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These games he beheld from the front of the proscenium. In the show of gladiators, which he exhibited in a wooden amphitheatre, built within a year in the district of the Campus Martius,1 he ordered that none should be slain, not even the condemned criminals employed in the combats. He secured four hundred senators, and six hundred Roman knights, amongst whom were some of unbroken fortunes and unblemished reputation, to act as gladiators. From the same orders, he engaged persons to encounter wild beasts, and for various other services in the theatre. He presented the public with the representation of a naval fight, upon sea-water, with huge fishes swimming in it; as also with the Pyrrhic dance, performed by certain youths, to each of whom, after the performance was over, he granted the freedom of Rome. During this diversion, a bull covered Pasiphae, concealed within a wooden statue of a cow, as many of the spectators believed. Icarus, upon his first attempt to fly, fell on the stage close to the emperor's pavilion, and bespattered him with blood. For he very seldom presided in the games, but used to view them reclining on a couch, at first through some narrow apertures, but afterwards with the Podium2 quite open, He was the first who instituted,3 in imitation of the Greeks, a trial of skill in the three several exercises of music, wrestling, and horse-racing, to be performed at Rome every five years, and which he called Neronia. Upon the aedication of his bath4 and gymnasium, he furnished the senate and the equestrian order with oil. He appointed as judges of the trial men of consular rank, chosen by lot, who sat with the praetors. At this time he went down into the orchestra among the senators, and received the crown for the best performance in Latin prose and verse, for which several persons of the greatest merit contended, but they unanimously yielded to him. The crown for the best performer an the harp, being likewise awarded to him by the judges, he devoutly saluted it, and ordered it to be carried to the statue of Augustus. In the gymnastic exercises, which he presented in the Septa, while they were preparing the great sacrifice of an ox, he shaved his beard for the first time, 5 and putting it up in a casket of gold studded with pearls of great price, consecrated it to Jupiter Capitolinus. He invited the Vestal Virgins to see the wrestlers perform, because, at Olympia, the priestesses of Ceres are allowed the privilege of witnessing that exhibition.
1 A.U.C. 810
2 The Podium was part of the amphitheatre, near the orchestra, allotted to the senators, and the ambassadors of foreign nations; and where also was the seat of the emperor, of the peison who exhibited the games, and of the Vestal Virgins. It projected over the wall which surrounded the area of the amphitheatre, and was raised between twelve and fifteen feet above it; secured with a breast-work or parapet against the irruption of wild beasts.
3 A. U. C. 813
4 The baths of Nero stood to the west of the Pantheon. They were, probably, incorporated with those afterwards constructed by Alexander Severus; but no vestige of them remains. That the former were magnificent, we may infer from the verses of Martial:
“Quid Nerone pejus?
Quid thermis melius Neronianis.
” B. vii. ch. 34. “What worse than Nero? What better than his baths?”
5 Among the Romans, the time at which young men first shaved the beard was marked with particular ceremony. It was usually in their twenty-first year, but the period varied. Caligula (c. x.) first shaved at twenty; Augustus at twenty-five.
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