Mosaic with the scene of gladiatorial fight (so-called Simmachius mosaic)
Marble, limestone and glass paste.
3rd century CE.
Height: 60.5 cm, width: 60.5 cm, depth: 10 cm.
Inv. No. 3601.Madrid, National Archaeological Museum

Mosaic with the scene of gladiatorial fight (so-called Simmachius mosaic).

Marble, limestone and glass paste.
3rd century CE.
Height: 60.5 cm, width: 60.5 cm, depth: 10 cm.
Inv. No. 3601.

Madrid, National Archaeological Museum.

Found in 1670 on the mons Caelius in Rome in the garden once commonly called Carciofolo, on the left of the Appian way, on a big stone plate in the Baths. From the moment of the discovery it was kept in the private collection of cardinal Camillo Massimo. In 1760 it already belonged to the king Charles III of Spain, who gave it, together with other mosaics, to the Museum of Antiquities attached to the National library, from which it passed in 1867 to the National Archaeological Museum.
CIL VI, 2, 10205:

Symmachi / homo felix // haec videmus // Habilis / Maternus // Neco // Quibus pugnantibus Symmachius ferrum misit // Maternus |(obitus) / Habilis


Este mosaico es un ejemplo magnífico del arte musivario romano y de la importancia de los Juegos gladiatorios durante todo el Imperio. Se representan escenas de combate entre los gladiadores Simmachius y Maternus. En el registro inferior vemos sobre la arena del circo a dos gladiadores pertenecientes al grupo de los murmillones. En la parte superior, Maternus yace en el suelo abatido por el ganador Simmachius, llamado en la inscripción hombre afortunado.

Tied matches were rare; gladiators were supposed to fight to a conclusion. Sometimes the vanquished opponent was killed in combat or received a mortal wound. Preferably, they fought until one was forced to submit by being disarmed or immobilized. The loser lowered any remaining weapons and raised one finger in submission. The summa rudis would intercede and direct the final decision toward the editor, the “real” controller of the munera. Meanwhile, the audience would be rendering their opinions: a call of “Missum!” or the waving of a cloth would be a recommendation for missio for the loser, while turned thumbs or the shriek of “Iugulal” advocated death on the sands. Advised by the spectators, the editor could demand a death blow for the defeated gladiator or could allow both fighters, in acknowledgment of their effort and skill, to leave standing. This kind of interaction is shown on the Symmachius mosaic (figure 3.9), complete with a replication of the chanting of the audience.

The mosaic is divided into two registers, the bottom scene preceding, chronologically, the one above. In the lower, earlier scene, two dismounted equites, recognizable by their tunics, round shields and plumed visored helmets, face off against each other, swords raised. They are flanked by two officials, the summa rudis on the right carrying a staff. The gaze of the viewer is directed inward by the gaze of the participants. The objects of the focus, the gladiators, are labeled above: Habilis is the combatant to the right and Matemus to the left. Next to Maternus’ name is the null symbol, Ø, indicating the death of Maternus and foreshadowing the action on the register above. p.102 An inscription crowns the bottom scene and summarizes the critical action of the combat: “While they were fighting, Symmachius thrust the sword.” The agent of death, Symmachius, is not one of the gladiators represented. Who, then, is responsible for the death? In the scene above, Habilis, left of center, leans over Maternus, now shown bleeding and prone on the sands of the arena. On the far left stands the summa rudis; his body turned away from the pair, toward the unseen editor, who is to decide whether Maternus is to be killed or to be granted missio. Written above the official is “I kill [him]”; the crowd responds with “We see this,” here articulating their primary function of “seeing” and receiving the message of the arena. The audience then addresses the editor: “Symmachius, you fortunate man!” As editor, he is the one who wielded the sword, he is the one who killed Maternus. He is the final arbitrator of life and death. He is acclaimed as “fortunate” in so doing; p.103 his spectacle was a good one, he made the right decision as the agent of Roman authority and he earned the respect and gratitude of the community.

Keywords: μωσαϊκό mosaic mosaics mosaica mosaici mosaik mosaïque ρώμη rome roman roma romano rom römisches romaine floor mosaico opus tessellatum marble limestone glass paste so-called simmachius fight of gladiators-murmillones murmillo equites equit gladiatorial gladiator gladiators gladiatores duel single combat battle fights round shield armour armor armatura official arbiter arbitrator summa rudis lanista staff sword death decease dying wounded blood bleeding winged helmet headpiece maternus habilis theta nigrum cil vi 6 2 10205 symmachi homo felix haec videmus neco quibus pugnantibus symmachius ferrum misit hedera obitus simmachi ne co haecvidemvs maternvs qui bvspug nantibvs simmachivs ferrvm inv no 3601