Dramatic and gory – this, in a nutshell, describes the detailed fresco discovered at Pompeii in a recent excavation. The finding of the vivid Roman artwork was announced by Italy’s culture ministry on 11th October. The scene in itself, portraying a victorious gladiator and his wounded opponent (with blood gushing out) is composed of overtones of red, golden, and blue – thereby suggesting the richness yet poignant nature of the theme. The fresco, measuring 3.7 ft x 4.9 sq ft, was found inside a basement room that is believed to be a section of a tavern frequented by the actual gladiators of Pompeii.
If we delve into the details of the mural, we can perceive two gladiator types – the famed Murmillo with his characteristic wide-brimmed, plumed helmet, rectangular scutum-style shield (which is held aloft), and short sword; and his defeated opponent, the Thraex, with his smaller parmula shield (rectangular variant) already lying on the ground. According to Pompeii’s director Massimo Osanna –
We do not know how this fight ended. Gladiators were killed or shown mercy. [But] what is particularly interesting is the extremely realistic representation of the wounds, such as the one on the wrist and chest of the unsuccessful gladiator, from which the blood runs, wetting his leggings. The Thraex is gesturing with his hand, possibly asking for mercy.
Talking of gladiators, as we discussed in one of our articles, the ‘professional’ fighters, called hoplomachi, were trained to ‘entertain’ the crowds whether it be in single combats or staged battles inside the arena. Such forms of crowd-pleasing entertainment alluded to the spectacle of long-drawn conflict as opposed to quick bloody events. In that regard, the hoplomachi were experts in prolonging the suffering of their opponents that entailed the drawing of blood and its spilling onto the sand. Simply put, they were a far cry from the ill-prepared criminals that went into the arena to die. Instead, they were viewed more as dashing dare-devils, who while sharing some of their bad luck as being initially dispossessed, lived to please the rousing and often ruthless Roman spectators.
Reverting to the discovery, Incredibly enough, the tavern establishment is located quite close to the gladiators’ barracks in Regio V – a specific quarter of the Pompeii site. Pertaining to the latter, Regio V, in recent years, have revealed a plethora of fascinating frescoes, ranging from representations of peacocks (pictured above), mythical creatures, to Narcissus (pictured below). The artistic scope is also haunted by the catastrophe that struck the ancient Roman city in circa 79 AD, as could be discerned from a unique yet gruesome find of a skeleton pinned by a stone block.
And lastly, on a positive note, the recent excavation was conducted to secure an area that borders on the north of the archaeological park under the Great Pompeii Project. The project was launched to preserve and conserve many of the collapsing structural sections after years of neglect.