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The Roman Gladiator

The Venatio: Hunting Animals

Another form of gladiatorial combat involved the "hunting" and slaying of wild animals, call the venatio, or hunt. Exotic wild beasts from the far reaches of the Roman empire were brought to Rome and hunts were held in the morning prior to the afternoon main event of gladiatorial duels. The hunts were held in the Forum, the Saepta, and in the Circus Maximus, though none of these venues offered protection to the crowd from the wild animals on display. Special precautions were taken to prevent the animals from escaping these venues, such as the erection of barriers and the digging of ditches. Very few animals survived these hunts though they did sometimes defeat the bestiarius, or hunters of wild beast. Thousands of wild animals would be slaughtered in one day. For instance, at the games Trajan held when he became emperor, over 9,000 animals were killed.

Not all the animals were ferocious though most were. Animals that appeared in the venatio included lions, elephants, bears, deer, wild goats, dogs, and camels. Some of these animals were trained and instead of fighting performed tricks. Those that did battle with the animals, the bestiarii, were usually criminals and would have to fight the animals without weapons or armor. These were the lowest class of participants in the games.

Following the venatio in the order of daily events were the humiliores, the execution of Roman citizens of lower status. Usual forms of execution included burning at the stake, crucifixion, or ad bestias (when the prisoner is left alone in the ring with one or more wild animals). Ancient writers suggest that during the humiliores, most respectable men and women went for lunch instead of staying to watch.

For a further discussion of the Venatio, see Prof. Roger Dunkle's The Cultural Meaning of the Venatio: Part 1 and Part 2.


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Global Glossary Terms
- venatio
- bestiarius
- lanista
- auctorati
- gladiator
- ludus

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