Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …


Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.509

CiteScore 2018: 0.23

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.232
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.478

Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca: Classe A

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 2015, Issue 207


In the arena: Communication between animals and Christians in damnatio ad bestias

Aarne Ruben
Published Online: 2015-07-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0060

This paper is about the problem of unusual prey. The author compares human and animal difficulties of understanding in damnatio ad bestias (execration, actually, public execution through beasts) in the arenas of Rome during antiquity. The prey’s signals to the predator consist of many components, including mimicry, spreading pheromonic scents, and leaving the footprints. Mimicry techniques, cryptic as well as conspicuous strategies are used by the prey. The survival of the Christians in the Roman arenas was due to the different message channels of men and animals. The Christians who survived never showed fear and therefore no predator touched them. If new prey bears no resemblance to normal prey, a predator could assume a surrender or playful position, while still cautious of the prey’s movements. The latter could be a possibly metacommunicated scene, which is universal for animals as well as humans. In that case, all possibilities of mimetic techniques and survival strategies from both sides are described here: how animals and their prey objects code their messages. Four types of arena interaction signs are presented here. The conclusion is: if the prey does not run, the predator considers it plausibly sick or poisonous. Even a domestic cat carefully avoids a mouse that dares to attack him. The cat considers it to be poisoned and leaves alone. The Christians’ “poison” was their faith.

Keywords: zoosemiotics; lions; crypsis; subjunctive and escape signs


  • Arana, I., A. Irizan & C. Seco. 2002. gfp-Tagged cells as a useful tool to study the survival of Escherichia coli in the presence of the river microbial community. Microbiological Ecology 45. 29–38.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Cassel-Lundhagen, A., T. Tammaru, J. J. Windig, N. Ryrholm & S. Nylin. 2009. Are peripheral populations special? Congruent patterns in two butterfly species. Ecography 32. 591–600.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Dale, James 2006. Intraspecific variation in coloration. In Geoffrey E. Hill & Kevin J. McGraw (eds.), Bird coloration II: Function and evolution, 36–86. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

  • Eco, Umberto. 1993. Cercavano gli unicorni. Alcune false identificazioni da Marco Polo a Leibniz. http://www.umbertoeco.it/CV/Cercavano%20gli%20unicorni.pdf (accessed 25 May 2015).

  • Endler, J. A 1988. Frequency-dependent predation, crypsis, and aposematic coloration. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 319. 505–523.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Fitzgerald, B. M. & D. C. Turner. 2000. Hunting behavior of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations. In D. C. Turner & P. Bateson (eds.), The domestic cat: The biology of its behavior, 152–175. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Gluesing, Ernest A. 1983. Collared lizard predation: The effects of conspicuous morphology and movement. Copeia 3. 835–837.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Godfery, D., J. N. Lythgoe & D. A. Rumball. 1987. Zebra stripes and tiger stripes: The spatial frequency distribution of the pattern compared to that of the background is significant in display and crypsis. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 32 (11). 427–433.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Huber, Ulrich 1719. Dissertatio juridica inauguralis, de condemnatione ad bestias. Groningen: Groningen University.Google Scholar

  • Kaufman, Donald W. 1974. Differential owl predation on white and agoutic Mus musculus. Auk 91(1). 145–150.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Krause, Jens & Kraeme D. Ruxton. 2002. Living in groups. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Kreutzwald, Friedrich Reinhold 1961. Kalevipoeg: Scientific edition of epos “Kalevipoeg,” Paul Ariste & August Annist (eds.). Tallinn: Eesti NSV Teaduste Akadeemia.Google Scholar

  • Lotman, Jurij. 1995. Ne-memuary [in Russian]. In Lotmanovskij sbornik, 5–53. Moscow: IC-Garant.Google Scholar

  • Maran, Timo. 2008. Mimikri semiootika [in Estonian]. Tartu: Tartu University.Google Scholar

  • Martialis, Marcus Valerius. 1825. Epigrammata, vol. 2. Paris: Didot.Google Scholar

  • O’Reilly, Augustine. 1874. Martyrs of the Colosseum: Historical records of the great amphitheater of Rome. Toronto: Hunter, Rose.Google Scholar

  • Peirce, Charles S. 1931–1966. The collected papers of Charles S. Peirce, 8 vols., C. Hartshorne, P. Weiss & A. W. Burks (eds.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [Reference to Peirce’s papers will be designated CP followed by volume and paragraph number.]Google Scholar

  • Popham E. J. 1942. Further experimental studies of the selection action of predators. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London A 112. 105–117.Google Scholar

  • Roach, Marilynne 2002. The Salem witch trials: A day-by-day chronicle of a community under siege. Lanham: First Cooper Square Press.Google Scholar

  • Ruesch, Jurgen & Gregory Bateson. 1951. Communication: The social matrix of psychiatry. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar

  • Sebeok, Thomas A. 1969. Semiotics and ethology. In Thomas A. Sebeok & Alexandra Ramsay (eds.), Approaches to animal communication, 200–231. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar

  • Sebeok, Thomas A. 1986. “Talking” with animals: Zoosemiotics explained. In John Deely, Brooke Williams, & Felicia Kruse (eds.), Frontier in semiotics, 76–82. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar

  • Tinbergen, Niko. 1965. The animal behavior. London: Time-Life.Google Scholar

  • Turovski, Aleksei. 2011. Loomult loom [Animal by nature]. Tallinn: Varrak.Google Scholar

  • Urmancev, J. A. 1974. Simmetrija prirody i priroda simmetrii. Moscow: Izdat.Google Scholar

  • Von Uexküll, Jakob. 1982. Theory of meaning, Thure Uexküll (trans.). Special issue, Semiotica 42(1).Google Scholar

  • Zagrodzka, Jolanta & Tadeusz Jurkowski. 1988. Changes in the aggressive behavior of cats treated with amphetamine. International Journal of Neuroscience 41. 287–297.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ziller, Dolf 1979. Hostility and aggression. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2015-07-17

Published in Print: 2015-10-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2015, Issue 207, Pages 127–137, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0060.

Export Citation

©2015 by De Gruyter Mouton.Get Permission

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Matthias Poloczek and David P. Williamson
Journal of Experimental Algorithmics, 2017, Volume 22, Page 1

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in