I remember that day clearly. The Sicilian’s body had just been removed, looking like one of those butterfly shrimps that you get when you order a Greek mixed chicken and shrimp brochette platter, the shrimp with it’s body cut open and splayed out like a pinned butterfly.
Not an eyelid batted at the sight of the Sicilian. The women and children in the crowds munched dried barley crisps, their faces already beginning to acquire a bored expression. How could they possibly have PTSD when their lives marinated in physical trauma of all kinds, every fookin’ day? In comparison, we are certainly sissies today and I don’t know if that’s a good thing.
Suddenly there was a thunderous roar and I craned my neck over the wrought iron gate of our holding pen, to check what that was about. It was Spartacus and that hulking Nubian, a slave named Dass. Though he looked gruff, Dass was in fact a genial guy who had but one wish – that he would manage to get back home to his family in Nubia some day and farm that little patch of land he had owned. Sorry, I think I took that from Russell Crowe. 😀
The hubbub quickly died and there was a silence, so quiet that if you farted in there it would have an echo. This time there were no cries of ‘Habet! Hoc habet!’ (poor dear, he’s had it) even though Spartacus was half Dass’s size. Sparty’s reputation preceded him.
For a while, Dass and Spartacus circled each other their eyes locked, muscles coiled to anticipate any sudden lunge. Dass had a spiked ball and chain in one hand that I wouldn’t even be able to lift and a net in the other, while Sparty had his trusty broad blade and shield. By the by, that sword in Sparty’s hand was called ‘gladius’ in Latin and thence came the word ‘gladiator’.
A general stirring of restlessness surged through the bloodthirsty crowds. Someone started up the chant, “Spar..ta..cus, Spar..ta..cus, Spar..ta..cus” and it began building till it was a roar that seemed almost physical. No guesses on who was the crowd favorite here – one of their own, Spartacus. Dass was foreign and black. He was an animal, nothing more. This was the land of f—in’ Mussolini, remember?
The two kept circling each other, until suddenly something happened that silenced the roar. A man in the crowd threw down a half-eaten corn cob into the arena and it rolled into the middle, coming to rest exactly where the two gladiators were squaring off.
Spartacus hadn’t noticed the sudden intrusion. He kept circling, moving sideways, when his heel crunched on the hard cob and immediately slid over it’s hard round barrel-like surface. Scrambling to regain his balance, Spartacus tripped and sprawled out on his back, coming to rest with his torso in a half sitting position, against the curving sideboards of the arena wall. He still had his shield but he had lost his sword in the fall.
Dass swung his net around at just that moment and it unfurled and engulfed Spartacus in it’s embrace, immobilising him completely. Dass was immediately on him, his feet astride, towering over Sparty’s prone figure. There was no way Spartacus was going to be able to spring up and strike. He was trussed up like a turkey, with no weapon.
A centurion standing guard at the entrance threw a pilum sideways toward Dass which he adroitly caught in his right hand. A short well-balanced Javelin-like weapon with a jagged-toothed spearhead, the pilum was a must-have for every Roman legionnaire.
Maybe the crowd was disappointed that Spartacus did not try to make a move to fight back. Or perhaps the crowds were pissed off at Spartacus for letting himself trip over and shorten an engagement which had promised to be a spectacle. Perhaps even, the crowds expected Dass to show sportsmanship and step back and allow Sparty time to get on his feet, since his fall had been caused by a deliberate act by one of their own. But accidents such as tripping over an object lying on the ground happened in the arena and were part and parcel of the hazards that a gladiator faced.
The stands erupted in confused rage, the crowds unable to make up their minds about Spartacus’s fate. But that edge Sparty had, with the crowds on his side, seemed to have dissipated, the spectators maybe seeking revenge for the unnecessary effort of having to reach into the residues of their collective consciences and make the right choice, overriding the primitive thirst for blood.
Arms began to straighten outward and thumbs began pointing down, first one and then the next and soon the whole amphitheater erupted with screams of ‘Iugulo! Iugulo!’ (kill him, kill him).
His massive right arm raised high above his head, grasping the pilum, Dass turned his head and looked up at the podium, which was a kind of flat, raised marble platform that had an ornate marble balustrade with gold inlay on it. Crassus and his wife, Tertulla, had been sitting there with a few guests. While Crassus remained seated, Tertulla sprang to her feet and leaned over the intricately carved balustrade. Once more, silence fell over the coliseum.
Crassus turned toward his wife, as if to say,’ It’s your call, baby, I gotta go get a refill.’ With a languid but imperious twist of her wrist, Tertulla gave the verdict : thumbs-down. Back on it’s feet, the crowd once again began that manic chant,’ Iugulo! Iugulo! Moriatur! Moriatur!’
The Nubian giant hefted the pilum in his hand and then, to Crassus’s utter consternation, he lunged. The javelin flew out of his hand, soared through the air toward the podium and impaled itself with a thud in an ornate wooden door jamb, missing Crassus’s head by an inch. With a fluid swoop, Dass slashed through the net he had used to incapacitate Sparty just a minute ago and yanked Spartacus off the ground, to his feet.
This is where their training kicked in. Three centurions, still recovering from the shock of what they had just witnessed, tried to come at them with their pilums raised but I sincerely hoped that they hadn’t had any pressing engagements in their social calendar planned for that evening. It didn’t take Sparty long to turn them into mince meat.
Sparty and Dass decimated ten more centurions before the rest of the seventy odd gladiators who had been waiting their turn in the pen, joined in. Together, they then charged into a nearby pantry and grabbed all the meat cleavers and knives they could lay their hands on. As luck would have it, right outside in the yard they found a wagon that was piled high with weapons from the academy, hitched to a horse and ready to go. They seized it and headed for Mt. Vesuvius, which was dormant at that point in time. Once there, they hid themselves in the caldera, which was now a thick forest, it’s last eruption having been a century prior, in 217BC.
On the way up the mountain, they plundered a village or two, no big deal. Those days, there were no debit cards. If you were traveling cross country, you plundered places on the way for food and provisions and raped a few women and decapitated a few men who made as if they didn’t want you there. And of course, you took a few slaves. You always took slaves.
Forget the last bit. Come on, Sparty and his gang were already slaves.
But seriously, slave-taking was a priority activity, right upto the 18th century. When the war-like Aztecs of Tenochtitlan in 15/16th century Mexico, fought their wars, they never killed downed enemy soldiers but took them as slaves for sacrifice. They had Gods, to whom they thought they owed a blood debt, believing that in the beginning of time, the Gods gave blood of themselves in order to create humanity and therefore the Aztecs must continually pay back that blood debt through human sacrifices.
Thank God the Christians don’t feel the same way. Imagine going to work one day and finding yourself on an alter, all trussed up, your boss signing off on some newly resharpened knives that had just arrived from the grinding department. Your secretary bares her baobabs so you can play with them one last time (sacrificial folk are given a good time, remember?).
I am getting carried away. Let’s get on with the Aztecs.
The Gods that the Aztecs worshiped were many. There was Huitzilopochtli – who demanded pubescent boys, Tezcatlipoca – nubile nymphs, Huehuetotl – obese folk (the US could do with old Huey), Tlaloc – he went for archers and Xipe Totec – a rookie God, he took anything that came his way.
When the Aztecs fought their battles, aside from arrows and long-range weaponry like catapults flinging fireballs, which could kill and over which they had no control, they laid priority on hand-to-hand combat because they could then incapacitate the enemy by delivering slashing cuts and enslave him, for eventual sacrifice. You slashed and then dragged the guy off the battlefield into a sort of holding area where he was nursed back to health on your behalf, to be healthy and fit for sacrifice. Their Gods loved healthy ass. Heck, so do I.
The basic difference between the way the Aztecs and Hernan Cortez’s conquistadores fought was that they had different expectations of what they wanted out of the fight. In the case of the Aztecs, the more captives you landed, the more respected you were and the further you rose in the Aztec military hierarchy. And dear Hernan? Bodies course. Within a decade of Cortez’s landfall, the Aztec Empire had ceased to exist.
It was not totally a numbers game though. Aztec gods were demanding and liked variety as regards the blood they were offered. You cannot keep gulping down hamburgers every day, can you? Different types of captives were considered to have different values and the gods demanded a mix. Like say, you could have a maximum of 5 Chihuahuans and maybe 10 Mayans and so on.
Human sacrifices, as ceremonial occasions, were frequent in the Aztec Empire. The actual sacrifice happened on pyramid-like structures, built tall so the citizens couldn’t avoid witnessing them. History books suggest that the Azrecs held a sacrifice every ten days or so, carried out simultaneously at multiple locations.
The mode was well established – five or six Aztecs held the sucker down and the high priest took a broad bladed sword and ripped him open from just below his neck to his groin, disembowelled him and collected his blood on an ornate urn which was then place at the pinnacle of the pyramid for the Gods to have. Anesthesia? Forget it. The Gods didn’t like doped blood.
For around ten days prior to the sacrifice, however, the victim was treated like a VIP. He was plied with food, gold and virgins, though I’d imagine most of the virgins remained virgins. If you knew you were going ta get cut open in five days, would you get a hard-on?
Why did I carry on about Aztecs? Listen, when you’re 60, your thoughts tend to stray, okay? Anyway, Aztecs, Romans, what difference does it make? If you wanted real history, you wouldn’t be fooling around these pages anyway.
But I do have to get back to Smarty Sparty. I watched the whole thing, remember? When I saw Spartacus and Dass and the whole gang split, for a moment I debated whether to go along and make a run for it myself but I was too wimpy a guy.
I chose to stick around to try and get Crassus and his Missus to let me do their taxes for them.
(to be continued…)