Encyclopedia > Gladiator

  Article Content


Gladiators (lat. gladiatores) were professional fighters in ancient Rome who fought against each other and against wild animals, sometimes to the death, for the entertainment of spectators. These fights took place in arenas in many cities during the Roman republic and the Roman Empire.

The word comes from gladius, the Latin word for a short sword used by legionnaires[?] and some gladiators.

The origins of gladiator fights lie probably in the Etruscan custom of ritual human sacrifices to honor the dead. The first Roman fights took place in 264 BC in the Forum Boarium, by Marcus and Decimus Brutus, at the funeral of their father.

Gladiator games (called munus) took place in amphitheatres (like the Colosseum) and took the latter half of the day after the fights against animals. Initially rich private individuals organized these, often to gain political favor with the public. The person who organized the show was called munerator, or dominus and he was honored with the official signs of a magistrate. Later the emperors would exert a near complete monopoly on staging the ludi circenses, "games" which included hunts of wild animals, public executions and gladiator fights. There was usually musical accompaniment.

Gladiators were typically picked from prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals. There were also occasional volunteers. They were trained in special gladiator schools (ludi). One of the largest schools was in Ravenna. They often belonged to a troupe (familia) that traveled from town to town. A trainer of gladiators or the manager of a team of gladiators was known as a lanista. The troupe's owner rented gladiators to whoever wanted to stage games. A gladiator would typically fight no more than three times per year.

Gladiator could be also a property of a rich individual who hired lanista to train him. Several senators and emperors had their own favorites.

Criminals were either expected to die within a year (ad gladium) or might earn their release after three years (ad ludum) - if they survived.

Different gladiators specialized in different weapons, and it was popular to pair off combatants with widely different equipment. Gladiator types and their weaponry included:

  • Andabatae: Fought with visored helmet and possibly blindfolded and in horseback.
  • Cimachaeri: Two short swords (the gladius)
  • Equites fought on horseback
  • Essedari: Charioteers[?] in Celtic style.
  • Hoplomachi: Fully armored. Apparently became Samnites later.
  • Laquerii: Lasso[?] Laqueatores were those who used a noose to catch their adversaries
  • Mirmillones: Helmet with a fish crest, sword and shield in Gallic style. Commonly fought Thraces.
  • Provocatores fought with the Samnites but their armament is unknown (might have been variable, hence the term "provocators")
  • Retiarii: Trident and a net and at least naked torso and no helmet. Commonly fought secutores or mirmillones.
  • Samnites: Long rectangular shield, visor, plumed helmet and short sword. The name came from the people[?] of the same name Romans had conquered.
  • Secutores: Shield and sword. Commonly fought retiarii.
  • Thraces: Round shield and a curved dagger. Name came from Thracians. They commonly fought Mirmillones.

Gladiators usually fought in pairs (Ordinarii), that is, one gladiator against another. However, sponsor or audience could request other combinations like several gladiators fighting together (Catervarii) or specific gladiators against each other even from outside the established troupe (Postulaticii). Sometimes lanista had to rely on substitutes (supposititii) if requested gladiator was already dead of incapacitated. Emperor could have his own gladiators (Fiscales).

At the end of a fight, when one gladiator acknowledged defeat by raising a finger, the audience could decide whether the loser should live or die. If the audience (or sponsor or emperor) wanted that the loser should be killed, they pointed their thumbs downwards. If they wanted him to live, they raised their fist but kept their thumb inside it (ie. they did not point upwards as commonly believed). A gladiator who won several fights was allowed to retire, often to train other fighters. Gladiators who managed to win their freedom - often by request of the audience or sponsor - were given a wooden sword as a memento.

The attitude of Romans towards the gladiators was ambivalent: on the one hand they were considered as lower than slaves, on the other hand some successful gladiators rose to celebrity status. There was even a belief that nine eaten gladiator livers were a cure for epilepsy.

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 gotten into financial troubles.

Their oath (which Seneca describes as particularly shameful) implied their acceptance of slave status and of the worst public consideration (infamia). More famous is their phrase to the emperor or sponsor before the fight: Morituri te salutant ("Those about to die salute you").

Some emperors, among them Hadrian, Caligula, Titus Flavius and Commodus also entered the arena for (presumably) fictitious or rigged combats. Emperor Trajan organized as much as 5000 gladiator fighting pairs. Gladiator contests could take months to complete.

Female gladiators also existed; Emperor Commodus liked to stage fights between dwarfs and women.

One of the most famous gladiators was Spartacus who became the leader of a group of escaped gladiators and slaves. Greek physician Galen worked for a while as a gladiator's physician in Pergamon.

Gladiator fights were first outlawed by Constantin I in 325 but continued sporadically until about 450 when Honorius suppressed them. The last known gladiator competition in the city of Rome occurred on January 1, 404.

Gladiators in Science Fiction Gladiators are sometimes mentioned in science fiction, being depicted in the film The Running Man; as well as the games Battletech, Quake, and Unreal.


See also: Gladiator (2000 movie)

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Battle Creek, Michigan

... of 2000, there are 53,364 people, 21,348 households, and 13,363 families residing in the city. The population density is 481.1/km² (1,246.0/mi²). Th ...

This page was created in 34.7 ms