Gladiators and Martyrs

Icons in the Arena

By Susan M. (Elli) Elliott

From The Fourth R
Volume 29, Issue 5
September – October 2016
Download the PDF version

How did prisoners who were publicly executed in horrifying and degrading ways become icons of Christian heroism, “The Martyrs” celebrated in song and story? While Christian culture now takes the martyrs’ heroic status for granted, the process by which they were transformed from objects of derision to icons of Christian heroism remains a paradox. To understand this paradox, we need to understand how another despised figure in the Roman arena became an emblem of Roman heroism: the gladiator. The martyrs became icons for Christian identity in a Christian vision of the Empire much as the gladiators functioned as icons for Roman identity in the Roman Empire. To understand how this happened, we will first consider the Roman arena, then the gladiators, and finally the martyrs as gladiators and icons of a Christian empire.

The Roman Arena, Spectacles, and Imperial Power

The Roman amphitheater was the stage on which the gladiatorial games projected Roman imperial power and Roman identity (Romanitas). To understand how accounts of Christian martyrs associate them with gladiators, we begin with the importance of the arena in Roman imperial culture.

The Arena: Projecting Imperial Power

As Rome’s power extended geographically, the amphitheater became the most prominent structure in Roman cities, the visual presence of the Empire across its vast territory. The sheer size of these structures projected imperial power. The Flavian amphitheater (the Colosseum) at Rome was the Empire’s largest building, seating 50,000 to 80,000 people. Here the emperor was seated in a special “ringside” box, a place reserved at other locations for the sponsor (Latin: editor) of the event. Beginning in the Augustan era (27 bce to 14 ce), each social class was assigned a specific seating area in the amphitheaters. This arrangement projected imperial power relations in an increasingly defined social hierarchy. Yet, at the same time, the stratified Roman audience was unified by a wall that separated it from nonRomans defeated on the arena’s sand.

The amphitheaters were constructed with a sophisticated infrastructure to stage a distinctly Roman form of spectacle, a spectacle of violent death. Audiences saw the destruction of exotic wild beasts captured at military frontiers and of elephants taken from opposing forces. They viewed mock sea battles featuring real water and real death. They watched the display and execution of “barbarian” military opponents and of criminals and saw gladiators demonstrate their combat skills by fighting to the death. In the amphitheater, the Empire re-enacted its victories by displaying its military might in massive bloodshed.

The Audience: Negotiating and Constructing Power

We tend to equate “Roman imperial power” with the power of the emperor, but imperial power also included the crowd in the arena. At Rome, where the emperor was expected to be present for spectacles in the arena, and in the provinces, where local leaders acted on his behalf, the arena was a location for a sometimes tricky negotiation between the power of the crowd and the power of the emperor. The power on display was not only that of the emperor but also the power of the Roman (and Romanized) people, and these two powers were not always in concord. Yet the arena projected the imperial power that included both the emperor and the Roman people, and it created social cohesion in a location where Romans participated in imperial power.

The influence of republican political institutions was waning in this period, and political jockeying moved increasingly to the arena where the crowd and the emperor or his representative were physically present. The very push and pull of political interests constituted part of the spectacle. The emperor played to the crowd, and sectors of the crowd played to him and to each other. Members of the crowd were not simply passive observers there to be entertained; they were also active participants.

One way the crowd projected its power was in unified chanting, called “acclamation.” Acclamations had long been used in cults and formed part of the script in ritual settings across the Greco-Roman era. At trials, the crowd’s acclamations could advocate a sentence (“X to the lions!”) or mercy (eleison/miserere). Some of the unified chanting was spread by claques, “rent-a-voice” groups hired to applaud and chant favorable slogans for a fee. Various private associations (collegia) would provide such vocal support for their patrons. On a few occasions, the crowd even chanted protests against imperial decisions. To imagine the arena, then, we need not only to see the crowds that filled the buildings (now in ruins) but to hear their roar and their chants as well. In their unified roar, they felt their power as Romans.

The spectacles themselves were also a means of social cohesion, a bonding experience in the spectacle of death. They not only projected imperial power but also offered a means for imperial subjects across the Empire to participate in its victory. Emperors and provincial leaders produced spectacles in order to please the crowds and thus maintain their political power, and the events projected the power of the crowds to demand them.

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The Program: Bleeding and Dying for Power

All of this projection of power centered on spectacles of blood-drenched and painful death that became emblematic of Romanitas. To understand how witnessing these gory entertainments unified and empowered the crowd, it will be helpful first to know what they saw in the spectacles. The program for spectacles at the arena followed a standard format.

Morning: Slaughter of the Beasts
The morning entertainments, the venationes, presented and killed wild animals collected from Rome’s military campaigns at the boundaries of the Empire. The entertainments could include animals pitted against each other as well as human venatores fighting the animals.

Midday: Executions
Animals not slaughtered in the morning venationes could be used in the midday events (meridiani) when executions of condemned criminals and prisoners of war— people considered disposable—were presented in creative ways for the crowd’s entertainment, sometimes with elaborate staging of myths as “snuff plays.” The forms of execution were designed to completely debase the victim. The humiliation distanced members of the audience from the criminal and diminished their potential sympathy for him or her. The audience was thereby assured of a just order of law. As they ridiculed those being executed, members of the audience were united in their sense of moral superiority. Members of the elite classes convicted of capital offenses were not usually subjected to a humiliating public execution but rather were dispatched swiftly, by beheading, for example, at a more secluded location. The “performers” at the midday execution entertainments were defined as disposable “others.”

The event began with bestiarii (animal-handlers) or soldiers leading the condemned into the arena, yoked in twos or threes or tied to stakes or chariots. They usually had very little clothing, men naked or wearing a loincloth, women in a light tunic or skirt and brassiere or sometimes naked. They would be presented to the audience and then displayed on a raised platform bound on a stake or in stocks. Then they would receive the specific method of execution that had been designated for them at their trial.

Many were condemned to the beasts, perhaps with the crowd’s chant of “ad bestias” at their trials. The beasts, including lions, leopards, and bears, were goaded by the bestiarii to “bite, trample, gore, or … to have intercourse with … the victim.”1 The condemned could also be forced to fight one another to the death without protection, with the last one standing killed by some other means.

At this point, if we listen as well as see, we will hear the screams of the victims as well as the roar of the crowd. Our reaction may not be the same as that of the crowd in the arena, however. These spectacles of death were popular, after all, and the crowds reportedly enjoyed them. In watching the executions, members of the audience could identify with those who implemented justice, concurring in the justice of the fate of the condemned and sharing in the power of condemnation, sometimes exercising their will by unison chanting. Other allurements included the fascination of horrific images and the excitement of the unpredictability of wild beasts and other theatrical devices. The spectacles provided not only the basic component of entertainment, an antidote to boredom, but also appealed to the “morbid desire to witness the actual moment of death.”2

The horror of the midday executions also functioned as an effective deterrent for the enforcement of Roman order, yet horror was not the dominant emotion of the crowd. The crowds reacted with pleasure, not revulsion. The spectacle opened a deep chasm between the condemned victims on the sands and the audience behind the podium wall.

Afternoon: Gladiatorial Games
Even before Christian martyrs are reported to have entered the arena, gladiators managed to traverse the gulf between victims and spectators and create a human connection with the audience during the afternoon portion of the program. Like the executions, the gladiatorial combat reserved as the afternoon entertainment was apparently designed to debase its participants. Yet the gladiators themselves appear to have taken up the performance of their ill fate as a means of achieving honor in a performance of Romanitas.

Gladiators fought in pairs, matched by armaments and skill level, according to rules of combat. They normally fought to a conclusion, not a tie. If the loser was not killed or mortally wounded in the combat, when he (or she) was disarmed or immobilized, the loser stopped fighting and signaled submission. This was the dramatic and decisive moment the crowd craved. Waiting in a pause as the games’ “organizer” (the editor) decided the loser’s fate, the crowd would chant its own decision. To spare his life to fight another day, they would chant “Missum!” or wave cloths. To indicate their desire for the final blow that would cut the loser’s throat, they would chant “Iugula!” or raise down-turned thumbs. The editor, or the emperor in the games at Rome, would then give the final signal to please the crowd.

The performance of the losing gladiator in this final decisive moment became an opportunity to demonstrate Roman virtus* and to die in front of a Roman audience in a way that reclaimed the gladiator’s honor and status as a subject with whom the audience would want to identify rather than a disposable object for their entertainment. This decisive moment, with the victorious gladiator holding the blade over the defeated one’s neck awaiting the signal of the editor as the crowd chanted its decision, becomes a focal point in defining Roman culture. This moment, and the figure of the defeated gladiator at the center, are worth more focused attention.

* The Latin virtus, the root of the English “virtue,” is from vir (“man”) and literally means “manliness, maleness.” It connotes those excellences that Roman culture prized as male gender ideals, such as strength, stoic endurance, and courage.

Gladiators: From “Disposables” to Icons

The gladiators held an ambivalent position in the arena. On the one hand, like the beasts and criminals of the first two entertainments of the day, they were forced into mortal combat by their status as “other” and uncivilized non-Romans. On the other hand, they performed the essential virtus that defined Roman identity, a military cultural identity.

Slaves and Captives (Involuntary)

Many gladiators were prisoners of war, whose numbers provided a large supply to be “used up” in lavish spectacles designed as impressive evidence of Rome’s military victories. As fighters in military forces opposing Rome, many of these captives already possessed the skills for combat that were part of the training in the gladiatorial schools. Condemned criminals were another source. While many were sentenced to be executed in the midday spectacles, some received a lesser penalty and were sentenced to the gladiatorial schools. Gladiators who fought well enough to survive might be granted their freedom.

Whatever their origin, the legal status of these gladiators was that of slaves, and they were considered infames, categorized in the occupations of shame, alongside actors, prostitutes, and pimps. As such, they shared aspects of the identity of “disposable” others executed during the midday entertainments. As objects forced to kill or be killed, they contributed to the spectacles’ projection of Roman imperial power.

Yet they became something more.

Icons and Nobles (Voluntary)

According to one informed estimate, as early as the end of the era of the Republic in the late first century BCE, half of the gladiators were volunteers. Evidence of free persons, nobles, and even emperors participating in the arena as gladiators is plentiful. Some apparently entered the arena for a special performance without pay to demonstrate their courage and fighting ability. Others became gladiators as a career choice, fighting for pay. While some apparently volunteered due to impoverishment, others became gladiators for reasons associated with the changing identity of the gladiator. Those who volunteered to be gladiators bound themselves in servitude to a gladiatorial manager, swearing an oath by which they promised to be “burned, bound, beaten, and slain by the sword.”3

Given the many negative associations with the position of the gladiator, we might well ask, “What was it that drew free men to discard community, status, dignity and power to fight in the arena, in the space allotted to the ruined and condemned?”4

A core aspect of the emotional motivation for becoming a gladiator was the opportunity to make the involuntary voluntary. This started with the oath. “The gladiator, by his oath, transforms what had originally been an involuntary act to a voluntary one, and so, at the very moment that he becomes a slave condemned to death, he becomes a free agent and a man with honor to uphold.55 In the same manner, gladiators sought to gain ultimate freedom and honor by performing their death upon defeat as a voluntary action, offering their neck to the blade of the victor and waiting for the editor’s decision at the behest of the crowd. The defeated gladiator’s performance in this decisive moment could persuade the crowd to chant to save him and the editor to comply, thus making a good performance of virtus a more immediate survival strategy as well.

Gladiators sought to gain ultimate freedom and honor by performing their death as a voluntary action.

In the period when the elite classes were losing out as political power was being centralized in the emperor, some sought a gladiatorial “solution” for regaining lost honor. “The importance of the social and psychological role of the gladiator among the free and privileged classes in Rome developed apace with the notion that with the failure of the aristocratic republic, dignitas, social worth, had become a word whose only content was humiliation.”6 Rome was in transition from the warrior culture of the Republican era, when there was something closer to a fair competition between equals, to the ascendency of a culture ruled by a “rogue male” who had become a father figure (the emperor)—a fundamental re-ordering of competition as unequal. Fighting an equal opponent as a gladiator in the arena allowed aristocrats to pursue not only the sex appeal and “rock star” status that famous gladiators attained but also the glory that was being lost as they were becoming a new form of underling in the restructuring of the social order.

The gladiators used their performance of death in the arena to become iconic images of Roman identity. They performed their deaths to conform to what the audience wanted to believe about their own Roman identity and thus created an image of redemption of the honor the elite males were losing. The path the gladiators forged to restore their own honor also became the path for others. In the process, they became icons of Roman virtus. A famous exemplar of this Roman identity and virtus was Mucius Scaevola, a popular hero of the Roman Republic who was held up as emblematic of the Roman way and viewed as a martyr for the cause of Rome. As the story goes, Mucius infiltrated the enemy camp to assassinate King Porsena during his siege of Rome in 508 BCE in the Etruscan wars. He killed the wrong man, however, and was caught. The words the historian Livy puts in his mouth as he is brought before Porsena’s tribunal define his subsequent actions as distinctively Roman.

“I am a Roman citizen (Romanus sum),” he cried; “men call me Gaius Mucius. I am your enemy, and as an enemy I would have slain you; I can die as resolutely as I could kill: both to do and to endure valiantly is the Roman way.” (2.12.8–10)

He then demonstrates “the Roman way” by thrusting his right hand into the fire prepared to burn him and holding his hand there to let it burn up, saying: “Look, that you may see how cheap [the Romans] hold their bodies whose eyes are fixed upon renown (gloriam)!” (2.12.13) Mucius’s action became emblematic of Roman identity and honor.

Gladiators who were originally “disposables” forced into the arena to fight for the onlookers’ entertainment redefined themselves as subjects rather than objects by performing their life-and-death struggle in the Roman way illustrated in the stories of Scaevola—by disposing of themselves in a voluntary action.

The audience is essential. The Roman whose eye is fixed on gloriam, as Livy’s Scaevola puts it, requires an audience to grant the glory, and gladiators sought their gloriam by putting the power of affirmation into the hands of the audience in the arena.7 The image of the gladiator is created in a performative intersection in the arena: the gladiator performs his death to redeem his honor in the eyes of a crowd who identifies with him and desires the performance he offers. What happens to the audience watching this display? Watching the gladiatorial games was considered part of military training, and for those not destined for battle it was a way to participate in the Roman military ethos, an inspiration to live with Roman virtus. In praising the Emperor Trajan’s gladiatorial exhibition, for example, Pliny the Younger says that he produced

nothing spineless or flabby, nothing that would soften or break the manly spirit [animos virorum] of the audience, but a spectacle which inspired the audience to noble wounds and to despise death, since even in the bodies of slaves and criminals the love of praise and desire for victory could be seen.8

In observing the gladiatorial display, then, members of the audience would identify with the gladiators and vicariously experience their virtus.

We might expect that the audience would identify with the victor in this display, yet this was not simply sadistic voyeurism. Philosophers encouraged a focus on the defeated as a learning exercise for facing death. While their encouragement may have been addressed primarily to elites, gladiatorial combat gave spectators a vicarious opportunity to rehearse both the role of the victor and the role of the defeated.

The audience identified with the gladiators and longed for an experience of honor courageously snatched from humiliation. They craved a sense of their own empowerment in witnessing a victim dying invictus (“unconquered”). They viewed with contempt a gladiator who showed unwillingness to die because they felt his shame. A display of weakness would disgust the audience and would be rewarded with chants for his death. A display of courage could lead to chants to spare his life. This vicarious identification with the defeated as well as with the victor made the gladiator into an icon.

We need to see the gladiators as engaged in a performance in which they moved themselves from being made into “others” —uncivilized objects outside of Roman “civilization”—to being subjects who embodied Roman ideals.

We need to see the gladiators, then, as engaged in a performance of death in which they moved themselves from being made into “others”—uncivilized objects outside of Roman “civilization”—to being subjects who embodied Romanitas and Roman virtus, from expendable outsiders to central icons of Roman identity. In the process, they and the crowds for whom they performed used the arena to shape a workable identity for themselves within an imperial social hierarchy that, on some level, made all of them humiliated objects. From a status that historian Orlando Patterson has aptly termed “social death,” the gladiator, especially the defeated one, provided a Roman audience a momentary glimpse of a live human being, defined in terms of Roman cultural currency, by fusing defiance and acquiescence. The crowd vicariously experienced that same moment of freedom in embracing this image of dying invictus, and thus they elevated the gladiator as an icon of their Roman identity. The gladiator, in turn, helped to stabilize the empire by making its humiliations emotionally manageable.

Christian Martyrs in the Arena

Accounts of the Christian martyrs in the arena place them on a similar trajectory from “disposables” to icons of a new form of Roman identity. Christian martyrs entered the arena as a location where the Roman social order was being defined, and the accounts of their trials and deaths offer both a challenge to that order and a redefinition that reinforces it.

Martyr Stories as Social Critique

Recent decades have produced many fine studies of the accounts of the martyrs as social critique, and the martyrs have traditionally been perceived as challenging Roman imperial authority. Without in any way discounting such studies or the social critique they demonstrate, we should note a frequent tendency to uncritically assume a status of Christian exceptionalism for the martyrs. Here, for example, is how one scholar capsulizes the image of the martyr as a social critic:

The spectacle of the arena was centred around a crushing assertion of the right order of society ... In such a society, so pointedly aware of the dynamics of authority and representation, for a Christian to subvert humiliation by embracing death with equanimity would have constituted a powerful social gesture.9

While we need to recognize the power of this social gesture, we should not imagine that it was original. The path to subversion of “humiliation by embracing death with equanimity” was already well-worn by the gladiators and by the tales Romans told themselves about the essence of their identity.

Martyrs as Gladiators

To associate the martyrs and the gladiators is hardly a stretch given that both of their performances of death take place in the Roman arena. Popular traditions also associated the martyrs with athletes and gladiators. Just as people collected oil from the athletes and blood from the gladiators as cures for fever and epilepsy, Christians collected fragments of martyrs’ remains and believed in the relics’ magical properties. Ancient portrayals of both gladiators and martyrs also share a common emphasis on honor, selfactualization, and the voluntary acceptance of death.

Christian writers associate martyrs with athletes and gladiators, as performers who impress an audience with their virtus (nobility, courage, indifference to pain). Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the future martyr Polycarp, exhorts him, “It is like a great athlete to take blows and yet win the fight.”10 Blandina, a female martyr of Lyons, is also described as a “noble athlete.”11 In one of her dreams, the martyr Perpetua envisions herself as an athlete and gladiator in the arena.12

The martyr Germanicus models the Romanitas exemplified by the popular figure of Mucius Scaevola.13 Rather than waiting for the fate to which he has been sentenced, We need to see the gladiators as engaged in a performance in which they moved themselves from being made into “others” —uncivilized objects outside of Roman “civilization”—to being subjects who embodied Roman ideals. The Fourth R 29–5 September–October 2016 8 he seizes hold of it. Like Scaevola thrusting his right hand into the flame and holding it there to burn, Germanicus seizes the beast presented to kill him in the same gesture of Roman identity that the gladiators use by offering their throat upon defeat. In a similar gesture, Perpetua guides the hand of her executioner, a gladiator, to bring the knife to her throat.14

Christian writers also emphasize martyrdom as a voluntary action. For example, Ignatius asserts, “I die willingly for God,” and his oath is patterned after the gladiator’s: “Come fire, cross, battling with wild bears, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel torture of the devil—only let me get to Jesus Christ.”15 Ignatius swears the oath, but his enslavement is to a different kind of gladiatorial manager: God and Christ. This transference indicates the reshaping of the arena as the martyrs became central icons for an empire redefined as Christian.

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Differences in the Setting

The accounts of the martyrs portray an arena where a Christian vision of the empire is being constructed around the performances of the iconic martyrs. While the accounts portray the martyrs as gladiators nobly taking their final stand on the sands of the arena, the setting for the martyrs’ combat and performance of death differs significantly from that of the gladiators.

Performance of Death

We have seen that it was during the afternoon program of combat that the gladiators connected with the crowd and in the process moved their identity from despised outsiders to icons of Roman identity. The martyr narratives portray a similar identity shift taking place in the noonday program of executions in a performance that echoes the gladiators’ refusal to accept the “despised other” identity. By voluntarily embracing the death to which they have been sentenced, martyrs reveal themselves in the decisive moment as subjects rather than objects. Narratives about martyrs make a concerted effort to portray the martyrs achieving recognition of their humanity, despite their being forced into a process designed to dehumanize them.

From the viewpoint of the Roman crowd, the Christians were among the criminals and threats to the Roman legal order, the “others” executed during the noonday entertainments. Tacitus (Annals 15.44) describes this “othering” of the Christians under Nero, in spectacles that included putting the hides of beasts on them and letting them be torn apart by dogs, displays that unambiguously portrayed them as inhuman/uncivilized. They were outsiders who deserved destruction, not the fair fight of the afternoon entertainment. They were the noxii, not trained for the fight as the gladiators were.

Combat by Trial

The accounts of the martyrs portray them as gladiators skilled and trained for combat, but the combat takes place at their trials. They are presented as trained to speak eloquently and stand courageously at their trials before Roman authorities. Their prowess is not military skills for a theatrical battlefield, but rhetorical skills and valor to win hearts and minds in a court of opinion beyond the Roman legal system.

In the account of Polycarp’s trial, for example, we can see the acquiescence and defiance of the gladiator that embodies the Roman identity expressed in the popular stories of Mucius Scaevola. Instead of saying, “I am a Roman (Romanus sum) … Look, that you may see how cheap [the Romans] hold their bodies whose eyes are fixed upon renown (gloriam)!” Polycarp, like many of the other martyrs portrayed in the accounts, says, in effect, “I am a Christian (Christianus sum)! See how cheap we hold our bodies whose eyes are fixed upon eternal glory!” Polycarp says, in effect, “See how I am more Roman than the Romans!” This interchange becomes the martyr’s combat scene where victory is won by refusing to be intimidated by the threat of torture and death and by making an involuntary fate voluntary.

The arena performance becomes an extension of the trial. Torture and execution in the “contest” in the arena then becomes another opportunity to provide victorious testimony. Torture was believed to be an effective means of obtaining credible testimony from slaves and people of low rank, people who would be susceptible to pressures exerted by their owners or who would be easy targets for bribery. If such a person did not change his or her testimony under torture, the testimony was certified as true. In the narratives, the tortures and death to which the martyrs are subjected in the arena continue their “witness” and testimony at the trial, but the martyr has been reframed as a “witness under torture” rather than a “criminal under investigation,” and the question of truth has been shifted from the Christian martyr’s guilt to the content of the Christian message. In effect, the narratives put the interrogators on trial before the audience of the text, that is, those who are reading the narrative.

An Arena of Narrative

The narratives depict the martyrs crossing not only the podium wall but also the hostile arena crowd to perform a death scene that connects them to the audience of the text and to a celestial audience, the audience(s) of decisive consequence for their combat/trial. The martyrs portrayed in the accounts hear the acclamations of the celestial audience and fix their eyes on Christ as an editor with the power to grant “favor” beyond the physical arena.16 In this new arena of narrative, the martyrs perform for the celestial audience and “our people” (the audience of the text), not for “those people” in the hostile crowd of the earthly arena. Other early Christian writers envisioned retribution against “those people” in a spectacle of consuming fire at the Day of Judgment envisioned as a new arena with God as the editor/emperor providing the entertainment for the faithful.17

For the new Christian empire, this narrative spectacle program accomplished the edifying and unifying purposes that the physical arena spectacles achieved for the earlier Roman Empire. Like the Roman arena crowds, the audiences of the Christian spectacle texts were offered an opportunity to participate in the divine imperial power of the new arena. Along with the celestial observers, they became the “real audience” who could watch as the Roman officials and the hostile arena crowd become the “other.” They could also identify with the martyr who took the role of the gladiator as the edifying icon for a new form of Roman imperial culture, icons of a Christianized Romanitas and virtus, as an “even more Roman way.” This new icon of the martyr is as complex as the icon of the gladiator, but complex in similar ways.

Like the Roman amphitheater, the Christian literary arena was intended to project imperial power. In the Roman amphitheater, however, a human emperor or his representative was physically present in a physical crowd where a dynamic negotiation of power relations was still possible. The Christian narrative amphitheater, a stage for the performance of the martyrs where Christ and ultimately God hold the position of the emperor, presents a more absolute image of power relations. Iconic portrayals of Christian martyrs who sacrifice themselves completely to God and Christ have a place in an absolutist vision of power relations in a Christianized Roman Empire, a place worth examining in relation to the place occupied by the image of the gladiator in the Roman Empire. 4R

Copyright © 2016 Westar Institute. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Daniel Frayer-GriggsSusan M. (Elli) Elliott (Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago) is Adjunct Instructor in Humanities at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. A writer and lecturer based in Red Lodge Montana, her book Family Empires is forthcoming in 2017.


 1. Potter, “Martyrdom,” 66.

 2. Coleman, “Fatal Charades,” 58–59.

 3. “uri, vinciri, verberari, ferroque, necari patior” (Petronius, Satyricon, 117; Seneca, Moral Epistles, 71.23); in Barton, Sorrows, 14.

 4. Barton, Sorrows, 26.

 5. Barton, Sorrows, 15.

 6. Barton, Sorrows, 27.

 7. Barton, Sorrows, 34.

 8. Barton, Sorrows, 21, citing Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus 33.1.

 9. Cooper, “The Voice of the Victim,” 148.

10. Letter to Polycarp 3.1

11. Martyrs of Lyons 19.

12. Martyrdom of Perpetua 10.

13. Martyrdom of Polycarp 3.

14. Martyrdom of Perpetua 21.9.

15. Letter to the Romans 4.1.

16. Letter to Polycarp 2, 9; and Martyrdom of Perpetua 18

17. Letter to Polycarp 11, Tertullian De Spectaculis 30, and Edwards, Death in Ancient Rome, 214 citing Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos 39.9.

Works Cited

Barton, Carlin A. The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster. Princeton University Press, 1993.

Coleman, K. M. “Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged As Mythological Enactments.” Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990) 44–73.

Cooper, Kate. “The Voice of the Victim: Gender, Representation and Early Christian Martyrdom.” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 80,3 (1998) 147–58.

Edwards, Catharine. Death in Ancient Rome. Yale University Press, 2007.

Potter, David. “Martyrdom as Spectacle.” Pp. 53–88 in Theater and Society in the Classical World. Ed. Ruth Scodel. University of Michigan Press, 1993.

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