OK, so it happened in a gladiator’s arena some 1,800 years ago in modern-day Turkey.
Seems a gladiator named Diodorus blamed the officiating for his untimely demise and lodged his complaint on his tombstone, according to a translation of the epitaph by Michael Carter of Canada’s Brock University, the details of which will be published in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. For now, here’s the Yahoo version:
The tombstone was donated to the Musee du Cinquanternaire in Brussels, Belgium, shortly before World War I. It shows an image of a gladiator holding what appear to be two swords, standing above his opponent who is signalling his surrender. The inscription says that the stone marks the spot where a man named Diodorus is buried.
“After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately,” reads the epitaph. “Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me.”
The summa rudis is a referee, who may have had past experience as a gladiator. . . .
Though the exact rules [of gladiatorial combat in the eastern Roman Empire] are not well understood, some information can be gleaned from references in surviving texts and art.
For starters, most, if not all, of the fights were overseen by the summa rudis.
Among the rules he enforced was one in which a defeated gladiator could request submission, and if submission was approved by the munerarius (the wealthy individual paying for the show), the contestant could leave the arena without further harm.
Another rule that appears to have been in place was that a gladiator who fell by accident (without the help of his opponent) would be allowed to get back up, pick up his equipment and resume combat.
It’s this last rule that appears to have done in Diodorus. Carter interprets the picture of the gladiator holding two swords to be a moment in his final fight, when Demetrius had been knocked down and Diodorus had grabbed a hold of his sword.
“Demetrius signals surrender, Diodorus doesn’t kill him; he backs off expecting that he’s going to win the fight,” Carter said.
The battle appears to be over. However the summa rudis — perhaps interpreting Demetrius’ fall as accidental, or perhaps with some ulterior motive — thought otherwise, Carter said.
“What the summa rudis has obviously done is stepped in, stopped the fight, allowed Demetrius to get back up again, take back his shield, take back his sword, and then resume the fight.”
This time Diodorus was in trouble, and either he died in the arena or Demetrius inflicted a wound that led to his death shortly thereafter.
This event would have happened before a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a theater or in part of an athletic stadium converted into a sort of mini- Colosseum.
After Diodorus was dead, the people who created his tombstone (probably family or friends) were so upset, Carter suggests, that they decided to include some final words on the epitaph:
“Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me.”