Among Ancient Romans, bestiarii
were those who combated with beasts, or were exposed to them. We usually distinguish two kinds of bestiarii: the first were those condemned to the beasts, either as being enemies, taken prisoners, or as being slaves, and guilty of some large crime. These were all exposed naked, and unable to defend against the beasts. Even if they succeeded in killing one, fresh animals were continually let loose on them, till the bestiarii were all dead. The Christians were bestiarii of this kind, even some of them who were Roman citizens, though it was the privilege of such to be exempt from it. It seldom happened that two beasts were required to take down one man; on the contrary, one beast frequently dispatched several men. Cicero mentions a lion, which alone dispatched 200 bestiarii. Those who succeeded the first were called , and the last .
The second kind of bestiarii, Seneca observes, consisted of young men, who, to become expert in managing their arms, fought sometimes against beasts, and sometimes against one another; and of bravados, who, to show their courage and dexterity, exposed themselves to this dangerous combat. Augustus encourage this practice in young men of the first rank. Nero exposed himself to it; and it was for the killing beasts in the amphitheatre, that Commodus aquired the title of the Roman Hercules.
Vigenere adds two more types of bestiarii: the first were those who made a trade of it, and fought for money. It appears that there were schools in Rome, in which people were trained to fight with wild beasts (scholae bestiarum, or bestiariorum; Tertull. Apol.
35). The second type was where several armed bestiarii were let loose at once against a number of beasts.
- Smith, William. " Bestiarii". A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. John Murray: London. 1875.