Priscus and Verus: The Unforgettable Gladiator Battle

Where and Why Did These Famous Gladiators Fight?

The battle between Priscus and Verus took place in the Flavian Amphitheater, also known as the Colosseum, in Rome. Constructed between 72 and 80 AD, this iconic monument was inaugurated by Titus, the second emperor of the Flavian dynasty. The opening celebrations lasted for about a hundred days and included various forms of entertainment, such as gladiatorial battles, animal fights, public executions, and even reenactments of naval battles.

The Colosseum in Rome. (BigStockPhoto)

The Epic Battle: Priscus vs. Verus

Priscus and Verus, two remarkable gladiators from the late 1st century AD, engaged in an extraordinary combat that captivated the audience. Martial, a Roman poet, documented this epic duel in his work ‘On the Public Shows of Domitian.’ The battle between these two warriors is the only detailed description of a Roman gladiatorial fight that has survived to this day.

According to Martial, Priscus and Verus fought fiercely, and their skills were evenly matched. The crowd demanded quarter for the combatants as the struggle prolonged. But Titus, known for his fairness, adhered to his own law. The law stated that the fight should continue until one of the fighters raised a finger to admit defeat. Despite the pleas from the audience, Titus did not intervene. Instead, he rewarded their valor by frequently offering them dishes and gifts.

In the end, both Priscus and Verus showed equal strength and bravery, becoming victors in their own right. Titus recognized their magnificent performance by sending them wooden swords, symbolizing their freedom. Martial claimed that this extraordinary act of recognition had never been seen under any other emperor’s rule, highlighting the exceptional generosity and benevolence of Titus.

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Gladiators fighting. (Cicero in Rome)

The Mysterious Gladiators: Priscus and Verus

Unfortunately, little is known about Priscus and Verus beyond their legendary battle. Their origins, careers as gladiators, and even what happened to them after the fight remain a mystery. Nonetheless, it is evident that these two warriors were highly esteemed during their time. The fact that they were chosen to fight each other in the grand inauguration of the Colosseum suggests their exceptional reputation and skill.

Martial’s Tribute to Emperor Titus

While Martial’s account focuses on the gladiatorial fight, it serves as an opportunity to praise Emperor Titus as well. The poet depicts Titus as a just ruler who adheres to his own laws and demonstrates remarkable generosity. Not only did he allow the combatants to continue until one conceded, but he also bestowed them with gifts and dishes. The ultimate display of Titus’ magnanimity was his decision to reward both Priscus and Verus with wooden swords, a reward never before witnessed under any other emperor. Martial’s flattery towards Titus is evident throughout the poem.

The gladiatorial battle between Priscus and Verus continues to captivate our imagination, reminding us of the brutal and thrilling spectacles that unfolded in the grand Colosseum. To learn more about the fascinating world of gladiators and ancient Rome, visit 5 WS.

Note: This article is based on historical accounts and the poem ‘On the Public Shows of Domitian’ by Martial.

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