A Day in the Arena OR How I Die a Dozen Deaths
Faith L. Justice
“How do you think you would do in a battle arena?”
When I got this suggested topic, I thought to myself, “Great! Shortest blog post ever—I die!” Then I thought about it and realized there are a few—very few—situations where I might survive. After all I have my protagonist in Sword of the Gladiatrix survive a beast hunt with broken ribs and sprained ankle (more on that later). First some stipulations:
- “Me” is me in my prime when I could play multiple games of tennis, ride my bike for hours, and did weight training three times a week; not the aging, out-of-shape, couch potato I am now.
- I have training for whatever fighting style I’m engaging in.
- The fight would take place at a regional Roman arena (at Pompeii or Nuceria for example), not one of the imperial extravaganzas where the object is to kill as many people and animals as possible.
A little history: Gladiator shows or munera evolved out of a Roman religious ritual where slaves were forced to fight to the death at a funeral to honor the dead. By the first century they became part of larger multi-day religious celebrations (political theater) usually sponsored by local magistrates and might include plays, music, chariot racing, and other entertainments. By AD 354 gladiator fights declined to just 10 days out of 176 set aside for spectacles of various kinds in Rome.
Who fought in the arena? Gladiators—highly trained, brutal, professional fighters—headlined. They drew the crowds and fought in the afternoons. Most of these men (but not all) were slaves and criminals—the lowest of the low. They couldn’t even be buried with the nice folks and had their own cemeteries. Yet elite fighters were highly prized, fought only a few rounds a year, and if they fought well, and still lost, were usually allowed to live. Some rich dudes spent a lot of money training and supporting these top athletes and didn’t want their investment bleeding out on the sand. Upper class women arranged for private “meetings” with top gladiators and their masseuses did a brisk business in the sweat scraped off their bodies—many thought it a powerful aphrodisiac.
I would never fight one of these guys. I’m a woman and they wouldn’t lower themselves to take me on. If I ran out into the arena to attack them with sword or shield, the summa rudis (referee—yes every gladiator fight had one) would knock me over with his heavy stick and have an attendant drag me ignominiously off the sand. Yay—I live! (Unless the editor—giver of the games—is angry at the interruption, then he might condemn me to death in the arena and throw me in with the noxii (more on them below).
The same for the male tirones—the new recruits. They fought before the champions and had a much better chance of being killed because they were early in their training. If they lost and the crowd didn’t like them, they died. But they still wouldn’t fight a woman. The Romans as a society had a profound contempt for women, in general, and women who tried to exert influence or power, in particular. No tiro would touch me, so again, I live.
In the first century, Emperor Nero became more interested in seeing women fight in the arena. He accelerated a trend and some women (never in the same numbers as men) were trained and fought in the same styles as men, until Emperor Septimus Severus banned them in AD 200. Like their male counterparts, these women were mostly slaves, but there is literary evidence of noble born women joining their ranks. If I were trained with these women, I might have a slim chance as a tiro, but I’d never survive to be a champion. I’m average height for my generation which is 5’ 5” but they probably have barbarian slaves who might top out at 5’ 10” to 6 feet tall. These women would be the cream of the physical crop and my modern average probably wouldn’t hold up. I fight a tiro, slim chance. I fight a champion, I die.
But there’s more! I could be trained as a beastiarius to fight animals in close combat—usually the late morning entertainment in the arena. Me vs. Lion or Bear? I die.
As a venetore—animal hunter—I would be stalking the animals from a distance with spears or bows and arrows. If I could build my strength and skill, I’d have a decent chance of surviving. However, I never excelled at games that required skill—swimming, biking, hiking-yes; basketball, tennis, pool-no. So it’s likely an animal will get past me and—you guessed it—I die.
That leaves the noxii—literally “noxious ones.” These were the convicts, religious dissenters, and others condemned to death in the arena. These deaths were extravagant and ingenious so as to be entertaining. I would have no training to be noxii. I might be killed in a mythological or battle reenactment in any number of grisly ways—dragged behind a chariot, drowned in a naval battle, hacked to pieces—you get the picture. Some noxii were forced to fight each other and gladiators came in to mop up the survivors. Other noxii were covered with blood and set upon by hungry beasts (see Me vs. Lion above). In all cases, I die, unless…
Afra, my protagonist in Sword of the Gladiatrix comes up with an ingenious plan with a middle-aged matron, lame boy, demented old woman, blind soldier, and frail philosopher to survive a noxii beast hunt. You’ll have to check out the book to see how she does it. So if I can find a six-foot African huntress to partner up with, I might survive. Otherwise? I die.
The moral of the story? I’m a much better writer than fighter. Thanks for having me here at Hearts on Fire. Many happy hours of great reading to you all!
Copyright © May 2016 Faith L. Justice
From the far edges of the Empire, two women come to battle on the hot sands of the arena in Nero’s Rome. They seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other’s arms; but the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.
Pages or Words: 260 pages, 75,000 words
Categories: Fiction, Gay Fiction, Historical, Lesbian Romance, Action/Adventure
A slave wraps my lower legs with felted wool and straps a gilded greave to my left shin, because I fight as myrmilla. He smells of sour sweat, as do I. I’ve already fought once today, tested fate, and won. The gold sand that Nero favors in the arena still crusts my hair and rasps the skin under my sweat-soaked breast band. I will go again before the ravenous crowds to satisfy their bloodlust. For what? An emperor’s whim? The crowd’s passing fancy? A sacrifice to their gods?
I swallow the bitter gall that surges into my mouth.
Across the room, another slave straps armor on Cinnia, my beloved. She looks at me with pride in her eyes and a brief smile on her lips. We said our goodbyes last night, clasped breast to breast, thigh to thigh, a stolen moment before being sent to our lonely cells. My heart beats an irregular rhythm.
My love. Light to my dark. Fire to my ice.
Cinnia is goddess-given to me; from a land of mists and forests, so different from my country of desert and blistering sun. Without her, I would be dead. Without me, so would she. We have suffered, struggled, lived, and loved. Now we go out upon the sands of the great arena to die. One by her lover’s hands, the other by her own.
It is not the life or death I chose for myself, but it is the one the gods gave me.
About the author:
FAITH L. JUSTICE writes award-winning novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, the Circles in the Hair anthology, and many more. She is a frequent contributor to Strange Horizons, Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine, and co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.
Where to find the author:
Author website: https://www.faithljustice.com
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3268206.Faith_L_Justice
Publisher: Raggedy Moon Books
Cover Artist: Todd Engle
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