Kourion: The Gladiators

Mosaic depicting a gladiatorial scene from Kourion's House of the Gladiators.

Lytras, the Gladiator and Dareos, the Referee – Mosaic in the House of the Gladiators, Kourion

Gladiators were the sports heroes of their day; Romans flocked to see them and tried to meet and socialize with the famous ones.  The House of the Gladiators would have been a popular place in Kourion. Kids would have hung around it trying to get a glimpse of their favorite athlete practicing in the Palaestra; young women, and older ones too, would have tried to catch the eye of a fearless fighter who might pass their way.

Juvenal in Satire 6 comments on women and gladiators: “When Eppia, the senator’s wife, ran off with a gladiator…What did she see in him to allow herself to be called “a she-Gladiator?”

He continues: “…there were sundry deformities in his face: a scar caused by the helmet, a huge wen upon his nose, a nasty humour always trickling from his eye. But then he was a gladiator! It is this that transforms these fellows into Hyacinths! It was this that she preferred to children and to country, to sister and to husband…..What these women love is the sword.”

Aerial view of the Kourion Amphitheater and the House of Eustolios in the background

The Kourion Amphitheater
adjacent to the House of Eustolios

Skilled gladiators were champions in the amphitheaters where they were admired by the public and where they terrorized and killed their adversaries.

The amphitheater of Kourion had gone through seven stages of development during its Greco-Roman existence. It was a place of riotous entertainment and man against man competitions.

In the early 2nd century animals were introduced into the arena, and by the early 3rd century, the Kourion amphitheater was converted into a place to stage full-blown venationes.

Mosaic depicting gladiatorial combat with animals

Mosaic depicting Venationes
Image Credit: Wikipedia

The entertainment of men fighting beasts and beasts fighting beasts was introduced in 2ndBC, but it was not until Julius Caesar had a wooden amphitheater built especially for this purpose that the name ‘venationes’ was given to this type of spectacle. Slaves, criminals, and professionals fought the animals. Hunters trapped animals from all the known lands to supply the shows. At large events in cities like Rome, 11,000 animals could be slaughtered at one spectacle.

It was common to see lions, bears, bulls, hippopatamuses, panthers, crocodiles, tigers, leopards as the aggressors, and meek animals being devoured by them.

The highlight of any spectacle was always: Gladiator against Beast. And when a victorious gladiator walked out of an arena after he had taken down his worthy opponent, he was the superhero of the spectacle, and the most popular guy in town.

Mosaic of a hunter and leopard at the Paphos World Heritage SiteTrapper with net

Mosaic of a tiger at the Paphos World Heritage SiteTigers from India

Mosaic of a hunter and lion at the Paphos World Heritage SiteLions from Africa

Even when gladiator shows were ended in the 5th century, the venationes continued which only means that they were thoroughly enjoyed by Christians. It isn’t much of a leap to see the remnants of those spectacles today in the three ring circuses.

Bull fighting in Spain carries on this same Roman tradition that it is more about the valor of the fearless human than the slaughter of a trapped animal.  And our modern day buff gladiators, suited out in their protective gear, still run around in arenas taking down their formidable opponents.

© 2008 - 2015 RingofChrist.com