin with French translation). In fact, it is the most numerous and significant collection of gladiators’ epitaphs of all that have been found in Roman Hispania. These epitaphs can be dated between the first and second centuries A.D. (a date, moreover, not so distant from the epoch in which the film Gladiator unfolds). In these epitaphs we encounter a summary of the life and personal characteristics of each gladiator: the type of combatant he was (Thracian, Myrmillo, charioteer), his name, fatherland, age at death, victories attained, family circumstances.

As an example, here is an epitaph dedicated to the gladiator Probus (which I have chosen for two reasons: the curious personal circumstances of the deceased; and the ease of reading of the inscribed letters). It is inscription CIL (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum) II2/7, 363:

CIL II2/7 363

MVR. > R
PROBVS
PAVIL.IXXXXIX
NATIONE.GERMA
H.S.E.S.T.T.L
VOLVMNIA.SPERA
CONIVCI.PIO
MERENTI
P.VOLVMNIVS.
VITALIS.PATRI.PIO
S.T.T.L

And here, the reconstruction:

Mur(millo). (contra)r(etiarius)
Probus.
P(ubli) A(urelii) Vi(talis) l(ibertus). IXXXXX (victoriarum)
natione.Germa(nus)
h(ic).s(itus).e(st).
S(it). t(erra). t(ibi). l(evis).
Volumnia. Spera(ta)
coniugi. pio.
merenti (fecit).
P(ublius). Volumnius.
Vitalis patri. pio (fecit)
S(it). t(erra). t(ibi). l(evis).

Translation:

“The Myrmillo, opponent of the Retiarius, Probus, freedman of Publius Aurelius Vitalis, 49 times a winner, German by race, lies here. May the earth be light upon you. Volumnia Sperata, in honor of her affectionate husband, who deserves it, and Publius Volumnius Vitalis, for his affectionate father, made the monument. May the earth be light upon you.”
From this epitaph the following information is implied:

1) The gladiator Probus performed with the weaponry of a Myrmillo, consisting of helmet, protective chain mail on the arm, shield, and sword. The myrmillo is a type of fish. The shape of the helmet’s crest of the Myrmillo calls this fish to mind. This Myrmillo was specialized in fighting in single combat (hoplomachia) against a Retiarius gladiator, who was provisioned with net and trident (as if he were a fisherman whose objective was to “catch” the Myrmillo). Here is a representation of a Mirmillo, in terracotta:

Mirmillón

2) Probus was a freedman (a manumitted slave). Therefore, he was now a free citizen, not a slave. That is to say, he would belong to the category of free citizens voluntarily enrolled as slaves (auctorati).

3) The inscription demonstrates that he had a wife and a son. Technically, gladiators had no right to marry (ius conniubii), but in practice they would normally live in concubinage with a woman (generally of servile origin), whom they called wife (coniux, uxor). In fact, their wives dedicate the majority of gladiators’ epitaphs.

4) The peculiarity of this inscription is that the son also appears as dedicator, which is practically a unique case among all gladiators’ epitaphs which have been found. The existence of a son is a specific and curious detail which approximates the figure of the gladiator Probus to Maximus, the protagonist of Gladiator.

5) Probus was possibly the winner of 49 victories (although an error on line 3 of the inscription can be appreciated), which allows us to suppose that he succumbed in combat number 50.

[English translation: Dennis Mangan]

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22 Comments:

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