Gladiatorial games in the Greek East
Professor Stephen Mitchell, council member of the BIAA, discusses the article Gladiatorial Games in the Greek East: A Complex of Reliefs from Cibyra in the latest issue in Anatolian Studies.
Ridley Scott’s stupendous film Gladiator reminded the world in 2000 of the compelling fascination that Roman gladiatorial games exert over the modern public. Gladiatorial games have also been the subject of intensive modern research, which has illuminated how they were organised, the social functions that they served, and their symbolic importance in Roman society and its power structures.
The 2015 issue of Anatolian Studies contains an exceptionally important contribution to this research. Christof Berns and Haci Ali Ekinci publish and analyse 27 reliefs depicting gladiatorial combats and wild-beast hunts from the ancient city of Cibyra in southwest Turkey. These reliefs, mostly previously unpublished, are likely to have decorated the tombs of the wealthy benefactors who sponsored the shows. This comprehensive article presents a detailed account of this material – which now forms one of the showpieces of the Burdur Archaeological Museum – and sets it in the wider context of modern research. In particular, the authors suggest that the iconographic representation of the contexts reflect how Cibyra, like other cities of Asia Minor, assimilated and adapted these Roman contests into a hellenic cultural context. The Roman concept of the outcast gladiator displaying courage, skill and discipline to achieve re-integration into society, was adapted in the Greek East to the existing culture of games (agones), in which the fighters, largely drawn from free society, displayed their prowess in these brutal, often fatal games. This major study not only makes a wonderful collection of gladiator reliefs available for study, but shows important new ways in which the whole culture of gladiatorial combat should be understood.
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