Having established the traditional backbone of the Gladiators shows it should be noted how great men such as Julius Caesar were quick to realise the political value of the games which he made an effort to attend even if not overly interested. Both Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius are remembered for having presided the games and taken the salute whilst reading over state papers. This is interesting because the very same Julius Caesar in his early career had almost driven himself to financial ruin when he was Aedile: Having recognised the great political value of the popular shows he ensured he organised the best of the best at his own expense.
His triumph as conqueror of Gaul also involved innumerable numbers of wild animals and fighters. In his Triumph of 65BC the Senate ordered him to reduce their number but in 46BC when he effectively became sole ruler of the Roman Empire he presented innumerable animals as well as a thousand gladiators “gladiatores ordinarii” and almost a hundred mounted gladiators, probably “gladiatores postulatitii”.
Even great learned men such as Cicero regarded this as the best occasion to render homage to the noble disdain for death. This doesn’t justify the huge number of deaths that occurred as part of this “sport” but it does give an insight into the different cultural view the ancient Romans had of the world and the moral qualities required at the time. In this vein, Cicero had spoken of the “holy and ancient games”.
But the purely exhibitionist qualities were clearly what attracted the masses. The throwing of convicts to the wild beasts was little more than a gory reality show and it seems appropriate to quote Cicero’s words albeit in a different context: “Salus Populi, Suprema Lex” – the greatest law is the health of the people. (De Legibus).
Throughout the empire the Gladiatorial games tended to be viewed by the intelligentsia with a mixture of feelings. Juvenal loved it whilst Tacitus could only justify it on the basis that the blood spilt was of a vile nature. Like Cicero, Pliny justified it for the values it relied on, which had made Rome great. Seneca, the millionaire, the Stoic philisopher and indeed tutor to Nero was the only one to truly condemn the shows for the null value they placed on human life. “…here men are killed for sport and pleasure…”