A certain Maximus was a prominent ancient Roman man who held significant wealth and influence in the region of Verona. While Maximus held impressive status, his reputation was rivaled by that of his wife, who evidently received equivalent or greater respect and love from the populace of Verona. This woman, whose name unfortunately is lost to time, was apparently so respected in the city that when she died before her husband, the mourning people of Verona were said to have demanded that Maximus use his wealth to fund public shows, memorials or monuments in honor of his late wife.
In order to pay tribute to his wife’s memory and placate the crowd, Maximus decided to hold gladiatorial games as part of a funeral send-off for his deceased spouse. He spent a great deal of money on the games, going so far as to order exotic animals, such as panthers, for the festivities. Yet, Maximus of Verona may have begun to question his decision to organize the gladiatorial games. Perhaps he thought people might look askance at the decision to hold games and festivities in connection to a funeral, or maybe he wondered if he spent too much or too little than was proper for a funeral service. In his worry, Maximus evidently reached out to his friend, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113)—a wealthy Roman lawyer, official and statesman—in order to see if Pliny thought that the gladiator show adequately met the expectations of Roman society. Pliny the Younger responded in a curious letter, writing:
“You did well to put on a show of gladiators for our people of Verona, who have long shown their affection and admiration for you and have voted you many honours. Verona was also the home town of the excellent wife you loved so dearly, whose memory you owe some public building or show, and this kind of spectacle is particularly suitable for a funeral tribute. Moreover the request came from so many people that a refusal would have been judged churlish rather than strong-minded on your part. You have also done admirably in giving the show so readily and on such a lavish scale, for this indicates a true spirit of generosity” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.34).
In his letter, Pliny appears quite reassuring and full of praise for Maximus’ gladiatorial games. On the other hand, it could possibly also be argued that Pliny was suggesting that an additional public-use memorial building or structure (a favorite kind of project for Pliny) would be a fine, if not “owed,” addition alongside the gladiatorial games. Whatever the case, as Pliny the Younger wrote in his letter that the gladiator games were “suitable” on their own for honoring the memory of Maximus’ wife.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.