Return to Gladiators

Africanae

"Some roar enmeshed in snares; some are thrust into wooden cages and carried off. There are not carpenters enough to fashion the wood; leafy prisons are constructed of unhewn beech and ash. Boats laden with some of the animals traverse seas and rivers; bloodless from terror the rower's hand is stayed, for the sailor fears the merchandise he carries. Others are transported over land in wagons that block the roads with the long procession, bearing the spoils of the mountains. The wild beast is borne a captive by those troubled cattle on whom in times past he sated his hunger, and each time that the oxen turned and looked at their burden they pull away in terror from the pole."

Claudian, On Stilicho's Consulship (III)

Wild animals, especially the large cats (Africanae), began to be imported from North Africa soon after the defeat of Carthage in the First (264-246 BC) and Second (218-202 BC) Punic Wars. Exotic curiosities, they originally were exhibited as part of triumphal and votive games. They first were hunted in 186 BC, when lions and leopards were killed in the Circus as part of ludi votivi vowed by Marcus Fulvius Nobilior for his victory over the Aetolian League (Livy, XXXIX.22). In 169 BC, animals were included for the first time as part of the Circus games (ludi circenses), when sixty-three African panthers and forty bears and elephants were killed (Livy, XLIV.18). Although not mandatory, the venatio eventually became an integral part of Roman spectacle.


A letter from Cicero, written in 50 BC, when he was governor of Cilicia (in southern Asia Minor), in response to a request from M. Caelius Rufus, who, as curule aedile, had asked him to provide leopards (pantherae) for the games he was organizing:

"About the panthers, the usual hunters are doing their best on my instructions. But the creatures are in remarkably short supply, and those we have are said to be complaining bitterly because they are the only beings in my province who have to fear designs against their safety. Accordingly they are reported to have decided to leave this province and go to Caria. But the matter is receiving close attention, especially from Patiscus [who already had sent ten animals]. Whatever comes to hand will be yours, but what that amounts to I simply do not know."

Cicero, Letters to Friends (90)

When Catullus wrote "Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love," he addressed those lines to Clodia, with whom he had a passionate affair. Caelius was one of her lovers, who was accused by her brother of having been part of the Catiline conspiracy and having seduced his sister. It was Cicero who undertook Caelius' defense (Pro Caelio), accusing Clodia of being no better than a prostitute and getting his friend acquitted.


The first mosaic, which is in the Carthage Museum, shows a lioness being led on board ship, her handler safely behind a large shield. The second, which is from the late third century AD, shows how fiery brands were used to terrify the animals and is in the Musée Archéologique d'Hippone (Algeria).


Reference: Cicero: Letters to Friends (2001) translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Loeb Classical Library); Mosaics of Roman Africa: Floor Mosaics from Tunesia (1996) by Michèle Blanchard-Lemée, Mongi Ennaïfer, Hédi Slim, and Latifa Slim: The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre (2000) by D. L. Bomgardner.

Return to Top of Page

Email