I had occasion to spend much of the weekend in London recently attending various events, one of which was the Gladiator Games at Guildhall Yard on Sunday 16th.
What a smashing event…figuratively and actually. So much fun in one hour. Guildhall Yard is located above what are the remains of an old Roman Amphitheatre, the perimeter of which is marked out in the yard by an oval of black paving stones, in the centre of which is a black slab with the words “The arena of London’s Roman amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall Yard is indicated by the black slate oval inlaid in the yard’s paved surface“. Find out more about the Guildhall Art Gallery the Roman Amphitheatre in the recently released: ‘While You Are There…53 Places to go in London’ – Buy your copy here
The Gladiator Games, put on by the Museum of London in conjunction with Guildhall Art Gallery, harked by to Roman London and the arena was soon filled with the sounds of stamping feet and shouts of mele, mele….despatch the Gladiator! The event started quietly enough with a few authentically dressed characters mincing around the arena; the pompa circensis (“circus parade”), a procession that usually preceded the official games (ludi), their roles yet to be disclosed.
Soon we were left in no doubt as to who was who, the comperé giving us a full run down of what role was to be performed and by whom (although I didn’t really get all the names 😉 the videos have the full run down. Then we were given a demonstration of what to expect when the defeated Gladiator’s brains where smashed ….never mind ‘smashing pumpkins’….we were given the full works when a watermelon met a grisly end beneath the smash of a mallet!!! To the horrified groans of the audience one of the cleaner uppers ate pieces of it as he left the arena LOL…gross??
Shortly after, heralded by the blast of trumpets, the Roman Emperor rode in on a chariot steered by a fearsome Amazon and pulled by two fine black horses of unknown origin….but fine animals nonetheless. The Emperor along with his bulky guards made their way around the perimeter of the arena to the loud cheers and chants of the crowds, coming to rest at the specially selected area beneath a canopy…can’t have anything less for an emperor now can we?
And then…..a game of life and death between the titans of Roman London, the clash of steel as the crowds roared…..
Let the games begin…..the comperé introduced the characters one by one and then without further ado the Gladiators come on….Londinium vs Camvlodvnvm – London vs Colchester I believe.
I had inadvertently seated myself in the Colchester section and so it is that I came to be supporting the team in gold
against the red team from London…no matter, the gladiators were equally despatched, or if they were lucky….spared by the Emperor’s intervention, one chap even got a bag of gold.
There was a fight between topless female Gladiators too…..they, unlike the men didn’t wear helmets!!
The uproar and noise from the crowd mingled with the sounds of fighting as we watched first this gladiator and then that carried off the arena floor, knocked to the floor after a ferocious and fearsome fight, their fate determined by the crowd or the Emperor – if it was mele, then their throat was slit by their opponent and they were left for dead…..and just to make quite sure, they were poked with a metal rod by a rather stocky character in a fools mask; Mercury a prankster and inventive genius, messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld. After which they were unceremoniously knocked on the head with a mallet by that scary dude in a black cloak and metal mask (the better to hide his identity I should imagine): Charun was the Etruscan God who had the job of bashing dying gladiators over the head with a hammer to make sure they were proper dead!
A number of gladiators came out to fight, managed by a referee; summa rudis, who really wasn’t in anyone’s court and frankly seemed quite happy to see them despatched to the ever after…..
Then after the final fight between the most fearsome gladiators of all, the guy in the red was despatched and the guy in the gold won a bag of gold from the Emperor, or was it the other way round? LOL Whatever, it was so much fun and the crowd were fantastic, baying for blood and more often than not sending the fallen gladiator to their doom….then it was time for the Emperor to leave and his Amazon warrior arrived to collect him and off they went in the carriage……but not before one of the horses had pooped, much to the callous amusement of the audience!!
Final curtain call and all the reenactors came out to the raucous cheers of the crowds!
We had the chance to meet the Gladiators after the show and have a peek at Roman life; butchers, tailors, metal workers and even a photo op with the Emperor.
What a terrific event, the crowd were incredibly interactive, cheering and shouting, we even had a dose of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ with the accompanying foot stomping and clapping, a fearful din, enough to wake the dead.
Bravo Museum of London, what a fab show. I for one will be looking forward to the next such event.
The performance was provided by Britannia who apparently travel the country providing characters for various events, they have even performed in well-known films!
The Gladiator Games were performed in the Guildhall Yard above the genuine remains of a Roman amphitheatre that dates from between 70-120AD. You can visit this marvel via the Guildhall Art Gallery during opening hours. Read more about the Roman amphitheatre here!
Map of Roman Europe
Plan a visit to Guildhall and Guildhall Art Gallery & the Roman Amphitheatre: Guildhall Yard, off Gresham Street, City of London EC2V 5AE.
Nearest tube station: Bank. Plan your journey: http://www.tfl.gov.uk
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