Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-z9m8x Total loading time: 0.351 Render date: 2022-09-30T05:37:32.976Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2012

K. M. Coleman
University of Cape Town


Tertullian, illustrating the sacrilegious nature of pagan religion, records that in an auditorium he saw a person being burned to death in the role of Hercules and another being castrated as Attis; both of these examples he adduces to substantiate his assertion to his pagan audience that ‘criminals often adopt the roles of your deities’ (‘et ipsos deos vestros saepe noxii induunt’). The practice that Tertullian here deplores is the subject of this paper: the punishment of criminals in a formal public display involving role-play set in a dramatic context; the punishment is usually capital.

Research Article
Copyright © K. M. Coleman 1990. Exclusive Licence to Publish: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Tert., Apol. 15. 4 (quoted in full in Part in below); a doublet of this passage occurs at Nat. 1. 10. 47.

2 ‘Welch perverses Spiel mit der Würde des Todes und mit dem Sinn der Todesstrafe!’ (Th. Bin, cit. Kiefer, O., Kulturgeschichte Roms (1933), 98Google Scholar)

3 ‘Eigentlich theatralische, besonders pantomimische Vorstellungen’ (Friedländer, L., Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms (1920), 91)Google Scholar; ‘skits [staging] famous scenes from mythology’ (Newmyer, S., ‘The triumph of art over nature: Martial and Statius on Flavian aesthetics’, Helios 11 (1984), 17, at 4)Google Scholar.

4 ‘Sometimes, as a variation, elaborate sets and quasi-theatrical performances were prepared, in which as a climax a criminal was devoured limb by limb’ (Hopkins, 11); ‘dressing-up of criminals who were to be executed, and the setting of them into some drama so as to present their death as part of an entertainment’ (MacMullen, 150).

5 The most detailed account is given by Friedländer, op. cit. (n. 3), 91–2.

6 Contrasted by Millar (1984), 145, with the intense debate about penal reform in eighteenth-century France.

7 Summarized by Ignatieff, 154

8 See Rusche, G. and Kirchheimer, O., Punishment and Social Structure (1939)Google Scholar; Melossi, D. and Pavarini, M., The Prison and the Factory: Origins of the Penitentiary System (1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Most influentially Foucault, M. (trans. Sheridan, A.), Discipline and Punish (1977) = Surveiller et Punir (1975)Google Scholar.

10 Ignatieff, 166–8, 173–4.

11 Harding-Ireland, 198.

12 The alternative approach to settling dispute is that of awarding compensation, which may co-exist with afflictive punishment: see Harding-Ireland, 128–34. For traces of this combination in the Roman poena dupli see Kelly, J. M., Roman Litigation (1966), 154–5Google Scholar.

13 Sen., Clem. 1. 20. 1.

14 RE ivA. 2069–77 s.v. Talio (Herdlitczka); Kelly, loc. cit. (n. 12).

15 By a sophisticated application of this principle, places of exile may sometimes fit the crime: see Nisbet, R. G. M., JRS 72 (1982), 51 n. 22Google Scholar.

16 Dig. 48. 19. 28. 12 (Callistr.).

17 Suet., Galba 9. 1.

18 For other examples where the criminal is punished at the site of his crime see MacMullen, 151 n. 12.

19 See Holford-Strevens, L., Aulus Gellius (1988), 70–1Google Scholar.

20 Millar (1984), 147.

21 Perhaps prompted (moral considerations apart) by generally higher standards of health and physical comfort, and by increasingly institutionalized care for the injured and dying, which protects the average person from acquaintance with suffering and death: Harding-Ireland, 149, 191–3.

22 Garnsey (1968a), 9, quoting Dig. 22. 5. 3 Praef.,describes dignitas, existimatio, and auctoritas as the three ‘upper-class’ virtues.

23 See D-S iii. 482–5 s.v. Infamia (G. Humbert/Ch. Lecrivain); RE ix. 1537—40 s.v. Infamia (Pfaff).

24 See Jones, C. P., ‘Stigma: tattooing and branding in Graeco-Roman antiquity’, JRS 77 (1987), 139–55Google Scholar; Harding-Ireland, 193.

25 Harding-Ireland distinguish between the general sanction of stigma (104) and the application of specifically degrading penalties (198–200).

26 Ignatieff, 156.

27 στέφανον ὲξ ἀκανθῶν: Matt. 27. 29, John 19. 2; ἀκᾴνθινον στέφανον: Mark 15. 17.

28 χλαμύδα κοκκίνην: Matt. 27. 28; πορφύραν: Mark 15. 17; ἱμάτιον πορφυροῦν: John 19. 2.

29 κάλαμον: Matt. 27. 29.

30 The soldiery would consist largely of locally recruited gentiles, who would be familiar with the messianic aspects of Judaism: R. Delbrueck, ‘Antiquarisches zu der Verspottungen Jesu’, ZNW 41 (1942), 124–45 (at 126–7).

31 Sentence before mockery: Matt. 27. 26, Mark 15. 15; sentence after mockery: John 19. 16.

32 First at Clem. Alex., Paedag. 2. 73–5.

33 See H. St. J. Hart, ‘The crown of thorns in John 19, 2–5’, JTS n.s. 3 (1952), 66–75 (suggesting, for the ‘thorns’, the modified leaflets that grow on the base of the axis of date-palm fronds); C. Bonner, ‘The crown of thorns’, HTR 46 (1953), 47–8.

34 Delbrueck, op. cit. (n. 30).

35 Hart, op. cit. (n. 33), 74.

36 e.g. Gorg. 525b, although at Leg. 862e he allows that capital punishment can serve the purpose of removing incurably wicked people from society.

37 Ignatieff, 160.

38 Sen., Clem. i. 22. i ‘transeamus ad alienas iniurias, in quibus vindicandis haec tria lex secuta est, quae princeps quoque sequi debet: aut ut eum, quem punit, emendet, aut ut poena eius ceteros meliores reddat, aut ut sublatis malis securiores ceteri vivant.’ Under the last category Seneca is presumably thinking of capital punishment; on the absence of custodial penalties see n. 42.

39 The jurists commonly limit the culpability of persons who have caused damage fortuito: cf. Callistr., Dig. 47. 2i. 2 (removing boundary-stones), Marcian., Dig. 47. 9. 11 (starting a fire), 48. 4. 5. 1 (throwing a stone that hits the statue of an emperor).

40 cf. Sen., Clem. 1. 22. 1 (cit. n. 38).

41 Harding-Ireland, 198.

42 Millar (1984), 1307ndash;2, 143–4.

43 The further deterrence of a proven wrong-doer is closely related to the notion of correction: see Harding-Ireland, 119

44 Euseb., HE 8. 10 (= Musurillo 26B. 5)

45 cf. Sen., Clem. 1. 22. 1 (cit. n. 38).

46 Hopkins, 6.

47 As recognized by Tertullian, making a rhetorical point out of attributing the origins of munera to funeral games (Spect. 12): ‘licet transient hoc genus editionis ab honoribus mortuorum ad honores viventium, quaesturas dico et magistratus et flaminia et sacerdotia’

48 Cic, Fam. 2. 11. 2; 8. 6. 5; 8. 8. 10; 8. 9. 3; cf. Att. 6. 1. 21.

49 Plin., Epist. 6. 34.

50 6. 34. 1: ‘uxorem … habuisti, cuius memoriae aut opus aliquod aut spectaculum atque hoc potissimum, quod maxime funeri, debebatur'; see Ville, GO, 354.

51 Sherwin-White ad loc. suggests that Pliny's friend may be the tight-fisted Maximus of Epist. 8. 4; but this phrase is a standard compliment, expressed by Pliny about Trajan also (Pan. 33. 2): ‘quam deinde in edendo liberalitatem … exhibuit’.

52 6. 34. 3: ‘tu tamen meruisti ut acceptum tibi fieret, quod quo minus exhiberes, non per te stetit’. Sherwin-White ad loc. suggests that the audience may have thought that Maximus was economizing.

53 cf. CIL viii. 5276 (Hippo Regius): ‘… ob magnificentiam | gladiatorii muneris | quod civibus suis tri| duo edidit quo omnes | priorum memorias | supergressus est.’

54 For the expansion crudel(es) see Ville, GO, 419 n. 141; the unjustifiably sadistic crudel(iter) is asserted without textual comment by Hopkins, 26.

55 The amphitheatre mosaics from Zliten and El Djem are discussed in 11 (c) below.

56 See Beschaouch, A., ‘La mosaïque de chasse à l'amphithéâtre découverte à Smirat en Tunisie’, CRAI (1966), 1347–57, Dunbabin, 67–9Google Scholar.

57 Beschaouch, op. cit. (n. 56), 147.

58 ‘per curionem | dictum “domi|ni mei ut | Telegeni(i)| pro leopardo| meritum ha|beant vestri| favoris dona|te eis denarios | quingentos”’.

59 See Beschaouch, op. cit. (n. 56), 150; Dunbabin, 79 and n. 59.

60 ‘adclamatum est | “exemplo tuo mu|nus sic discant I futuri audiant | praeteriti unde | tale quando tale | exemplo quaestojrum tnunus edes | de re tua mu|nus edes I (i)sta dies” | Magerius do|nat “hoc est habe|re hoc est posse | hoc est ia(m) nox est | ia(m) munere tuo | saccis missos”’ discussed fully by Beschaouch, op. cit. (n. 56), 139 ff.

61 By Dunbabin, 68.

62 On this type of self-advertisement see Ville, GO, 468.

63 Augustan legislation made it impossible for anyone to rival the emperor in sponsoring munera beyond the official quota beholden upon the regular magistrates: see Ville, GO, 121–3.

64 Carettoni, G., ‘Le gallerie ipogee del Foro Romano e i ludi gladiatori forensi’, Bull. Comm. 76 (1956–8), 2344Google Scholar.

65 Etienne, R., ‘La naissance de l'amphithéâtre: le mot et la chose’, REL 43 (1965), 213–20Google Scholar.

66 There were two basic designs: either the amphitheatre had a hypogeum underneath, from which the animals could be let into the arena (via galleries, lifts, and trapdoors, in the case of the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum): see Cozzo, G. IIColosseo (1971), 6071Google Scholar), or else cages were constructed at ground level adjacent to the amphitheatre, with vertically sliding doors for controlling the animals’ entry into the arena (as, for example, at the military amphitheatre at Carnuntum on the Danube downstream from Vienna: see Jobst, W., Provinzhauptstadt Carnuntum (1983), 103 and pi. 100)Google Scholar.

67 Nero's safety nets were knotted with amber (Plin., NH 37. 45); Calpurnius describes rotuli, cylinders with an ivory veneer upon which the animals’ claws would not get a purchase, and gold filigree netting stretched between elephants’ tusks (Eel. 7. 507ndash;5). Rectangular niches in the wall of the podium in the Flavian Amphitheatre may have been vantage points for pairs of archers, to protect the space between the podium and the net: see Cozzo, loc. cit. (n. 66).

68 In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar built a θέατρον κυνηγετικόν or ἀμϕιθέατρον (Dio 43. 22.3); in 29 B.C. L. Statilius Taurus built Rome's first stone amphitheatre (Suet., Aug. 29. 5), which burnt down in A.D. 64 (Dio 62. 18. 2).

69 For the date see Tac, Ann. 13. 31. 1. I accept Calpurnius Siculus’ Neronian dating, upheld by Townend, G., JRS 70 (1980), 166–74Google Scholar; Mayer, R., JRS 70 (1980), 175–6Google Scholar;Wiseman, T. P., JRS 72 (1982), 5767Google Scholar; a late date, perhaps under Alexander Severus, is advocated by Champlin, E., JRS 68 (1978), 95110Google Scholar and Philol. 130 (1986), 104–12, with D. Armstrong, Philol. 130 (1986), 113–36 (and a joint summing-up at p. 137).

70 Calp. Sic, Eel. 7. 69–72: ‘a! trepidi quotiens sola (Haupt: sol N) discedentis harenae | vidimus in partes, ruptaque voragine terrae | emersisse feras; et in isdem saepe cavernis | aurea cum subito creverunt arbuta nimbo’. The conceit whereby the wood is said to ‘grow’ from below while ‘rain’ falls from above depends upon the practice of sprinkling the audience in theatres and amphitheatres with perfume: cf. Sen., NQ 2. 9. 2 ‘sparsio … ex fundamentis mediae harenae crescens in summam usque amphitheatri altitudinem pervenit’.

71 Apul., Met. 10. 30. 1–34. 1. For this story as a pantomime theme cf. Augustine, Ciu. 18. 10. 16–21.

72 The occasion is described as ‘dies muneri destinatus’ (Apul., Met. 10. 29. 3). The programme began with a pyrricha (see above) and pantomime. The death of a woman condemned to the beasts was scheduled, and a venatio. Apuleius seems to imagine a hybrid venue: the aulaeus and siparius argue for a theatre, the munus, venatio, and hypogeum for an amphitheatre.

73 Apul., Met. 10. 34. 2, ‘iamque tota suave fraglante cavea montem ilium ligneum terrae vorago recepit.’

74 See Kokolakis, M., Gladiatorial Games and Animal-baiting in Lucian (1959), 16Google Scholar.

75 By Humphrey, J. H., Roman Circuses. Arenas for Chariot Racing (1986), 186Google Scholar.

76 Dio 76. 1. 4.

77 See Humphrey, op. cit. (n. 75), 115–16 (with plates).

78 Formerly known as the spina; but prior to the sixth century (and at least from the second) this central barrier was named after the water basins that usually decorated it: see Humphrey, op. cit. (n. 75), 175ndash;6.

79 Humphrey, op. cit. (n. 75), 115–16.

80 Text and translation come from the Groningen commentary. See further R. E. H. Westendorp Boerma and B. L. Hijmans (Jr), ‘Apuleiana Groningana III’, Mnem. 2 27 (1974), 406–12 (at 409–12).

81 Generally recognized, though played down by Pais, E., Straboniana. Contribute allo studio delle fonti della storia e dell'amministrazione romana (1886, repr. 1977), 122Google Scholar

82 Strabo 12. 568: see RE ivA. 82. 13–16 (E. Honig-mann).

83 See n. 68 above.

84 By Pais, op. cit. (n. 81), 131; presumably this is the source for the date of 35 B.C. stated without discussion by E. Honigmann, RE ivA. 82. 20–2.

85 App., BC 5. 131; Oros., Adu. Pag. 6. 18. 19–20,32–3.

86 App., BC 5. 132.

87 App., BCs. 131: ὃσους δ'οὐκ ἧν ὃ ληψόμενος, ἔκτεινε παρὰ ταῖς πόλεσιν αὐταῖς, ὧν ἀπέδρασεν.

88 See n. 84 above,

89 See Hengel, M., Crucifixion (1977), 5163Google Scholar.

90 Diod. Sic. 34/35. 2; 36. 2a–11.

91 Etna's ceaseless and varied emissions are described by Strabo, 6. 273–4. Perhaps the πἦγμα was of the flame-shooting variety that was later used to disastrous effect by Carinus (SHA Car. 19. 2 ‘pegma … cuius flammis scaena conflagravit’).

92 His exercise of power constituted his crime; hence a form of talio is in operation.

93 Tac, Ann. 1. 76. 3: ‘edendis gladiatoribus, quos Germanici fratris ac suo nomine obtulerat, Drusus praesedit, quamquam vili sanguine nimis gaudens’.

94 cf. Cic, Tusc. 2. 41: ‘gladiatores, aut perditi homines aut barbari, quas plagas perferunt!’.

95 By M. Clavel-Lévêque, ‘L'espace des jeux dans le monde romain: hégémonie, symbolique et pratique sociale’, ANRW 11 16. 3 (1986), 2405–563 (at 2470).

96 An identification with the Garamantes, defeated by the Romans in a campaign in A.D. 70, has been adduced as evidence for a Flavian date for this mosaic by Aurigemma, S., I mosaici di Zliten (1926), 269–78Google Scholar. But Dunbabin, 235, objects that we cannot know of all the occasions on which barbarians were taken captive. G. Ville advocates a late-first-or early-second-century date on the basis of the style of the gladiators’ equipment: ‘Essai de la datation de la mosaïque de Zliten’, in La Mosaïque gréco-romaine. Collogues internationaux du centre national de la recherche scientifique (1965), 147–55Google Scholar. Dunbabin (237) accepts this date, adducing further stylistic grounds, and ascribes the mosaic to immigrant craftsmen from the E. Mediterranean working in the hellenistic tradition.

97 Dunbabin, 66.

98 Various locutions are employed by the jurists, e.g. Dig. 48. 8. 1. 5 ‘humiliore loco positum … in aliqua dignitate positum’ 48. 8. 3. 5 ‘humiliores … altiores’; the honestiores I humiliores formula is confined to the Sententiae Pauli: see Garnsey (1968a), 4. For the general phenomenon of differentiated penalties see Crook, J. A., Law and Life of Rome (1967), 272–5Google Scholar, and Garnsey's summary of the issue at SSLP, 103–4.

99 See Harding-Ireland, 166, 182 (Inca civilization).

100 See Moore, Barrington Jr, Injustice. The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt (1978), 29Google Scholar.

101 Garnsey (1968b), 147.

102 Garnsey (1968b), 148; Brunt, P. A., ‘Evidence given under torture in the Principate’, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftungfür Rechtsgeschichte 97 (1980), 256–65Google Scholar (at 262).

103 Garnsey (1968b), 145; SSLP, 111.

104 Mommsen, Th., Römisches Strafrecht (1889), 927 n. 2Google Scholar; Garnsey, SSLP, 104, 124 n. 2.

105 Garnsey (1968a), 20 n. 72, observes that decapitation was both the least unpleasant and the least degrading form of the death penalty. Millar (1984), 134, makes a further distinction, contrasting crematio and damnatio ad bestias with the less spectacular means of execution (i.e. crucifixion and decapitation).

106 See Sabbatini, P., Tumolesi, Gladiatorum Paria. Annunci di spettacoli gladiatorii a Pompei (1980), 145Google Scholar; Ville, GO, 236 n. 21, 379. The scenes on the Zliten mosaic have been explained as a cycle occupying two mornings and two afternoons: see Ville, GO, 393 n. 105; further, since it also shows damnati being exposed to ferocious animals, the narrative for each day may proceed from morning (venationes), through midday (damnationes), to afternoon (munera).

107 The bestiarii here must be the people responsible for goading the animals to attack their victims, as illustrated on the Zliten mosaic (see above).

108 Crook, op. cit. (n. 98), 272–3, Garnsey, SSLP, 104.

109 Pyrricha (πυρρίχη) was originally an armed dance: see Downes, W. E., ‘The offensive weapon in the pyrrhic’, CR 18 (1904), 101–6Google Scholar, and REivA. 2240–1 s.v. Tanzkunst (Warnecke). By our period it seems to have acquired a wide range of meanings. Here perhaps gladiatorial combat (in pairs or gregatim) or service as bestiarii is meant: see Tumolesi, P. Sabbatini, ‘Pyrricharii’, PP 25 (1970), 328–38 (at 336)Google Scholar.

110 See the monumental study by Graefe, R., Vela Erunt. Die Zeltdächer der römischen Theater und ähnlicher Anlagen 2 vols. (1979)Google Scholar; also Goldman, N., ‘Reconstructing the Roman Colosseum awning’, Archaeology 35.2 (1982), 5765Google Scholar (with bibliography).

111 Sabbatini Tumolesi, loc. cit. (n. 109); her restoration is commended by Solin, H., Gnomon 45 (1973), 265 n. 1Google Scholar.

112 Both the editor in CIL (F. Weber) and the original editor of this inscription (M. della Corte, NSc 1958, 146–7) print ‘cruciani (pro cruciarii)’, mistakenly transcribing as N a cursive R with I: see Solin, op. cit. (n. m ), 261.

113 Solin, op. cit. (n. 111), 266.

114 cf. Isid., Etym. 5. 27. 34 (Lindsay): ‘patibuli minor poena quam crucis. nam patibulum adpoenos statim exanimat, crux autem subfixos diu cruciat’ Hengel, op. cit. (n. 89), 29.

115 M. Lyons ( = Musurillo 5) 1. 41.

116 M. Pion. ( = Musurillo 10) 21.

117 Garnsey, SSLP, 127.

118 Garnsey, SSLP, 280.

119 ‘Properly and normally employed against slaves and perhaps humble aliens’ (Garnsey, SSLP, 127).

120 Garnsey (1968b), 157.

121 See Millar, F., The Emperor in the Roman World (1977), 194–5, and (1984). 134Google Scholar.

122 This occurrence of artificium is classified under the rubric studium vel officium at TLL ii. 704. 62–3, along with Dig. 10. 4. 11. 1 (Ulpian): ‘si forte ipse servus ex operis vel artificio suo solebat se exhibere’. But Ulpian is talking about a slave's means of livelihood, whereas Modestinus cannot mean that professional beast-handlers turn criminal often enough to merit special treatment under the law (although admittedly he might be referring to people in very muscular occupations in general).

123 Dig. 48. 19. 29 (Gaius).

124 Euseb., Mart. Pal. 3. 3–4.

125 M. Polyc. ( = Musurillo 1) 12.

126 Nor was ownership of these objects confined to the elite, some (e.g. terracotta lamps) being among the most popular consumer items: see Clavel-Lévêque, M., L'Empire en jeux (1984), 71–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

127 Ritualized public displays of this type can be seen to be endorsing social inequality as a desirable and proper state of affairs: see Barrington Moore, op. cit. (n. 100), 41.

128 ville, GO, 92, shows how later authors capitalized upon this incident: in the elder Pliny it is embroidered with a description of Pompey's elephants kneeling before the audience in supplication (NH 8. 21); Dio dwells on the duplicity of the Roman nation, alleging that the elephants’ original captors swore that they would come to no harm (39. 38. 2–5).

129 e.g. Passio Perpet. et Felic. 20. 2; M. Fruct. (= Musurillo 12) 3. 1.

130 Perhaps because impulses of this sort have to be suppressed in normal social intercourse: see Clavel-Lévêque, op. cit. (n. 95), 2468.

131 Hopkins, 20–7; he conjectures (26) that spectators 136 Apparently some form of catasta (scaffold): see gambled on the results of fights and chariot races.

132 Barrington Moore, op. cit. (n. 100), 473.

133 e.g. by tying man and beast together, as depicted on the Zliten mosaic.

134 See D-Si. 1574 fig. 2083; Colin, J., Les Villes libres de l'Orient gréco-romain et l'envoi au supplice par acclamations populaires, Collection Latomus LXXXII (1965), pl. VGoogle Scholar.

135 Apparently some form of catasta (scaffold): see D-S i. 1574 s.v. Crux II (E. Saglio).

136 Evidently another variation on the catasta: see previous note.

137 cf. CIL v. 4500 = ILS 2725 (from a nymphaeum at Brescia) ‘bene laua! salvu(m)!’

138 Passio Perpet. et Felic. 21.6: ‘solito loco’.

139 For the independent volition ascribed to the faculty of sight cf. Plato, Rep. 440a (cit. above).

140 The occasion(s) to which Tertullian refers cannot be dated, but Ad Nationes and the Apologeticum were probably early works, c. A.D. 197: see Barnes, T. D., Tertullian (1971; corr. repr. 1985), 55. Barnes (1–2) judges Tertullian's dates to have been c. 155–230/240. As a young man he spent time in Rome; but since both our passages were written on his return to Carthage, in cavea would most naturally refer to an auditorium (presumably an amphitheatre) in Carthage itselfGoogle Scholar.

141 The rhetorical sequence vidimus … risimus … vidimus is surely meant to emphasize autopsy. Hence this passage cannot be reduced to the status of a literary echo of Anth. Pal. 11. 184 (discussed below), as suggested by L. Robert, ‘Dans l'amphithéâtre et dans les jardins de Néron. Une épigramme de Lucillius’, CRAI 1968, 280–8 (at 283).

142 See RE Suppl. xiv. 137–96 s.v. Herakles (Friedrich Prinz) (at 192–3).

143 A poetic euphemism perhaps borrowed from popular speech: Mart. 4. 86. 8; 10. 25. 5; Juv. 8. 235.

144 cf. Plato, Gorg. 473c τὸ ἔσχατον ἀνασταυρωθῇ; ἢκαταπιπτωθῇ;; Sen., Epist. 14.5 ‘illam tunicam alimen tis ignium et inlitam et textam’; Tert., Mart. 5. 1 ‘iam et ad ignes quidam se auctoraverunt, ut certum spatium in tunica ardente conficerent’; L. R. Farnell, ‘Evidence of Greek religion on the text and interpretation of Attic tragedy’, CQ 4 (1910), 178–90 (at 185, on Aesch., Choeph. 267–8), and see further Capocci, V., ‘Christiana I. Per il testo di Tacito, Annales 15, 44. 4 (sulle pene inflitte ai christiani nel 64 d. Cr.)’, Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris 28 (1962), 6599Google Scholar (at 72–4 n. 14).

145 For the common methods of burning people alive see RE iv. 2. 1700–2 s.v. Crematio (Hitzig); ixA. 497–8 s.v. Vivicomburium (T. Mayer-Maly).

146 TLL vii. 1. 1262. 47–1263. 32.

147 cf. Cic, Tusc. 5. 73 (Epicurus) ‘induit personam philosophi’; Tert., Resurr. 6. 5 ‘limus ille iam tune imaginem induens Christi futuri in came’; TLL vii. 1. 1263. 38–71.

148 For the brachylogy whereby induo with a personal object stands for the assumption of the role or appearance of that object cf. Tac, Ann. 16. 28. 2 ‘nisi … proditorem palam et hostem Thrasea induisset’; TLL vii. 1. 1263. 71–83.

149 See Robert, op. cit. (n. 141); Weinreich, 44, has suggested the Horti Sallustiani.

150 Robert, op. cit. (n. 141), 283, thinks that ‘Meniscus’ really did steal apples. I wonder whether the theft of ‘apples’, corresponding to the imagery of the Hesperides, does not merely represent the act of trespassing.

151 Crimen laesae maiestatis is Weinreich's interpretation (44). On capital punishment for all statuses of defendant found guilty of maiestas see Garnsey, SSLP, 105.

152 A rival explanation of this epigram, which does not affect its interpretation as a ‘staged’ execution, identifies the crime as a theft of statuary and the site of the crematio as a circus or theatre: see Margherita Guarducci, ‘I pomi delle Esperidi in un epigramma di Lucillio’, Rend. Accad. Naz. Linc. 24 (1969), 3–8.

153 See Brunt, op. cit. (n. 102); Crook, op. cit. (n. 98), 274; Garnsey, SSLP, 141–7.

154 See RAC i. 889–99 s.v. Attis (H. Strathmann) (at 893–4).

155 Harding-Ireland, 156.

156 Sen., Dial. 6. 20. 3: ‘per obscena stipitem egerunt’.

157 cf. Mart. 8. 30. 1 ‘Caesareae lusus … harenae’, 10. 25. 1 ‘in matutina … harena’.

158 See Carratello, U. (Ed.), M. Valerii Martialis Epigrammaton Liber (1981), 1120Google Scholar.

159 See conveniently Reeve, M. D. in Reynolds, L. D. (Ed.), Texts and Transmissions (1983), 239–44Google Scholar.

160 Carratello, loc. cit. (n. 158), esp. 20 n. 33.

161 Advocates of the ‘Herrscherkritik’ theory hero worship the likes of Martial and Statius as courageous exponents of the subversive double entendre: see F. M. Ahl, ‘The rider and the horse. Politics and power in Roman poetry from Horace to Statius’, ANRW II 32.1 (1984), 40–110 (with an appendix by J. Garthwaite, ‘Statius Silvae 3. 4: on the fate of Earinus’, 111–24); Benker, M., Achill und Domitian. Herrscherkritik in der ‘Achilleis’ des Statius (diss. Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1987)Google Scholar; Garthwaite, J., Domitian and the court poets Martial and Statius (diss. Cornell, 1978)Google Scholar.

162 Lib. Sped. 21B cannot provide substantial evidence for mythological enactments in the arena, whatever its relationship to Lib. Sped. 21: see Weinreich, 40–5; U. Carratello, ‘Orfeo e l'orsa. Note a Marriale spect. 21–21b’, GIF 18 (1965), 131–44 (at 138).

163 ‘Two epigrams of Martial’, CR 15 (1901), 154–5 = Cl. Pap. ii. 536–7. Cf. Weinreich, 40–5. K. Prinz, ‘Zu Martial Spect. xxi 8’, WS 32 (1910), 323–4, notes a similar contrast in Anth. Pal. 11. 254 (Lucillius), describing a pantomime in which the story of Canace is enacted καθ᾽ ἱστρίην (line 1), except that the heroine fails to commit suicide (τοῦτο παρ᾽ ἰστορίην, line 6). Weinreich (42) points out that the non-fatal denouement distinguishes this Canace performance from the fatal charades in the arena. See also Carratello, op. cit. (n. 162), 135–8. To reject Housman's emendation on the grounds that a Greek expression is too colloquial for ‘court’ poetry to Titus (so della Corte, F. (Ed.), ‘Gli spettacoli’ di Marziale (1986), ad loc.Google Scholar) is to deny Martial the licence to demonstrate his debt to his Greek predecessors.

164 For a reconstruction of how the elevators in the Flavian Amphitheatre worked see Cozzo, op. cit. (n. 66), 66–70. These trapdoors are no longer extant in the Flavian Amphitheatre, but elsewhere square hatches with lids can still be seen, e.g. in the larger amphitheatre at Pozzuoli: see Hönle, A. and Henze, A., Römische Amphitheater und Stadien (1981), 138 and pl. 118Google Scholar.

165 cf. the elephant kneeling in front of Titus (Lib. Sped. 17).

166 cf. Passio Perpet. et Felic. 20. 2 ‘itaque dispoliatae et reticulis indutae producebantur’, M. Lyons 1. 56 (Blandina) τοὔσχατον βληθεῖσα ταύρῳ παρεβλήθη.

167 The conclusion of Carratello, op. cit. (n. 162), 131.

168 Moeller, W. O., ‘Juvenal 3 and Martial De Spectaculis 8’, CJ 62 (1967), 369–70Google Scholar.

169 Ehrmann, R. K., ‘Martial, De Spectaculis 8: gladiator or criminal?’, Mnem. 4 40 (1987), 422–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

170 For stage equipment see D-S iii. 1478 s.v. Machina (O. Navarre); RE xix. 1. 66–7 s.v. Πἦγμα (Fensterbusch).

171 See Weinreich, 33–4, and Carratello, op. cit. (n. 162), 131.

172 Storr, A., Sexual Deviation (1964), 98Google Scholar.

173 A veteran of the North African campaigns in the Second World War remembers friends reporting that they had seen displays in the back streets of Cairo in which women strapped to platforms of the right height were penetrated by various animals (including camels). Reports of such cabarets also emanate from Mexico, as well as the Middle East.

174 Apul., Met. 10. 22 ‘operosa et pervigili nocte transacts’.

175 Despite Plutarch's evidence that bulls, as well as horses, performed routines ἐν θεάτροις (Mor. 992b = Brut. Anim. Rat. 9), trotting this way and that around the arena can hardly be compared to performing a union with ‘Pasiphae’.

176 Capocci, op. cit. (n. 144), 72. It has been suggested that the myth of Actaeon being torn apart by his hounds would have suited the type of damnatio ad bestias that Tacitus ascribes to the Christians: see Klauser, Th., Die römische Petrustradition im Lichte der neuen Ausgrabungen unter der Petruskirche (1956), 12CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

177 The woman may even have been tied onto the bull. The key word is iunctam (1), common diction for sexual intercourse (TLL vii. 2. 658. 60–659. 54); in contexts where people are literally joined together (e.g. by chains) an ablative of instrument is normally specified (TLL vii. 2. 657. 15–67), but the double entendre would demand its omission here.

178 ‘The world of the Golden Ass, JRS 71 (1981), 6375Google Scholar.

179 See Reich, H., Der Mimus (1903)Google Scholar, 88 and 564; RE xv. 1727–64 s.v. Mimos (E. Wüst) (at 1751. 46–62); Nicoll, A., Masks Mimes and Miracles (1931), 110–11Google Scholar.

180 Jos., AJ 19. 94; Suet., Gaius 56. 2; the mime is ascribed to one Catullus (Juv. 8. 185–8; Tert., Adu. Val. 14. 4). Although Catullus is usually assumed to have been a contemporary of Gaius (see, e.g., Bardon, H., La Littérature latine inconnue, Vol. 11, L'Époque imperiale (1956), 128–9)Google Scholar, he may, however, have been a Republican figure (see Watt, W. S., ‘Fabam mimum’, Hermes 83 (1955), 496500Google Scholar, at 498), although probably not the famous poet (pace Wiseman, T. P., Catullus and his World. A Reappraisal (1985), 192–3Google Scholar).

181 See Weinreich, 38–9.

182 In some forms of crucifixion the victim was seated on a small wooden peg: cf. Sen., Epist. 101. 11 (from a poem by Maecenas) ‘vita dum superest, benest;| hanc mihi, vel acuta | si sedeam cruce, sustine’, and see Fulda, H., Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung. Eine antiquarische Untersuchung (1878), 149–50Google Scholar; Hengel, op. cit. (n. 89), 25. In a theatrical context the actor's comfort was perhaps ensured by replacing this peg with a more substantial support (or maybe a footrest). We know that Christ's crucifixion was the subject of a mime played before the emperor Maximian by one Ardalion, for whom the performance had a fatal sequel: when he shouted out that he was himself a Christian, he was first warned by Maximian and then, recalcitrant, was burned to death (Migne, PG 117. 407): see Reich, op. cit. (n. 179), 84 n. 1; RE xv. 1756 s.v. Mimos (E. Wüst). It is noteworthy that Ardalion was not himself punished by crucifixion, as might have seemed appropriate; but this was presumably because the authorities did not want to allow him the honour of suffering the same death as his Master.

183 For the conjectures printed here see: Haupt, M., ‘Analecta’, Hermes 3 (1869), 140—55Google Scholar (at 145—6); Dain, A., ‘Notes sur le texte grec de l'Épître de Saint Clement de Rome’, Recherches de Science religieuse 39 (1951–2), 353–61Google Scholar.

184 The plural form Δίρκαι in the text, suspected by Dain (see previous note), may be genuine, alluding to several martyrs who died in this guise; but after the plural form Δαναἳδες contamination may have occurred, attracting Δίρκη into the plural.

185 See Roscher i. 309 s.v. Amphion (Stoll). Comparable to Dirce's fate may be the vexed passage at Mart., Lib. Sped. 16B. 1–2: ‘vexerat Europen fraterna per aequora taurus: | at nunc Alciden taurus in astra tulit’. Carratello interprets this as a criminal being tossed on the horns of a bull (op. cit. (n. 162), 135); but Weinreich envisages an enactment of the apotheosis of Hercules whereby a man rides on a bull that is being winched into the air (51–61).

186 See Roscher i. 949–52 s.v. Danaiden (Bernhard).

187 e.g. it has been suggested that, according to the version whereby the widowed Danaids (except Hypermestra and probably Amymone) were offered as prizes in a race (Pind., Pyth. 9. 111–18; Paus. 3. 12. 2), the martyrdoms took place in the circus in the Vatican valley, the victims being submitted to unmentionable outrages (‘oltraggi inenarrabili’) and finally executed: see Guarducci, Margherita, ‘La data del martirio di San Pietro’, PP 23 (1968), 81117 (at 92)Google Scholar. The statues in the porticus of the Augustan temple of Palatine Apollo depicted the Danaids being threatened by Danaus with a drawn sword: cf. Prop. 2. 31. 1–4; Ov., Am. 2. 2. 3–4, Ars 1. 73–4, Tr. 59–62; Schol. Pers. 2. 56 (the fifty sons of Aegyptos depicted as well).

188 The traditional date is A.D. 203: see Musurillo, pp. xxvi–xxvii.

189 Ten., Test. Anim. 2. 7 ‘et vitta Cereris redimita, et pallio Saturni coccinata’; Pall. 4. 10 ‘cum ob cultum omnia candidatum et ob notam vittae et privilegium galeri Cereri initiantur … cum latioris purpurae ambitio et Galatici ruboris superiectio Saturnum commendat’.

190 See RE iiA. 218–23 s.v. Saturnus (Thulin), iii. 1970–9 s.v. Ceres (Wissowa).

191 Apparently a standard procedure, since Varro's game-keeper (not in fancy-dress) blew a horn to summon boars and deer to be fed (RR. 3. 13. 1).

192 Petr., Sat. 52. 2.

193 See Wrede, H., Consecratio in Formam Deorum. Vergöttlichte Privatpersonen in der romischen Kaiserzeit (1981)Google Scholar.

194 cf. the practice in medieval Italy of displaying pictures of Hell to condemned prisoners en route to their places of execution, to concentrate their attention upon their fate (Harding-Ireland, 154).

195 Sen., Apoc. 9. 3 ‘qui contra hoc senatus consultum deus factus, dictus pictusve erit, eum dedi larvis et proximo munere inter novos auctoratos ferulis vapulare placet’; see Heinze, R., ‘Zu Senecas Apocolocyntosis’, Hermes 61 (1926), 4978 (at 66)Google Scholar.

196 Tert., Apol. 15. 5 (cf. Nat. 1. 10. 47, cit. above) ‘risimus et inter ludicras meridianorum crudelitates Mercurium mortuos cauterio examinantem; vidimus et Iovis fratrem gladiatorum cadavera cum malleo deducentem’. See Ville, GO, 378.

197 See Stanford, W. B., Greek Tragedy and the Emotions (1983), 76–8Google Scholar; de Marco, M., ‘“Opsis” nella poetica di Aristotele e nel “Tractatus Cosilinianus”’, in Finis, L. de (Ed.), Scena e Spettacolo nell'Antichita. Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studio, Trento, 28–30 marzo 1988 (1989), 129–48Google Scholar.

198 See Brink ad loc.

199 See Kokolakis, M., Pantomimus and the Treatise ΠΕΡΙ ΟΡΧΗΣΕΩΣ (1959), 28–9Google Scholar.

200 By this period irupplxi seems to have acquired elements of plot from mythology, so that it comes close to a performance of pantomime: see Kokolakis, op. cit. (n. 199), 23.

201 cf. Dio 60. 7. 2 (under Claudius), and see Kokolakis, op. cit. (n. 199), 28. Pantomime artists were likewise rewarded: see Robert, L., ‘Pantomimen im griechischen Orient’, Hermes 65 (1930), 106–22 (at 119)Google Scholar.

202 The chapter-divisions in modern texts make this chapter begin with a sentence describing Nero's seat in the theatre; but this sentence belongs to the previous chapter, where Suetonius discusses theatrical events under Nero, and it corresponds to the sentence at the end of 12. 2 describing his customary seat in the amphitheatre. Hence all the items in 12. 1–2 should refer to performances staged in an amphitheatre.

203 In connection with an animal, inire would naturally be taken to refer to the act of mating: see TLL vii. 1. 1296. 37–53 (specifically of cattle: 37–40, 49–50).

204 A routine performed by trained animals could be referred to as a pyrricha: cf. Plin., NH 9. 4–5 (elephants, perhaps caparisoned: see Kokolakis, op. cit. (n. 199), 27); Babr. 80. 3–4 (a camel); Lucian, Pise. 36 (apes); hence πυρρίχη is classified by Athen. 629 f. under the rubric γελοῖα.

205 The (e)scapegoat is the sacrificial goat that is required to get away: see OED s.v. scape1 and scapegoat. ‘Scapegoating’ is acknowledged as a sub-category of vicarious punishment by Harding-Ireland (176).

206 ‘Scapegoat rituals in ancient Greece’, HSCPh 87 (1983), 299–320 (at 305).

207 op. cit. (n. 206), 301, 303, 305.

208 Schol. Aristoph., Eg. 1136.

209 Petr. fr. 1, Lact. on Stat., Theb. 10. 793.

210 Text conveniently at Musurillo (no. 21); first interpreted as a scapegoat ritual by Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough (1922), 763–75Google Scholar.

211 Weinstock, S., ‘Saturnalien und Neujahrsfest in den Märtyreracten’, in Stuiber, A. and Hermann, A. (Eds), Mullus. Festschrift Theodor Klauser, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum Ergänzungsband 1 (1964), 391400Google Scholar.

212 Strabo 10. 2. 9; Ampelius 8.

213 Weinstock, op. cit. (n. 211), 399, compares the Saka festival at Babylon in honour of Ishtar, in which for five days slaves and masters exchange places, and a condemned criminal is dressed as a king and fêted before being stripped, beaten, and hanged. Cf. Dio Chrys., Or. 4. 67.

214 Bremmer, op. cit. (n. 206), 315.

215 Yet another version of pyrricha: see nn. 109 and 200 above.

216 See E. Rawson, ‘Discrimina ordinum: the Lex Julia Theatralis’, PBSR 55 (1987), 83–114 (at 87 n. 18).

217 Friedländer's assertion (loc. cit. (n. 3)) that Plutarch is referring to an enactment of the story of Medea seems to be a mere guess.

218 Bremmer, op. cit. (n. 206), 318–20; Weinstock, op. cit. (n. 211), 399.

219 See RE xvi. 1970–4 s.v. Naumachie (Bernert); OLD s.v. naumachia.

220 cf. Dio 43. 23. 4 οἱ τε αἰχμάλωτοι καὶ οἱ θάνατον ὠφληκπτες 60. 33. 3 θανάτῳ … καταδεδικασμένοι; and see Leon, H. J., ‘Morituri te salutamus’, TAPhA 70 (1939), 4650 (at 49)Google Scholar.

221 App., BC 2. 102.

222 Suet., Jul. 39. 4.

223 Accommodation ran out, and people were trampled to death (Suet., Jul. 39. 4).

224 RG 23.

225 Suet., Claud. 21. 6.

226 Tac, Ann. 12. 56. 2.

227 See Leon, op. cit. (n. 220), interpreting Tac, Ann. 12. 56. 3 ‘pugnatum quamquam inter sontes fortium virorum animo, ac post multum vulnerum occidioni exempti sunt’.

228 Suet., Claud. 21. 6 ‘exciente bucina Tritone argenteo, qui e medio lacu per machinam emerserat’.

229 Tac, Ann. 12. 56. 2.

230 See Leon, op. cit. (n. 220), 50. Ville, GO, 407, suggests that, rather than a spontaneous gesture on the part of the men, this salute may have been an ingenious touch added by the organizers.

231 After Domitian's reign the next naumachiae are not attested until the third century: SHA Heliog. 23. 1; Aur. Vict., Caes. 28.

232 Suet., Claud. 21. 6: ‘edidit et in Martio campo expugnationem direptionemque oppidi ad imaginem bellicam et deditionem Britanniae regum praeseditque paludatus’.

233 D-S v. 488–91 s.v. Triumphus (R. Cagnat); RE viiA. 493–511 (at 501 ff.) s.v. Triumphus (W. Ehlers); Versnel, H. S., Triumphus (1970), 95–6Google Scholar; the scenic aspects are properly stressed by Nicolet, C. (trans. Falla, P. S.), The World of the Citizen in Republican Rome (1980), 352–6Google Scholar.

234 Edidit reflects the traditional diction for sponsoring public entertainment: see Tll v. 2. 94. 19–95. 27.

235 RG 23. Cf. the statistics for munera and human participants (RG 22. 1) and for venationes and animal casualties (RG 22. 3).

236 It is significant that Claudius exploits this trend by reacting against it in keeping the annual celebration of his accession deliberately simple, ‘sine venatione apparatuque’ (Suet., Claud. 21. 4).

237 cf. Veyne, P., Le Pain et le cirque (1976), 704–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Millar, op. cit. (n. 121), 364–5; Hopkins, 15; Nicolet, op. cit. (n. 233), 364, shows that this confrontation between rulers and ruled originated in the theatrical shows put on by magistrates in the Republic.

238 Rawson, op. cit. (n. 216).

239 Mart., Lib. Spect. 4; Plin., Pan. 34–5.

240 Garnsey (1968b), 158.

241 As claimed by the Chronographer of A.D. 354 (Chron. Min. p. 146 Mommsen).

242 The most plausible chronology for the contributions made by all three Flavians is still that of A. von Gerkan, MDAI(R) 40 (1925), 11–50 = Boehringer, E. (Ed.), Von antiker Architektur und Topographie Gesammelte Aufsätze von Arnim von Gerkan (1959), 2943Google Scholar.

243 Dedicated March/April 80 (CIL vi. 2059), i.e. after the eruption of Vesuvius (August 79) and resulting plague; the fire occurred in 80, but admittedly perhaps not until summer when Rome was at its most combustible (i.e. during or after Titus’ games). The games are connected with compensation for disaster by Jones, B. W., The Emperor Titus (1984), 144Google Scholar. For the theory that those who suffer compensate for it by watching the suffering of others see Clavel-Lévêque, op. cit. (n. 95), 2467.

244 Dio 66. 25. 4.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *