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The contests of beasts with one another, or of men with beasts, that formed part of the shows of which the Romans were passionately fond. They were first introduced at the games of Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, 116 B.C. Those who took part in these contests were called bestiarii. They were either criminals and prisoners of war, who were poorly armed or completely unarmed, pitted against wild beasts which had previously been made furious by hunger, branding, and goading; or else hired men who, like gladiators, were trained in special schools and fully armed. Even in the last century of the Republic, and still more under the Empire, incredible expenses were incurred in the collection of the rarest animals from the remotest quarters of the globe, and in the other arrangements for their baiting. Thus Pompey provided a show of 500 lions, 18 elephants, and 410 other African animals; and Caligula caused 400 bears and the same number of animals from Africa to tear each other to pieces. Occasionally at these combats with wild beasts the man condemned to death was attired in an appropriate costume, so as to represent a sanguinary scene from mythology or history, as, for example, Orpheus being torn to pieces by bears. Down to the end of the Republic these shows took place in the Circus, and the greater exhibitions were held there even after that time, until the amphitheatres became the usual places of performance; and indeed, when they were combined with the gladiatorial exhibitions, they took place in the early morning before them. [The repugnance of some of the more cultivated Romans for these exhibitions is shown in a letter of Cicero's, Ad Fam. vii 1 § 3.] They were continued down to the 6th century. Among the Greeks, especially the Athenians, cock-fights and quail-fights were very popular. At Athens cock-fights were held once a year in the theatres at the public expense. The training of fighting cocks was conducted with great care. Certain places, such as Tanagra in Boeotia, Rhodes, and Delos, had the reputation of producing the largest and strongest. To whet their eagerness for the combat, they were previously fed with garlic. Their legs were armed with brass spurs, and they were set opposite to each other on tables furnished with raised edges. Bets, often to an enormous amount, were laid on the fights by the gamesters, as well as by the spectators.
Type: Standard
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