A Roman gladiator named Diodorus met his end 1800 years ago. But it was not the dramatic fight to the death that Hollywood portrays. Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Roman history expert Michael Carter about the death of Diodorus and why his story is being told now.
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LISA MULLINS: It’ s one thing when a bad call costs you a touchdown or a homerun or a winning basket; it’ s another when a bad call costs you your life, and that may well have happened 1800 years ago to a Roman gladiator named Diadorus. That’ s what Michael Carter believes anyway. He teaches Roman history at Brock University in Ontario.
MULLINS: Professor Carter, you have studied the epitaph of one, this one gladiator, Diadorus. You were trying to figure out exactly how he died. What did you see first on the gravestone, and how did you interpret it?
MICHAEL CARTER: The tombstone showed the end of a gladiatorial conflict between two gladiators. One gladiator stands victoriously over his opponent. He is holding two swords, and his opponent is on the ground, begging for mercy, no weapon in his hand. There is an accompanying epitaph, which then describes what went on in the fight and it seems that the gladiator who is standing victorious over his opponent actually ends up losing the fight.
MULLINS: So the one who is standing victorious, big and brawny, over the one who is on the ground is actually the man whose gravestone it was, presumably Diadorus. So what do you think happened?
CARTER: Well Diadorus tells us in the epitaph that he knocked over his opponent, that he was victorious, that he chose deliberately not to kill his opponent, then he said that the summa rudis, who was the referee for gladiatorial combat, intervened and it is the summa rudis whom Diadorus blames for his ultimate death.
MULLINS: He’ s really cheesed off at the ref?
CARTER: I think that the referee has interpreted a ruling one way which Diadorus thinks was incorrect ultimately causing his life to end.
MULLINS: So why would this call, maybe, maybe not a bad call, by the summa rudis the ref, why would that have resulted in Diadorus’ death?
CARTER: We don’ t know how it would have resulted in the death ultimately, but clearly Demetrius, the opponent who was on the ground begging for mercy was given back his own weapon. The fight resumed, and Diadorus was either stabbed or somehow wounded in the fight. What we do know is the scene depicted is a very common scene. That is, one gladiator standing victorious, not deliberately killing his opponent, and the opponent holding up his hand requesting mercy. At that point, the summa rudis, the referee, always steps in and stops the fight, and then refers it on to the person who is paying for the fight and the people to decide whether the fight should go on or stop. In this case, which again is unusual, Diadorus blames the referee for his death, which must mean that the referee must have stepped in to stop the fight, and then required his opponent to get his weapon back, his shield back and then start the fight again, otherwise how could Diadorus have been killed in the fight? And then probably died of an infection afterward.
MULLINS: Does this change anything of what we know about gladiators, aside from the fact that they blame the ref, like any other athlete?
CARTER: Well I think for the general public has a common view of what gladiatorial combats are. Many scholars of course recognize that there is a referee involved, and there are some rules; but it certain changes, I think, the way we ought to think about these combats. That is, that they are not a simply homicidal encounter where one gladiator is trying to kill another in any manner possible. But there are rules and conventions. The ancients refer to it as a lexical 90, which governed the combat and restricted how the two could behave in the arena.
MULLINS: Michael Carter teaches Roman history at Brock University in St. Catharines Ontario. You can check out his article about the gladiator and the ref at our website: www.theworld.org. Thank you very much, professor.
CARTER: Thank you very much.
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