Gladiators, or how a custom turned a funeral into a bloody pastime

Jean-Léon Gérôme – Pollice verso (1872 painting). Photo: Gallery, Pic, Public Domain, Wikimedia

“The gladiator of the andabata type was dressed in chain mail and a helmet through which he could not see anything, since he did not even have eye holes. He walked blindly into the arena and listened to the sounds of the crowd and the cues from the stands.” - says Dr. Garrett Ryan, a popularizer of antiquity whose lectures are watched by up to several hundred thousand people each time.

TVP WEEKLY: Can we say that the end of the Roman Empire came when they started wearing pants?

: That’s an interesting question. In a way, the adoption of the attributes of the barbarians really did mark the end of Rome. For a thousand years, no self-respecting citizen wore pants. They were the clothing of the barbarians, either those from the north or the Persians, Parthians, and peoples who traveled on horseback. Pants are much more comfortable than robes when riding, and much more practical in the cold north of Europe. However, legionaries stationed at the Limes (Latin: imperial border - editor's note) found that the clothing of the barbarians was warmer than the tunic or toga. Later, the soldiers themselves were also descended from barbarian peoples, so pants were the first choice for them. In time they became part of the uniform and were called "braccae" From then on it was only a step to popularize this garment in the city, and that meant adopting the fashion of the barbarians. Later, when the barbarians themselves became emperors, wearing pants became fashionable, or at least acceptable, even in Rome itself. Before that, however, wearing pants was a legally forbidden garment, and decrees against pants were issued during the rule of the Empire. Later, at the end of the empire, it became a symbol of the new Roman clothing.

In early ancient art, people were often depicted naked. Why do the Greek statues look like this?

The Greeks revered sports and the athletic body, and Greek athletes – runners, boxers, wrestlers - were known to train naked. They also competed nude. So artists initially created a realistic representation of these naked athletes. Even as art became more sublime, it was still important to create bodies with beautiful proportions – an athlete’s body, the ideal male physique. The Romans adopted this, so even aging emperors could be depicted half-naked with a beautifully built body.

The color of these sculptures confuses us a bit. After all, they were not created from white marble...

Greek statues that we identify with this material were indeed rarely in such colors. Attempts were made to use pigmentation similar to skin color, and sometimes they were painted in gaudy colors or with gilding. Unfortunately, today's statues are weathered, eaten away by the ravages of time or by the hand of earlier custodians. So we have a rather "sanitized" idea of Greek art.

Read the remainder here.