Græco-Roman Games in California.

Journal of Manly Arts
May 2003

by Arthur Inkersley
Originally published in Outing magazine, February, 1895, No. 5, p. 409-416.

After the gladiatorial combats, the clash of sword on buckler and helmet was pleasantly varied by the entrance of four groups of dancing girls representing the Four Seasons. Each group consisted of a dozen girls and a leader. Spring was represented by girls clad in light-green garments and wearing chaplets of spring flowers; summer by girls in yellow robes, carrying scarves in their hands, and wearing chaplets of red roses on their heads; autumn was symbolized by girls in smoke-colored clothing, with autumnal wreaths, and winter by girls in white, carrying wands bent into a half-hoop, and decorated with little tinkling bells. The robes were in each case split as far as the knee on the right side, and displayed the crossed thongs which bound the sandals.

Each bevy of girls executed a graceful and decorous dance, in which there was much waving of hands and arms and many sweeping undulations of the body, but little or no kicking of the degenerate modern sort. After each band had performed its dance, the four leaders, surrounded by the others in a square, danced together.

This agreeable interlude was succeeded by boxers using the cestus, a terrible weapon, consisting of a series of thongs bound round the wrist and hands, and rendered heavy and dangerous by the addition of bosses of metal. On alternate evenings the Pancratium, or Greek contest of boxing and wrestling combined, was exhibited. This was a most deadly combat, in which every kind of violence, except biting and kicking, was permissible.

Many of the blows of a Greek Pancratiast seem curious to us, being round-arm swipes or crushing knocks on the top of the head. In ancient Greece, Pancratiasts occasionally killed each other, and there is a story of two of these combatants neither of whom could worst the other, agreeing to take a blow in turn at each other. One, rising on tip-toe, struck the other full on the top of the head, but did not disable him. The other dug his five fingers into his adversary's stomach and pulled out his entrails. The dying fighter in this contest was crowned with the victor's wreath, it being held by the judges that the blow with the five fingers extended was a foul one.

The boxers having retired, six United States cavalrymen from the Presidio, equipped as Roman horsemen with breastplates, helmets, shields and short swords, galloped into the arena. They engaged in hand-to-hand combat on horseback, first in pairs, and then in squads. Stripping off their armor, and t h r o w i n g a s i d e their swords, they appeared in tights, and gave an exhibition of horsemanship, jumping off and remounting their horses as they cantered down the arena, vaulting horses at full speed, and displaying other feats of agility. One pretty trick was to make their horses lie down, and mount them as they rose from the ground. This was a very popular part of the entertainment, and never failed to draw the plaudits of the spectators. The wrestling on horseback was also very interesting.

After the mounted contests came the combat between the Retiarii and the Mirmillones. This combat was exceedingly popular among the spectators at the Circus or Amphitheater of Imperial Rome. The Retiarius wore a helmet, but no body-armor; he carried in his right hand a trident, and in his left the rete, or net, from which he took his name. His object was to entangle his adversary in the folds of his net, and, before he could extricate himself, to pierce him with the prongs of his trident. The Mirmillo, who was commonly opposed to the Retiarius, wore greaves, a breastplate, a helmet provided with a visor, and a metal or leathern sheath upon his right arm.

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May 2003