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For other uses, see Gladiator (disambiguation).
The Zliten mosaic from Libya (Leptis Magna) prob. 2nd c. AD: A thraex
and murmillo, a hoplomachus and murmillo (who is signaling his defeat
to the referee), and a matched pair.Gladiators (Latin: gladiatōrēs,
"swordsmen" or "one who uses a sword," from gladius, "sword") were
professional fighters in ancient Rome who fought against each other,
wild animals, and condemned criminals, sometimes to the death, for the
entertainment of spectators. These fights took place in arenas in many
cities from the Roman Republic period through the Roman Empire.
1 History of gladiatorial combats
2.2 The games
4 Life as a gladiator
4.3 Typical combat
4.4 Life expectancy of a gladiator
4.5 Slave revolts
5 Roman attitudes
5.1 Towards gladiators
5.2 Retiarius Tunicatus
6 Female gladiators
7 Emperors as gladiators
9 Gladiators in films and television
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
 History of gladiatorial combats
The origin of the gladiatorial games is not known for certain. There
are two theories: that the Romans adopted gladiatorial fights from the
Etruscans, and that the games came from Campania and Lucania. The
evidence for the theory of Etruscan origin is a passage by the Greek
writer Nicolaus of Damascus in the second half of the first century
BCE describing the origins as Etruscan, an account by Isidore of
Seville during the 600s relating the Latin word for gladiator manager,
lanista, to the Etruscan word for "executioner", and also likeness of
the Roman god of hell, Charon, who accompanied the executed bodies as
they exited the arena, to the Etruscan god of death, also named
Charon. The theory that the games developed from a Campanian and
Lucanian tradition is supported by frescoes dating to the fourth
century BCE depicting funeral games in which pair of gladiators fought
to the death to commemorate the death of an important individual.
However, the Campanians could also have adapted this tradition from
the Greeks who could have introduced funeral games with human
sacrifices to the area in the eighth century BCE. Regardless of the
origin, the Romans adopted the tradition of funeral games to display
important people's status and power.
The earliest known gladiatorial games were held in 310 BC by the
Campanians (Livy 9.40.17). These games re-enacted the Campanians'
military success over the Samnites.
The first recorded Roman gladiatorial combats took place in Rome in
264 BC, at the start of the First Punic War against Carthage. Decimus
Junius Brutus Albinus staged it in honour of his dead father Brutus
Pera. It was held between three pairs of slaves chosen from among 22
prisoners of war, and held in the cattle market (Forum Boarium). The
ceremony was called a munus or “duty paid to a dead ancestor by his
descendants, with the intention of keeping alive his memory” (Baker,
Gladiator 10). Roman aristocrats soon took up the practice as an
alternative to the earlier custom of sacrificing prisoners on the
graves of warriors, with events being held for notable people and
repeated every one to five years after the person’s death.
These games became popular throughout the Empire and were especially
popular in Greece. So popular that there are many records of people in
towns where prominent citizens died virtually extorting promises of
gladiatorial games from the survivors. The aristocracy also began to
compete in having the best games so that whereas the sons of Brutus
Pera offered three matches, a century later, Titus Flamininus offered
74 matches lasting three days for his father's funeral and by the
passing of yet another century Julius Caesar promised 320 matches for
his daughter, Julia. As a result the emperors eventually had to
regulate how much could be spent on gladiatorial performances to
prevent members of the elite from bankrupting themselves.
Gradually, as the connection to funerals faded in the late second
century BC, the funeral games gradually transformed into public
performances. Julius Caesar eventually owned so many gladiators that
the Senate, fearing the use such a "private army" could be put to,
passed a law limiting private citizens to owning no more than 640
gladiators. The moment when a true split from the funeral backdrop
occurred was after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Bad
omens plagued the city and the games were seen as a method to please
the gods and save Rome. During the first century A.D., giving games
even became a requirement of some public offices.
Over time the games had became integrated ever more into the Imperial
cult through games financed by the state or by the Emperors as a means
to get public approval, and especially so in the provincial towns.
After Caesars' death a clear distinction between games organized by
public officials (ludi) and those held by private citizens (munera)
was set. Although it was still possible for private citizens to
organise their own gladiatorial games, Augustus decreed that they
could use no more than 120 gladiators and the days on which such
private games could be organised were limited: from December 2 to
December 8, during the Saturnalia from December 17 to December 23 (the
Winter solstice), and between March 19 and March 23 for the Spring
celebration of Quinquatria.
Roman arena at Arles, inside view.The popularity of the games resulted
in the construction of proper venues and transformation of others
(such as the Roman Forum) into spaces for the spectacles.
Gladiator fights took place in these amphitheatres during the
afternoon of a full day event. The amphitheaters built were made of
wood and were usually neither structurally sound, often being prone to
collapse, nor did they survive the fires of Rome. The first
permanent amphitheater in Rome dates to around 30 BC. Not until AD 70
and Vespasian's reign did plans for a purpose built stone venue for
the games develop. The Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavium) was unveiled
in AD 80.
The Stone Pine, a conifer native to the Iberian Peninsula was often
planted near the local amphitheatre in foreign countries. The aromatic
pinecones were traditionally burnt in bowls (tazze = cups) to mask the
smell of the arena. The word “arena” means sand, a reference to the
thick layer of sand on the floor for the purpose of soaking up the
The spectator seating in amphitheatres was originally "disorderly and
indiscriminate" until Augustus was upset at the insult to a senator,
to whom no one offered a seat at a crowded games in Puteoli.
"In consequence of this the senate decreed that, whenever any public
show was given anywhere, the first row of seats should be reserved for
senators; and at Rome he would not allow the envoys of the free and
allied nations to sit in the orchestra, since he was informed that
even freedmen were sometimes appointed. He separated the soldiery from
the people. He assigned special seats to the married men of the
commons, to boys under age their own section and the adjoining one to
their preceptors; and he decreed that no one wearing a dark cloak
should sit in the middle of the house. He would not allow women to
view even the gladiators except from the upper seats, though it had
been the custom for men and women to sit together at such shows. Only
the Vestal virgins were assigned a place to themselves, opposite the
(Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars Augustus, XLIV).
 The games
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy. A photograph of the best known Roman era
amphitheatre taken in the early evening. Gladiatorial combats were the
main event and usually held around this time of day.The games were
carefully and precisely planned by an organizer (editor) on behalf of
the emperor. The combinations of animals and gladiator types were
meticulously planned, such that the show would be most appealing to
the audience. Gladiators would be publicly displayed in the Roman
forum to large crowds one to two days prior to the actual event.
Programmes containing the gladiatorial and personal history of the
fighters were passed out. Banquets for the gladiators were also held
the evening before the games and many attended these as well. Even the
criminals (noxii) listed to fight were at times permitted to attend.
When the day of the event came, gladiator fights were preceded by
animal-on-animal fights, animal hunts (venationes), and public
executions of condemned criminals (damnati) during lunchtime. As it
was considered bad taste to watch the executions, the upper classes
would usually leave and return after lunch. The Emperor Claudius was
often criticised because he usually stayed in the stadium to watch the
executions. The damnati were sometimes required to fight battle
recreations or in paired gladiatorial combats against each. The winner
then fought a new opponent and so on until only one was left alive.
Usually this "winner" was then himself put to death but he could be
spared if he showed sufficient bravery. Under Nero, it became the
practice to perform plays adapted from myths in which people died and
assigning the role of a character who would die to a condemned man.
The audience would then watch the play, and the actual killing of the
condemned man in the same manner as the fictional character. Before
the afternoon fights began, a procession (pompa) was led into the
arena containing the organizer, his servants, blacksmiths to show that
the weapons were in order, servants carrying weaponry and armour, and
the gladiators themselves. Next came the checking of the weapons to
make sure they were real (probatio armorum) by the editor of the
games. In Rome this would be by the emperor himself, or he could
bestow the honour upon a guest.
Like today, the games had ticket scalpers or Ticket touts(Locarii),
people who buy up seats and sell them on at an inflated price. Martial
in his Epigrams wrote "Hermes divitiae locariorum" or “Hermes means
riches for the ticket scalpers” so scalping/touting seems to have been
a common practice. The mentioned Hermes was a famous gladiator, not
the deity, who was called Mercury by the Romans.
During the fights musicians played accompaniments altering their tempo
to match that of the combat in the style now familiar with music in
action movies. Typical instruments were a long straight trumpet
(tubicen), a large curved instrument (Cornu) similar to an exaggerated
French horn and a water organ (hydraulis). The Romans loved burlesque
and pantomime and these musicians were often dressed as animals with
names such as "flute playing bear" (Ursus tibicen) and "horn-blowing
chicken" (Pullus cornicen), names sometimes found displayed on
Like today’s athletes, gladiators did product endorsements.
Particularly successful gladiators would endorse goods in the arena
before commencing a fight and have their names promoting products on
the Roman equivalent of billboards.
A flask depicting the final phase of the fight between a murmillo
(winning) and a thraex.During gladiatorial combat, it was preferable
for gladiators not to kill each other; technically, they were slaves,
but they also often had years of intensive training and therefore were
quite valuable. Gladiators were instructed to inflict non-lethal
wounds upon each other, and often lived long, rather successful lives
able to purchase their freedom after three years. However, accidents
did happen at times resulting in death, and gladiators who failed to
display bravery in combat could be executed by order of the emperor.
After fights, the bodies of the gladiators were buried in a manner
depending on the status of the fighter.
As with modern sports, spectators liked to support “sides” (factiones)
which they called the “great shields” (scutarii) and the “little
shields” (parmularii). The “great shields” were lightly armoured
defensive fighter types. Whereas the “little shields” were the more
aggressive heavily armoured fighter types. Fighting without a shield
would have been classed as a “great shield” due to fighting style.
“Little shields” always had an advantage early in a match (as attested
by the odds given by contemporary Bookmakers) but the longer the match
lasted the greater the advantage for the “great shield” as his
opponent tired much more quickly due to heavier armour and also as
they usually had helmets with more restricted vision. Spectators also
had local rivalries. During games at Pompeii, Pompeians and spectators
from Nuceria traded insults which led to stone throwing and eventually
a riot broke out with many being killed or wounded. Nero was furious
and banned the games at Pompeii for ten years. The story is told in
graffiti on the walls of Pompeii with much boasting of their "victory"
Julius Caesar in 59 BC started a daily newspaper called the Acta
Diurna (daily acts) that reported gladiator news. It carried news of
gladiatorial contests, games, astrological omens, notable marriages,
births and deaths, public appointments, and trials and executions. The
Acta's content varied over time depending on the Emperor's whims and
the tastes of the public.
Gladiator games were not loved by all emperors and people throughout
Roman history. The enthusiasm for the spectacle by Augustus, Caligula,
and Nero contrasted the apathy of Tiberius and the discontent of
Cicero, Seneca, and Tertullian. As well, barbarian attack on the
provinces during the third century AD led to an economic recession and
decreased funds for such shows. Some emperors, such as Gordianus I,
Gordianus III, and Probus did continue to organize costly
performances, but privately funded shows, especially those in the
provinces, declined. In the Eastern Empire invasion had much less of
an effect on the economy and gladiator shows prevailed. The gradual
downfall in the east has been attributed to the effect of Christians
on the gore-filled games. Although Christians saw the combats as
murder they had no objection to the killing and bloodshed in itself
but rather objected to the moral harm done to the spectators. They
also saw the arena as a place of martyrdom and both refused to
participate as spectators and sought for an end to the gladiator shows
although they had no objection to the continuation of animal-on-animal
fights and animal hunts (venationes). Constantine I issued an edict in
AD 325 which briefly ended the games.
"in times in which peace and peace relating to domestic affairs
prevail, bloody demonstrations displease us. Therefore we order that
there may be no more gladiator combats. Those, who were condemned to
become gladiators for their crimes, are to work from now on in the
mines. Thus they pay for their crimes, without having to pour their
Speculation that the edict was a permanent ban is refuted by the
presence of unchallenged games only three years later.
An indication of the declining popularity is that in AD 354 of the 176
official holidays with games, the main event for 102 of these were
theatre performances, 64 were chariot races and gladiatorial combats
were held on only 10 days. In AD 367 Valentinianus I placed a ban on
sentencing Christians to the arena, but the sentencing of non-
Christians remained unchanged. Christianity became the official
religion of the Roman Empire in AD 393 under the reign of Theodosius.
The emperor himself sought to ban heathen festivals, but gladiator
shows continued. Their programmes, however, were very limited due to
financial reasons and the audience dwindled as many converted to
Christianity. Honorius, Theodosius' son, finally decreed the end of
gladiatorial contests in 399 AD. The last known gladiator competition
in the city of Rome occurred on January 1, 404 AD.
It is speculated that gladiator fights were no longer practiced by AD
440, as they were not mentioned by Bishop Salvianus in a pamphlet
attacking public shows. It would seem only appropriate for the
inclusion of gladiator games had they still occurred.
 Life as a gladiator
Gladiators could have been either prisoners of war, slaves or
criminals condemned to gladiator schools (ad ludum gladiatorium).
There were also a number of volunteer gladiators (auctoratus). By the
end of the republic as many as half of the gladiators were auctoratii.
These were either sons of prominent men perhaps looking for a radical
change, poor men attracted by the potential for fame or relinquishing
themselves from poverty, or even men with a monetary purpose, such as
Sisinnes who sought to earn money to buy a friend's freedom. All
gladiators kept the monetary prizes that they won in the arena and
Titus is on record for paying a freed slave 1,000 gold aurei to return
for a single match. These men came from all different backgrounds but
were soon united as they entered the training schools. By the end of
the Republic, about half of the gladiators were volunteers
(auctorati), who took on the status of a slave for an agreed-upon
period of time, similar to the indentured servitude that was common in
the late second millennium. Sometimes people were forced to fight in
one off events. Caligula was known for forcing anyone he did not like
to fight, including spectators who annoyed him at the games (Cassius
Dio 59.10, 13-14).
One of the benefits of becoming a gladiator for slaves and criminals
is that they were then allowed to have relationships with women and
although they themselves could never become Roman citizens, if they
gained their freedom, their marriages then were legally recognised and
their children could then become citizens.
Gladiators were very proud of their ethnic origins and made sure their
true origin was known to the public if they fought under a title
suggesting another ethnic group. Even in death they made sure their
race was inscribed on their headstone. After Judea was “pacified”
there was a large increase in the number of Jewish gladiators as it
was common practice under Titus and Vespasian to sentence Jewish
rebels and criminals to gladiatorial schools.
Left-handed gladiators were popular and a rare novelty, their fights
were always advertised as a special event. As with modern-day "lefty"
fencers, tennis players and other sportsman, these left-handers had a
large advantage as they were trained to fight right-handers who were
themselves not trained to defend against a left-hander. Mentions of
left handedness on gravestones have been found.
Research on the remains of 70 Murmillos and Retiariae gladiators found
at an ancient site in Ephesus has shown that, contrary to popular
belief, gladiators were probably overweight and also ate a high energy
vegetarian diet consisting of mainly barley, beans and dried fruit.
Fabian Kanz of the Austrian Archaeological Institute said he believed
gladiators "cultivated layers of fat to protect their vital organs
from the cutting blows of their opponents". Gladiators were sometimes
known as hordearii, which means "eaters of barley". Although
considered an inferior grain to wheat (a punishment for Legionaries
was to replace their wheat ration with barley), gladiators probably
preferred it as Romans believed that barley contributed to strength
and covered the arteries with a layer of fat which helped to reduce
bleeding. Other findings from the research indicate gladiators fought
barefoot in sand.
Model of The Great Gladiatorial Training School (Ludus
Magnus).Estimations are that there were more than 100 gladiator
schools (ludi) throughout the empire. Two of the more famous are the
school in Capua where Spartacus was trained and the school in Pompeii
that was buried in the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius. One of the largest
schools was based in Ravenna. There were four schools in Rome: Ludus
Magnus (the most important), Ludus Dacus, Ludus Gallicus, and Ludus
Matutinus (school for gladiators dealing with animals). The schools
had barracks for the gladiators with small cells and a large training
ground. The most impressive had seating for spectators to watch the
men train and some even had boxes for the emperor.
Prospective gladiators (novicius) upon entering a gladiator school
swore an oath (sacramentum) giving their lives to the gods of the
underworld and vowing to accept, without protest, humiliation by any
means. Volunteers also signed a contract (auctoramentum) with a
gladiator manager (lanista) stating how often they were to perform,
which weapons they would use, and how much they would earn.
Prospectives also went under a physical examination by a doctor to
determine if they were both physically capable of the rigorous
training and aesthetically pleasing. Once accepted the novicius
usually had his debts forgiven and was given a sign up fee. For as
long as he was a gladiator he was well fed and received high quality
medical care. Overall, gladiators were united as members of a familia
gladiatoria and became second to the prestige of the school. They also
joined unions (collegia) formed to ensure proper burials for fallen
members and compensation for their families.
As a rule gladiators, slaves and criminals had tattoos (stigma)
applied as an identifying mark on the face, legs and hands
(legionnaires were also tattooed but only on their hands). This
practice continued until the emperor Constantine banned them on the
face by decree in AD 325.
Training was under teachers called “Doctores” and involved the
learning of a series of “numbers”, which were broken down into various
phases much as a play is a series of acts broken down into scenes.
Sometimes fans complained that a gladiator fought too “mechanically”
when he followed the “numbers” too closely. Gladiators would even be
taught how to die correctly. Each type of gladiator had its own
teacher; doctore secutorum, doctore thracicum, etc. Although
gladiators in times of need helped train legionaries, they were not
usually good soldiers themselves as a result of this choreographed
style of training. Within a training-school there was a competitive
hierarchy of grades (paloi) through which individuals were promoted.
They trained using two meter poles (palus) buried in the ground. The
levels were named for the training pole and were primus palus,
secundus palus, and so on. It was also rare for a novicius to train in
more than one gladiatorial style. Once a gladiator had finished
training but had not yet fought in an arena he was called a “Tiro”.
 Typical combat
The announcement for the coming shows were often made by painting the
program (libellus) on the walls of the city which also often included
depictions of the featured fighters. Sometimes the results of combats
were added to the advertisement after the matches. A "v" over the
fighters image stood for "vicit" meaning he won. A "p" stood for
"periit" meaning he was killed. A "m" stood for "missus", meaning he
lost but was spared. Games were often commemorated with a
representation of the fights with an inscription (i.e. Astyanax
defeated Kalendio). If one was killed a circle with a diagonal line
through it (usually Ø but sometimes excluding the line within the
circle) was inscribed over the defeated man's head.
An average game had between ten and thirteen pairs (Ordinarii) of
gladiators, with a single bout lasting around ten to fifteen minutes.
They were usually of differing types. However, sponsor or audience
could request other combinations like several gladiators fighting
together (Catervarii) or specific gladiators against each other. As a
rule gladiators only fought others from within the same school or
troupe (ad ludum gladiatorium) but sometimes specific gladiators would
be requested to fight one from another troupe (Postulaticii).
Sometimes a lanista had to rely on substitutes (supposititii) if the
requested gladiator was already dead or incapacitated. The Emperor
could have his own gladiators (Fiscales). The largest contest of
gladiators ever given was by the emperor Trajan in Dacia as part of a
victory celebration in 107 AD and included 5,000 pairs of fighters.
Some matches were advertised as “sine missione” (without release)
meaning “to the death”. The referees allowed these fights to continue
as long as it took to get a result. Although already a rare event,
Augustus outlawed “sine missiones” due to the expense of compensating
the “Lanistas” but they were later reintroduced.
When one gladiator was wounded the spectators would yell out one of
several traditional cheers such as "habet, hoc habet” (he’s had it) or
"habet, peractum est” (he's had it, it's all over), the referee would
then end the fight by separating the combatants with his staff. A
gladiator could also acknowledge defeat by raising a finger (ad
digitum), The referee would then step in, stopping the combat, and
refer the decision of the defeated gladiator’s fate to the games
sponsor (munerarius) who would decide whether he should live or die
after taking the audiences wishes into account or considering how well
he had fought. If a gladiator was killed it was normal practice for
the games sponsor to pay compensation to the owner (Lanista) of up to
100 times the gladiator's value. For the death of a popular gladiator
this could be very expensive.
Fights were generally not to the death during the Republic, but
gladiators were still killed or maimed accidentally. Claudius was
infamous for rarely sparing the life of a defeated Retiarius. He liked
to watch his face as he died, as the Retiarius was the only gladiator
that never wore a helmet. Suetonius recounts a combat where the death
of an opponent was called a murder. "Once a band of five retiarii in
tunics (retiarius tunicatus), matched against the same number of
secutores, yielded without a struggle; but when their death was
ordered, one of them caught up his trident and slew all the victors.
Caligula bewailed this in a public proclamation as a most cruel
murder." (Lives of the Twelve Caesars XXX.3)
Mosaic at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid showing a
retiarius named Kalendio (shown surrendering in the upper section)
fighting a secutor named Astyanax. The Ø sign by Kalendio's name
implies he was killed after surrendering.The figure of a referee is
frequently depicted on mosaics as standing in the background,
sometimes accompanied by an assistant and carrying a staff with which
to hold back a gladiator after his opponent signified submission. This
implies contests were fought with fixed rules. We know from mosaics,
and from surviving skeletons that gladiators primarily aimed for the
head and the major arteries under the arm and behind the knee.
Gladiators were paid each time they fought. The winner of a match
received from the editor a palm branch and additionally an award such
as a golden bowl, crown or a sum of money in the form of gold coins.
Money was also awarded to the victor by the crowd and was collected on
a silver tray. A laurel crown was awarded for an especially
outstanding performance. The victor then ran around the perimeter of
the amphitheatre, waving the palm. Gladiators were allowed to keep any
money or gold they received as a prize. The ultimate prize awarded to
gladiators was a permanent discharge from the obligation to fight. As
a symbol of this award, the editor gave the gladiator a wooden sword
(rudis), Martial (Spect. 27) mentions a particularly famous match
between two gladiators named Priscus and Verus, who fought so evenly
and bravely for so long that when they both acknowledged defeat at the
same instant, the emperor Titus awarded victory to both and gave
wooden swords (rudes) to each. Gladiators (including criminals) could
earn their freedom if they survived three to five years of combat but
there was no set rule as to what a gladiator would have to do in order
to win this freedom. Usually if a gladiator won five fights, or
especially distinguished himself in a particular fight, he won the
rudis and his freedom. A famous Secutor nicknamed Flamma was awarded
the rudis four times but he chose to remain a gladiator. He was killed
in his 34th fight. Flamma's gravestone in Sicily is particularly
informative as it includes his record: Flamma, secutor, lived 30
years, fought 34 times, won 21 times, fought to a draw 9 times,
defeated 4 times, a Syrian by nationality. Delicatus made this for his
After a gladiator's defeat, if the crowd gave the signal for him to
die there was a ritual to be observed. With one knee on the ground,
the loser grasped the thigh of the victor, who, while holding the
helmet or head of his opponent, plunged his sword into his neck or cut
his throat depending on his weapon (Martial). To die well a gladiator
was not allowed to ask for mercy and was not allowed to scream when
killed. Recent research suggests that gladiators adhered to a code of
discipline, and were not as savage as once thought — they did not
resort to violence and mutilation which could occur on the
battlefields of the day. If defeated but mortally wounded the
gladiator was not killed in front of the audience but was taken from
the arena to be executed "humanely" with a hammer on the forehead in
After the death of a gladiator in combat, two attendants impersonating
Charon (the god of the dead) and Mercury (messenger to the gods) would
approach the body. Charon would strike the body with a mallet and
Hermes would then prod the body with a hot poker disguised as a wand
to see whether the gladiator was really dead or not. The body was then
placed on a "couch of Libitina" by bearers (libitinarii) in larger
games and taken from the arena through the Libitinarian Gate (victors
left via the Porta Triumphalis and losers the Porta Sanavivaria). In
lesser games the libitinarii often used hooks to drag the body.
Attendants then spread a fresh layer of sand (harena from where we get
the word arena) to soak up the blood. Libitina was the goddess of
funerals. After stripping the armour, the gladiator's body was then
taken to a nearby morgue (spoliarium) where by custom, as final proof
the fight was not "fixed", officials slit the man's throat to ensure
that he was truly dead.
 Life expectancy of a gladiator
Gladiators rarely lived past age 30 unless they were particularly
outstanding and accomplished victors but at a time when around 50
percent of Roman citizens died, from all causes, before age 25
this indicates that gladiators in fact tended to live longer than the
general populace which is attributed to the extra care they received.
Reasonable estimates show that they fought on average two to three
times yearly, but there are some exceptions such as some men fighting
all nine days during one of Trajan's shows.
French historian George Villes evaluated 100 fights from the 1st
century CE, involving 200 gladiators, and found that 19 gladiators had
lost their lives. His evaluations of gladiator
gravestones indicates that the average age at time of death was around
27 years, however, historian Marcus Junkelmann points out that only
the most successful gladiators were usually given a headstone and that
the majority of the gladiators who died were at the beginning of their
career and thus not included in this average. According to Junkelmann
the majority died between 18 and 25 years of age.
 Slave revolts
Rome had to fight three Servile Wars, the last being against one of
the most famous gladiators — Spartacus who became the leader of a
group of escaped gladiators and slaves. His revolt, which began in 73
BC, was crushed by Marcus Crassus two years later in 71 BC. After
this, gladiators were deported from Rome and other cities during times
of social disturbances, for fear that they might organize and rebel
again. As well, armouries within the schools were closely guarded and
gladiators who were potential threats were chained.
 Roman attitudes
 Towards gladiators
The Romans' attitude towards the gladiators was ambiguous: on the one
hand to be a gladiator was the ultimate social disgrace and in fact
they were legally designated as infamia (loss of certain public
rights); but on the other hand, some successful gladiators rose to
celebrity status and even those of senatorial and equites families
seemed to join up as gladiators (the Larinum decree under Tiberius
banned those of such status from becoming gladiators, which implies
that this must have been happening). Being a Lanista was a very
lucrative business, but it also was viewed as among the lowest
professions on the social scale and well below prostitution, although
paradoxically if the Lanista had other sources of income he carried no
stigma at all. Likewise if the gladiator took no fee for fighting then
the legal stigma of infamia did not apply and the gladiator legally
lost no social status although still remaining publicly disgraced.
Outside the intellectual circle of people such as Pliny the Younger
(whose dislike for gladiatorial shows may have been more class- than
conscience-based), there was widespread acceptance of gladiatorial
shows and little qualm as to their brutality.
Many ancient writers give specific instances and detailed accounts of
the combats that provide invaluable insight into Roman attitudes:
“Many ladies of distinction, however, and senators, disgraced
themselves by appearing in the amphitheatre” (Tacitus 15.32). The
Roman historian, Cassius Dio (62.17.3), writes of a festival that Nero
held in honour of his mother: “....There was another exhibition that
was at once most disgraceful and most shocking, when men and women not
only of the equestrian but even of the senatorial order appeared as
performers in the orchestra, in the Circus, and in the hunting-
theatre, like those who are held in lowest esteem; they drove horses,
killed wild beasts and fought as gladiators, some willingly and some
sore against their will". Emperor Marcus Aurelius believed gladiator
shows to be boring, but also saw the gladiators themselves as
privileged athletes and so took extraordinary measures to prevent
bloodshed and death (Cassius Dio 71.29.4) For example he decreed that
swords have a blunt point and banned iron blades.
Gladiators often developed large followings of women, who apparently
saw them as sexual objects despite it being socially unacceptable for
citizen women to have sexual contact with them.
What was the youthful charm that so fired Eppia? What hooked her? What
did she see in him to make her put up with being called "the
gladiator's moll"? Her poppet, her Sergius, was no chicken, with a dud
arm that prompted hope of early retirement. Besides his face looked a
proper mess, helmet-scarred, a great wart on his nose, an unpleasant
discharge always trickling from one eye. But he was a gladiator. That
word makes the whole breed seem handsome, and made her prefer him to
her children and country, her sister, her husband. Steel is what they
fall in love with. (Juvenal: Satires: 6.102 ff. Translated by P.
There is an inscription on a wall in Pompeii that says the Thracian
gladiator Celadus was "suspirum et decus puellarum", literally "the
sigh and glory of the girls." Faustina the Younger, the mother of the
emperor Commodus, was said to have conceived Commodus with a
gladiator, but Commodus likely invented this story himself. Despite or
because of the prohibition many rich women sought intimate contact
with gladiators and there are several instances of historians
mentioning Senators wives running off to live with gladiators. The
ancient celebrity and the festivity before the fights gave the women
an opportunity to meet them.
Despite the extreme dangers and hardships of the profession, some
gladiators were volunteers (called auctorati) who fought for money;
effectively this career was a sort of last chance for people who had
fallen into financial troubles. Indeed, their combat skills were such
that, when he had no alternative, Gaius Marius had gladiators train
the legionaries in single combat. They were also frequently depicted
in art, the Gladiator Mosaic, or a Bignor Roman villa showing Cupids
as gladiators. Souvenir bowls were also produced depicting named
gladiators in combat.
 Retiarius Tunicatus
Main article: Retiarius
Even lower on the social scale were gladiators considered effeminate.
They appear to have fought primarily as Retiarii or more specifically
Retiarius Tunicatus, named for the tunic they wore to differentiate
them from normal Retiarii who fought bare chested. Although mentioned
by Juvenal, Seneca and Suetonius very little detail is given. They are
referred to as training in an “indecent part of the gladiator's
school” and fighting in a “disgraceful type of armament”. Juvenal
mentions the trainers practice of keeping separate "from their fellow
retiarii the wearers of the ill-famed tunic”.
It was thought by their contemporaries that they willingly became
Retiarii to exhibit both their vanity and contempt for disgrace as
their faces were not hidden by a helmet as was the case with other
"In this way they incurred death instead of disfranchisement; for they
fought just as much as ever, especially since their contests were
eagerly witnessed, so that even Augustus used to watch them in company
with the praetors who superintended the contests" (Cassius Dio, LVI.
The only named example of this class of gladiator was Gracchus, an
aristocrat and descendant of the Gracchi who was infamous for his
marriage (as a bride) to a male horn player. It is recorded by Cassius
that he voluntarily fought, not only as a Retiarius Tunicatus, but
wore a conical hat adorned with gold lace and ribbons during the
combat (Gracchus was also chief of the priests of Mars (Salii) for
whom this hat was normal attire).
 Female gladiators
Main article: Female gladiator
Female gladiators also existed. Women also often fought as
Venetores (wild animal hunting) but these are not considered true
The Emperor Domitian liked to stage torchlit fights between dwarves
and women, according to Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars. From
depictions it appears they fought bare-chested and rarely wore helmets
no matter what type of gladiator they fought as.
Women apparently fought at night, and this being the time that the
games main events were held indicates the possible importance or
rarity of female gladiators. Most modern scholars consider female
gladiators a novelty act due to the sparse writings about them but
those ancient historians that do mention them do so “casually” which
suggests that female gladiators were "more widespread than direct
evidence might otherwise indicate". The author of an inscription
found in Pompeii boasts of being the first editor to bring female
gladiators to the town.
Dio Cassius (62.3.1) mentions that not only women but children fought
in a gladiatorial event that Nero sponsored in 66 AD. It is known the
emperor Nero also forced the wives of some Roman senators into
amphitheatres, presumably to fight.
A 1st or 2nd century Marble relief from Halicarnassus suggests that
some women fought in heavy armour. Both women are depicted as
provocatrices in combat. The inscription names them as “Amazon” and
“Achillia” and mentions that both received an honourable discharge
(missio) from the arena despite fighting each other (both deemed to
Mark Vesley, a Roman social historian speculates that as gladiatorial
schools were not fit places for women, they may have studied under
private tutors in the collegia iuvenum. These schools were for
training high ranking males over the age of 14 in martial arts but
Vesley found three references to women training there as well
including one who died..."To the divine shades of Valeria Iucunda, who
belonged to the body of the iuvenes. She lived 17 years, 9 months".
A female Roman skeleton unearthed in Southwark, London in 2001 was
identified as a female gladiator, but this was on the basis that
although wealthy she was buried as an outcast outside the main
cemetery, had pottery lamps of Anubis (i.e., Mercury, the gladiatorial
master of ceremonies), a lamp with a depiction of a fallen gladiator
engraved and bowls containing burnt pinecones from a Stone Pine placed
in the grave. The only Stone Pines in Britain at the time were those
planted around the London amphitheatre as the pinecones of this
particular species were traditionally burnt during games. Most experts
believe the identification to be erroneous but the Museum of London
states it is "70 percent probable" that the Great Dover Street Woman
was a gladiator. Hedley Swain, head of early history at the Museum
states: "No single piece of evidence says that she is a gladiator.
Instead, there’s simply a group of circumstantial evidence that makes
it an intriguing idea". She is now on display at the end of the Roman
London section of the Museum of London. This gladiator was the subject
of a program on the UK's Channel 4.
 Emperors as gladiators
Caligula, Titus, Hadrian, Lucius Verus, Caracalla, Geta and Didius
Julianus were all said to have performed in the arena. It is
uncertain if these performances were one-time-only or repeated
appearances and there is question regarding the risk as the emperors
chose their opponents and no one was likely to injure an emperor.
Commodus, however, is known for his passion for public performance and
is remembered for his participation in gladiatorial shows as a Secutor
fighting under the title of "Hercules". He is also known for his
voluntary role as a bestiarii. According to Gibbon, Commodus once
killed 100 lions in a single day. Later, he decapitated a running
ostrich with a specially designed dart and afterwards carried the
bleeding head of the dead bird and his sword over to the section where
the Senators sat and gesticulated as though they were next. On
another occasion, Commodus killed 3 elephants on the floor of the
arena by himself. He is often depicted this way in art, including
a statue outside the Colosseum that he had had boastfully incribed
"Champion of secutores; only left-handed fighter to conquer twelve
times (as I recall the number) one thousand men". Commodus also
dedicated an inscription that claimed 620 victories as a gladiator. He
also raced chariots, chased animals in the arena, hunted wild animals
from the stands and was so impressive that it is said that he rarely
needed a second spear to kill his prey. According to Pliny,
Emperor Claudius fought a whale trapped in the harbor in front of a
group of spectators.
Pollice Verso ("With a Turned Thumb"), an 1872 painting by Jean-Léon
Gérôme, is a well known historical painter's researched conception of
a gladiatorial combat.It is known that the audience (or sponsor or
emperor) pointed their thumbs a certain way if they wanted the loser
to be killed (called a pollice verso, literally "with turned thumb"),
but it is not clear which way they actually pointed. A thumbs up
(called pollux infestus) was an insult to Romans so is unlikely to
have meant sparing a life. The clear "thumbs up" and "thumbs down"
image is not a product of historical sources, but of Hollywood and
epic films such as Quo Vadis. It is thought they may have raised their
fist with the thumb inside it (pollice compresso, literally
"compressed thumbs") if they wanted the loser to live. One popular
belief is that the "thumbs down" meant lower your weapon, and let the
loser live and a thumbs up sign pointed towards the throat or chest,
signaled the gladiator to stab him there. Some scholars believe that a
hand movement was involved as the notion of "turning" does not seem to
fit the action of merely extending a thumb. One of the few sources to
allude to the use of the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" gestures in the
Roman arena comes from Satire III of Juvenal (3.34-37) and seems
to indicate that, contrary to modern usage, the thumbs down signified
that the losing gladiator was to be spared and that the thumbs up
meant he was to be killed. A carved relief of a gladiator being spared
also exists that shows the hand "sign" as a thumb laid flat along the
hand (pressed?) with two fingers extended and two clenched. This has
led some to believe those who wanted the gladiator killed waved their
thumbs in any direction they wanted, and those who wanted him spared
kept their thumbs pressed against their hands.
Recreation of a combat between a thraex and murmillo in the Carnuntum
Roman ruins. A contemporary incription credits Carnuntum with having
the fourth largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. Of interest is
that research indicates the physiques of the fighters pictured above
possibly reflects reality more closely than movie depictions. As a
rule gladiators cultivated fat as well as muscle for protection from
blows. With exceptions a typical gladiator was expected to fight in
only three to five bouts per year with each lasting around 15
minutesThe now famous gladiatorial salute “Ave Caesar, morituri te
salutant” or “Hail Caesar, they who are about to die salute you” is
another product of movies. This salute was only mentioned by Suetonius
(Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius, XXI, 1214) as happening once,
spoken by condemned men (damnati) to Claudius at a naumachia (a staged
naval battle) and they used the word “imperator” (Emperor) not Caesar.
Tacitus also wrote of this event:
“although they were criminals, they fought with the spirit of brave
men. Their (the survivors') reward was exemption from the penalty of
The cutting up of the bodies to feed the animals is another common
misconception and is mentioned only by Suetonius as an extraordinary
and unheard of action that Caligula ordered to be done only once. The
bodies of noxii and damnati were either buried or thrown into rivers,
this being the traditional Roman disposal method for the bodies of
executed criminals while other gladiators were often buried with
honours by their "union" (collegia) or friends. Animal carcasses were
either disposed of or distributed to the poor for sustenance.
Although ancient Romans did not normally wear hats (went heads bare
capite aperto) and this is seen in today's movie depictions of games,
it was actually customary for free men to wear white woolen conical
hats when attending games and festivals (Martial xi.7. xiv.1 Suetonius
Ner.57. Seneca Epist.18). The hats were a symbol of liberty.
 Gladiators in films and television
Thraex Gladiator helmet in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin.Gladiators
feature frequently in many epic films and television series set in
this period. These include films such as four versions of Ben-Hur,
Spartacus (1960), Gladiator (2000) and Demetrius and the Gladiators
(1954), Quo Vadis, as well as the television series A.D. (1985) (which
features a female gladiator), and Rome.
 See also
List of Roman gladiator types
Gladiator (2000 film)
The Far Arena
^ Rome Exposed
^ During the reign of Tiberius, a wooden amphitheater collapsed
killing either twenty thousand spectators (according to Suetonius) or
fifty thousand (according to Tacitus). Suetonius also records (XLIII)
that at the games in honour of Augustas' grandsons, the spectators
were in a panic for fear the amphitheatre would collapse. Unable to
calm them Augustas left his own seat and sat in the section most
likely to fail.
^ K. M. Coleman, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 80, 1990 (1990),
^ Not Such a Wonderful Life: A Look at History in Gladiator IGN movies
February 10, 2000
^ The Gladiator Brooklyn College Classics Department
^ Roman Civilization History 206 Bates College
^ Roman gladiators were fat vegetarians, ABC Science April 5, 2004.
^ Greek and Roman Tattoos
^ Flamma tombstone
^ "Head injuries of Roman gladiators", Forensic Science International,
Volume 160, Issue 2–3, Pages 207–216 F. Kanz, K. Grossschmidt
^ Archaeology: Vox Populi Discover Magazine July 2006
^ Roman Life Expectancy University of Texas
^ Roman Law - Infamia Smiths Dictionary 1875 pp634‑636
^ Cicero wrote of his friend Atticus recovering his entire investment
in a gladiator troupe after two performances.
^ The Retiarius Tunicatus of Suetonius, Juvenal, and Petronius" (1989)
by Steven M. Cerutti and L. Richardson, Jr., The American Journal of
Philology, 110, P589-594
^ In Latin gladiator has no feminine form. However, while gladiator is
preferred, "gladiatrix" is acceptable to historians.
^ "Female Gladiators of the Ancient Roman World", Journal of Combative
Sport, July 2003.
^ Zoll, A. (2002). Gladiatrix: The True Story of History’s Unknown
Woman Warrior. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, p. 27.
^ Gladiator Girl Channel 4 May 14, 2001
^ Barton, Carlin (1995). The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The
Gladiator and the Monster. Page 66. Princeton University Press. ISBN
^ Gibbon pg 106 "disgorged at once a hundred lions; a hundred darts"
^ Gibbon, Edward The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire': Volume I'
Everyman's Library (Knopf) New York. 1910. pg 106 "with arrows whose
point was shaped in the form of a cresent"
^ Fox, Robin The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to
Hadrian Basic Books. 2006 pg 446 "brandishing a sword in one hand and
bloodied neck...He gesticulated at the Senate."
^ Scullard, H.H The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World Thames and
Hudson. 1974 pg 252
^ The Gladiator Emperor UNRV History
^ Fox, Robin The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to
Hadrian Basic Books. 2006 pg 576
^ Juvenal III
 Further reading
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
GladiatorGladiator: Film and History, edited by Martin M. Winkler.
Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4051-1043-0;
paperback, ISBN 1-4051-1042-2).
James Grout: Gladiators, part of the Encyclopædia Romana
Violence and the Romans: The Arena Spectacles
The Revolt of Spartacus A narrative essay.
Daniel P Mannix: Those About To Die, Ballantine Books, New York 1958
Michael Grant: Gladiators, Penguin Books, London 1967, reprinted 2000,
Roland Auguet: Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games, Paris 1970;
English reprint Routledge 1994
IMDB- movie titles containg 'Gladiator' etc.; click also on keywords
Thomas Wiedemann: Emperors and Gladiators, Routledge 1992
Fik Meijer: The Gladiators: History's Most Deadly Sport, Thomas Dunne
Books 2003; reprinted by St. Martin's Griffin 2007. ISBN-13
978-0-312-36402-1; ISBN-10 0-312-36402-4.
Eckart Köhne and Cornelia Ewigleben (editors); Gladiators and Caesars;
British Museum Press, London, 2000; ISBN 0-5202279-80-1
Gladiators: Heroes of the Roman Amphitheatre
The Roman Gladiator
History of the Roman Empire. Culture. Roman Gladiators:
Gladiators Archaeological Institute of America Index of articles
related to Gladiators.
 External links
BBC News: Gladiator bones found in Turkey
Medicine Magazine: Roman gladiators beat pharma company to
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