The Weekly Quill — Rural Realities

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Farmland:  The Buried Hard Asset

“What we do in life echoes in eternity”
David Franzoni, Gladiator

“When distinguished aristocrats died, their families would hold graveside bouts between enslaved people or condemned prisoners as a kind of macabre eulogy for the virtues the person had demonstrated in life. According to the Roman writers Tertullian and Festus, since the Romans believed that human blood helped purify the deceased person’s soul, these contests may have also acted as a crude substitute for human sacrifice. The funeral games later increased in scope during the reign of Julius Caesar, who staged bouts between hundreds of gladiators in honor of his deceased father and daughter. The spectacles proved hugely popular, and by the end of the 1st century B.C., government officials began hosting state-funded games as a way of currying favor with the masses.”

Not all early gladiator contests were as well choreographed as those in the masterfully made film, Gladiator. As explained above by History’s Evan Andrews, while the first privately organized Roman gladiator contests, which began in 264 B.C. were grounded in a death being offered for the dead’s attonment, not all contests had such violent endings. Referees could halt contests if a serious injury had been sustained; crowds could bore if two opponents were too fairly matched and fought on and on. And on rare occasions, after dazzling the crowds, two warriors could leave the colosseum on foot, with their honor intact.

In general, there were other professions that promised appreciably higher longevity; a gladiators’ life expectancy was thought to have been into their mid-20s. It is true that a handful of Roman emperors — Caligula, Titus and Hadrian – took to the arena. But the conditions were highly controlled featuring dull blades for the unfortunate chosen challenger. The truest aspect of the 2000 Russell Crowe epic involved the deranged Emperor Commodus, purported to have been an expert marksman known to wow the crowded masses by spearing bears and panthers…from the safety of a raised platform. The bouts the madman did take on with “rivals” were really staged murders involving inexperienced fighters and, in some cases, an unlucky and unarmed member of the audience. According to Andrews, “When he inevitably won the contests, Commodus made sure to reward himself with the massive sum of one million Roman sesterces.”

The Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role was awarded to Crowe, in part, because he was a man of the earth. The movie’s opening scene is a closeup of a man’s strong hand skimming across the tops of a wheat field ripe to be harvested. The symbolism runs deep – the knowing touch engenders trust between the unknown figure and the audience. For there is no richer deed in this world than that conveyed by one who provides for our basic needs. A heart can be no purer than that of man who is one with nature.

In the coming months, we will speak often of wheat and other crops that are essential to the population of this planet, which is expected to surpass the 8-billion milestone this year. Food is expected to be a source of strife as the ramifications of a compromised season in the world’s breadbasket manifest. It is sad to write these words, but there will be some who starve; the fact of which we will be made aware as no famine in world history. It’s plausible to envision the strife these harrowing circumstances will produce given the buying power exerted by the world’s most populous and biggest food importing country – China.