I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around the fact that I was standing on the floor of the Roman Coliseum a couple of weeks ago. After seeing this gladiator’s helmet, and after looking up at the inside of the Coliseum, I just had to stop walking around the stadium for a minute and put myself in his shoes. Looking down, I saw the small gathering rooms where the warriors were kept prior to battle. Given his proximity to the action, I was sure he would have heard the reactions of a crowd 70,000 people strong, the roars of nearby lions and other hungry carnivorous beasts, the thundering wail of chariot wheels as they streaked across the wooden floor above him, and I wondered, was he scared? Was he thinking, “I will probably die today,” or was he simply sitting and sharpening his sword?
Did he pray? Did he have any idea what he was to face? Only an hour or so prior to being placed in one of the rooms beneath the floor, he would have been held in a more publicly viewed space around the perimeter of the Coliseum, in that area where they sell beer and hot-dogs and souvenirs in stadiums today. Was he spat upon? Did the people encourage him, or did they regard him as if he were a prized thoroughbred to wager on?
When he was finally raised through a trap door in the floor, did he realize that there was a full foot of loose sand covering the bare wooden floor that he was raised through, and that he would have to run or fight with his feet mired in it? The floor was larger than an American football field and could accommodate any number of other enemies, including fierce jawed creatures, Caesar’s best chain wielding centurions riding chariots all around him, or even his fellow gladiators bent on killing him in the interest of self preservation.
As I was deep into my own sense of wonder, another tourist bumped into me accidentally, and I noticed that he had a video camera glued to one open eye (the other was entirely closed). He wandered around the inside of the Coliseum, intent on making the full loop I suppose, with an impatient wife and three children in tow; all of whom were busily staring at their sneakers as they plodded along after their father. I just shook my head. When he gets home, the Coliseum will look like the same Coliseum he’s seen on the Discovery channel (but with less resolution).
While you’re traveling, slow down and be sure to let your real eyes see some sights. I’m guilty too; many are the ancient grounds I’ve trodden, looking for the best place to frame a nice picture or to take some good video. Remember, you’re the one who put in the time and effort to get there, so make sure a good portion of the memories are yours to keep with you, not just to bring home for everyone else to see.
I never did finish wondering what happened to my gladiator friend. Judging from the sword-sized hole in his helmet though, I doubt it ended very well!
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