Was Pontarii Fighting the Origin of the Gladiator-Type Retiarius? An Analysis of the Evidence

Manas, Alfonso

VL / 34 - BP / 1655 - EP / 1673
The origin of the retiarius has always been a mystery for experts, since there seems to be no source that gives reliable information about that question. Some experts have proposed that its origin might be found in the Siege of Tyre (332 BC), when the defenders of that city used tridents and nets to repel the attackers. Yet those same experts also warn that that episode might have more to do with the invention of pontarii fighting (a modality of fighting where the retiarius took part) than with the invention of the retiarius itself, which, according to them, would have been invented before pontarii fighting. Here, I propose the idea that an attempt to re-enact the siege of Tyre around the 30s-20s BC in order to offer a new gladiatorial entertainment might have been the origin of pontarii fighting, and of the retiarius too, since in such a re-enactment, a gladiator would have been given a trident and net to play the role of the defenders of Tyre. Thus, pontarii fighting and the retiarius would have been invented at the same time (30s-20s BC), the latter as a consequence of the former.

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