Naumachiarii - (Combatants in Sea-fights)
Water Battles at the Colosseum
Definition of a Naumachiarii - Weapons, Armor, Fighting Styles and Opponents
What type of gladiator was a Naumachiarii? What weapons and armor did they use? What was their style of combat? And what type of gladiator was matched as their opponent?
- Definition: The Naumachiarii were a type of gladiator composed of captives or condemned malefactors, who fought to death in mock or simulated sea battles called naumachiae (the Greek word for sea warfare)
- Opponent: This type of gladiator only fought with were other Naumachiarii in the simulated water battles
- The Naumachiarii were expected to slaughter their opponents, or drown in the process.
- The Romans used two methods of combat in their sea battles - ramming and boarding
- The vessels used in the naumachiae staged in the Roman Colosseum were adapted to have flat bottoms
- Weapons: The Naumachiarii were armed with the appropriate weapons used by the warriors they were imitating
- Clothing worn: The Naumachiarii would have been dressed in the appropriate costumes of the combatants in the actual sea battles they were forced to re-enact
History of the Naumachiarii
The Romans enjoyed great spectacles. The wealth of the early Roman Empire allowed for extravagant re-enactments of famous water battles (naumachiae). The first Naumachiae shows date back to the first Punic war against Carthage during the days of the Roman Republic when the Romans were enjoying new successes with their naval fleet.
Picture of a Flooded arena staging a water battle (naumachiae)
The first Naumachiae probably started when new ships were being built and Roman sailors and slaves trained in how to row which was watched by enthralled Roman spectators. Rowing practise was replaced with the novelty of watching actual water battles. The Italian sea, rivers and eventually lakes were used for re-enactments of sea battles. Julius Caesar originated these spectacular displays when in 46 AD he had a permanent lake built specifically for Naumachiae on the far side of the River Tiber, just outside of Rome. This artificial lake measured 1800ft long and 1200ft wide and was surrounded by marble seating for the wealthy spectators. Up to 3000 Naumachiarii were engaged in the fighting and the sea battle featured 12 Roman galleys. The Emperor Claudius was enjoyed these water battles and used the Fucine Lake for this purpose. The number of galleys involved in the Naumachiae (water battles) increased and became more elaborate and spectacular.
The Naumachiarii who fought in the arena
Arenas, such as the Roman Colosseum, were built to be quickly flooded. However, the amount of space available in an arena was extremely limited compared with purpose built or natural lakes which were generally used to put on the naumachiae 'shows'. The arena at the Roman Colosseum only measured 79.35 x 47.20 meters and the depth of the water would have been only shallow. Special flat-bottomed boats, built to a smaller scale than Roman galleys were specially built for the Naumachiae and the Naumachiarii were forced to fight and drown during the water battles. The naumachiae 'shows' staged in an arena were clearly not as massive or spectacular as those staged on the lakes. The Emperor Domitian (81 AD - 96 AD) made the decision to replace the area beneath the Colosseum, with its ability to flood and drain the arena, with a series of tunnels and the Hypogeum. Less than 20 years after the Colosseum was built it became impossible for the Naumachiarii gladiators to fight in the arena - even more were slaughtered in the massive lakes.
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