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7 Astonishing Roman Coliseum Fights

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ThinkStock

Say what you will about violence in American football, but the Coliseum of ancient Rome may have been the single most barbaric sporting venue in human history. Some of the showdowns witnessed there were so ferocious that historians still talk about them today.

1. Elephant Blinds Rhino

Everyone associates the Coliseum with gladiators, but animal-on-animal clashes were also popular spectacles. Prior to the reign of emperor Claudius, a few witnesses recalled a particularly gory battle staged between an elephant and an enraged rhinoceros which the former won after picking up a broken spear-point with its trunk and gouging the eyes out of its horned adversary.

2. Carpophorus’ Slaughter

A bestiarius, whose specialty involved fighting wild animals, could expect to have a short career even by gladiator standards. Among the most famous was Carpophorus, a frequent dispatcher of lions, bears, and leopards, whose personal best involved killing 20 beasts in a single battle.

3. Flamma’s Final Bout

Talk about stamina. Flamma’s love for the ring was so strong that he rejected freedom offers made by impressed Roman politicians not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times! The former Syrian soldier fought in 33 clashes before finally meeting his end on the sands of the Coliseum at age 30. By then, his popularity was so extensive that his face was being used on a Roman coin.

4. Heckler Gets Disemboweled

Widely cited as one of Rome’s most ruthless emperors, Domitian’s (51-96 CE) sadism was greatly appeased by the Coliseum, which he endowed with lavish improvements and expanded seating. He approached the games with deadly seriousness, as one unfortunate citizen learned. After the man jeered a favorite gladiator, Domitian had him dragged into the center of the arena and thrown to a gang of ravenous dogs, which swiftly tore him limb from limb.

5. Titus’ Epic Naval Battle

In a marvel of theatrical engineering, the Coliseum was periodically flooded and filled with ships to re-enact oceanic conflicts. Historian Dio Cassius had the following to say of a particularly notorious one arranged by the emperor Titus in 80 CE: “Titus filled the arena with water… He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea fight there [in] a naval battle between three thousand men.”

6. Commodus Plays Giant-Slayer

Commodus is best known for having been portrayed as a psychopathic madman by Joaquin Phoenix in Ridley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator. While the movie’s historical accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, the emperor’s savagery in real life was nothing to sneeze at. Seeing Hercules as his personal idol, Commodus made several appearances as a gladiator in the Coliseum, winning a series of obviously-rigged confrontations. Perhaps his most brutal display came when he tied a number of injured citizens together before clubbing them to death, pretending they were giants all the while.

7. Priscus versus Verus

Here’s a happy ending for a change. In the first century CE, the poet Martial recorded the most detailed account of a gladiator battle known to modern historians. During a series of games held by Titus, the pair of gladiators battled for hours before simultaneously laying down their weapons and surrendering to each other. Touched by their sportsmanship, Titus granted the pair their freedom as the crowd cheered uproariously. In Martial’s words (aimed at the emperor), “Under no prince but thee, Caesar, has this chanced: while two fought, each was victor.”

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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presidents
George Washington’s Incredible Hair Routine

America's Founding Fathers had some truly defining locks, but we tend to think of those well-coiffed white curls—with their black ribbon hair ties and perfectly-managed frizz—as being wigs. Not so in the case of the main man himself, George Washington.

As Robert Krulwich reported at National Geographic, a 2010 biography on our first president—Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow—reveals that the man “never wore a wig.” In fact, his signature style was simply the result of an elaborately constructed coiffure that far surpasses most morning hair routines, and even some “fancy” hair routines.

The style Washington was sporting was actually a tough look for his day. In the late 18th century, such a hairdo would have been worn by military men.

While the hair itself was all real, the color was not. Washington’s true hue was a reddish brown color, which he powdered in a fashion that’s truly delightful to imagine. George would (likely) don a powdering robe, dip a puff made of silk strips into his powder of choice (there are a few options for what he might have used), bend his head over, and shake the puff out over his scalp in a big cloud.

To achieve the actual ‘do, Washington kept his hair long and would then pull it back into a tight braid or simply tie it at the back. This helped to showcase the forehead, which was very in vogue at the time. On occasion, he—or an attendant—would bunch the slack into a black silk bag at the nape of the neck, perhaps to help protect his clothing from the powder. Then he would fluff the hair on each side of his head to make “wings” and secure the look with pomade or good old natural oils.

To get a better sense of the play-by-play, check out the awesome illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton that accompany Krulwich’s post.

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