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Author Topic: Gladiators  (Read 380 times)
Description: The professional fighters of ancient Rome
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« on: February 19, 2007, 04:15:14 AM »

Gladiators fought to the death in Chester

Nic Fleming, Science Correspondent

   Gladiatorial contests took place at the largest amphitheatre in Roman Britain, according to new evidence unearthed by archaeologists.

   Finds at an excavation of the arena in Chester provide the most conclusive proof yet that it played host to grisly fights to the death for public entertainment, and reinforce the view of the town's importance in the Roman Empire.

   A stone block with iron fittings was discovered at the centre of the two-storey amphitheatre, which dates back to about AD100. It is similar to one depicted in a 3rd century mosaic found at a Roman villa at Bignor, West Sussex, which shows two gladiators fighting.

   It is the third such stone block found at the site and its location suggests the anchors were evenly spaced along the long axis of the arena preventing gladiators from sheltering against the arena wall and thereby giving spectators the best possible view.

   Dan Garner, an archaeologist at Chester City Council, said: "Any thought that Chester's amphitheatre was used purely for military purposes such as military tattoos or drill practice can now be firmly banished.

   "Up to now, we have found human and animal remains to suggest that gladiatorial games may have taken place, but the discovery of the third chain block put that suggestion almost beyond doubt.

   "I dare say that people met a rather brutal end in Chester's arena some 1,900 years ago."

   Tony Wilmott, an archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "There are still a number of questions: whether humans or animals were chained; whether the chains were long or short; or whether the chains passed through the ring on the stone allow-ing a degree of free movement.

   "It is possible that the blocks were also used for displaying exotic animals or for executing criminals who would be cast into the arena together with violent beasts.

   "What is certain is the Romans' flair for mass entertainment. By chaining victims to these blocks along the long axis, they were trying to ensure that spectators had the maximum view of whatever was happening and did so by preventing victims from sheltering against the arena wall, where they could be seen by only half of the audience."

   While the archaeologists cannot be sure precisely which forms of gladiatorial encounters were staged in Chester, it is known there was a special type of gladiator called a bestiarius, who was trained to fight different types of animals.

   The amphitheatre, 230ft in diameter, was discovered in 2005 beneath the remains of a later, larger arena. Half the site lies beneath a built-up area.

   Previous finds include beef ribs, chicken bones, mass-produced Samian pottery bowls depicting gladiatorial scenes, a human tooth and large quantities of yellow sand ? possibly brought in to soak up the blood.

   Also newly discovered is evidence of eight vaulted stairways, known as vomitoria, that opened directly on to the street and served as entrances to the auditorium.

   Two foundation stones that formed the base for substantial half-columns have led the archaeologists to conclude there would have been one storey of such columns.

   These architectural discoveries have allowed English Heritage experts to create a reconstruction of the height and grandeur of the amphitheatre.

   They found the closest parallels to be the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre of El Djem, Tunisia.

   Unlike other smaller, more basic amphitheatres in Britain, the one in Chester had proper seating for about 10,000 spectators on two storeys. The size and elaborate exterior design of the amphitheatre further underline the importance of Chester to the Roman Empire.

   The new findings, made as part of a collaboration between English Heritage and Chester City Council, will be presented at the international symposium Roman Amphitheatres and Spectacula: a 21st century perspective, to be held this weekend.


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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2007, 04:36:07 AM »

Very Nice Post Bart,
I must admit I had no idea of the size and importance of Chester in Roman Britain.
Cheers, Doc

« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2007, 11:55:13 AM »

In my schooldays, I was taught that Chester was the Roman term for fort, or fortified miltary headquatrers and the Chester in Britain was the base of the Roman army.

Across Britain are a number of cities and towns using that term: Manchester, Chester-le-Street (Durham), Colchester, Gloucester, Exeter, Wroxeter, Brancaster, Portchester, Rudchester, Halton Chesters, Chesters, Chesterholm, Great Chesters,  and so on. There were all Roman forts.

The Roman Military in Britain

Chester is the county town of Cheshire, England. Situated on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales, Chester is one of the best-preserved walled cities in the United Kingdom.

The Roman Fortress of Deva

Roman Origins
Deva Victrix
Deva was founded around AD 79 during the reign of Vespasian. It is thought that the title 'victrix' in the name of the legion and Fortress refers to the defeat of Boudica and the British rebellion against Roman rule by the twentieth legion. The name for the city of Chester comes from the Latin word 'castra' which is present in many other cities that were once Roman towns and forts. The Roman name for Chester 'Deva' was pronounced 'Deewa'. The name comes from 'Goddess', and Roman fortress was named after the Goddess of the River Dee.

Roman Antefix
Foundation of the fortress
Deva was founded around AD 79 during the reign of Vespasian. It is thought that the title 'victrix' in the name of the legion and Fortress refers to the defeat of Boudica and the British rebellion against Roman rule by the twentieth legion. The name for the city of Chester comes from the Latin word 'castra' which is present in many other cities that were once Roman towns and forts. The Roman name for Chester 'Deva' was pronounced 'Deewa'. The name comes from 'Goddess', and Roman fortress was named after the Goddess of the River Dee.

An original section of the Roman Fortress wall is visible from the Northgate

Construction of the fortress
The Romans positioned the larger than normal Fortress high on a sandstone bluff above the marshes. The Fortress covered 60.90 acres, 20% larger than York and Caerleon, which were founded at the same time. Free from the floods of winter and the ever-changing shorelines of the estuary. The bend in the River Dee provides protection on two sides South and West. It is also the lowest bridgeable and fordable point on the River Dee before it becomes too wide and treacherous. Drinking water was piped in from a spring in the suburb of Boughton.

During recent excavations at Chester Amphitheatre traces of an Iron Age Farm was discovered along with a ridge and furrow field system. Before this, it was suggested that the Roman Fortress was established on a totally green field site.

A Roman Tomb Stone

The Fortress plan was the standard 'playing card' shape with some modifications to the normal plan of buildings. It had four gates, corner towers and interval towers between the gates. The Roman gates had double arches and the Roman Eastgate had a statue of Mars the Roman god of War in the middle of the two arches. A fosse or ditch was dug around the north and east sides to provide extra protection. It has been calculated that the fortress was designed to accommodate 6000 soldiers. The internal buildings consisted of barracks, baths, a hospital, a granary and some 'headquarters' buildings. The main Fortress baths were located half way down the modern Bridge Street on the right hand side. The full plan of Roman Deva is still not known because only limited excavations have taken place after demolition work. It is speculated that a Roman temple may have existed under Chester Cathedral, this is yet to be proved.

A timber fortress was established first which was replaced later with a stone fortress. The local sandstone was quarried from the south of the river around the area now called 'Edgar?s Field' to provide building material for the fortress and its buildings. The Roman quarry face is still visible today on the outcrop of rock in the field. Through excavations carried out it has been established that many of the stone buildings were not completed and they were left abandoned for as much as one hundred years before they were completed to a slightly modified plan. One example of this is the unique and strange Elliptical Building. The timber fortress would have looked like the one reconstructed at Lunt Roman Fort.

This building was part of the original plan for the Fortress. It is unique in the Roman Empire, not even an example of this type of building exists in Rome itself. The building was located near centre of the fortress, it had its own bath buildings and a range of store rooms around the outside. On the inside was an oval courtyard with twelve alcoves and a large ornamental fountain at the centre. There is speculation that the oval represents the known Roman world and the alcoves had statues of Gods in them.

Traces of the concrete foundation of the fountain and lead pipe work have been excavated. [1]

Traces have been found under the amphitheatre and market hall of pre-fortress buildings on a different alignment. It is speculated that a forward camp was established before the first timber fortress was constructed. The castle hill is also a possible site for such a camp.

Second Legion built their fortress in the territory of the Cornovii. It soon became the main base for Legio XX Valeria Victrix, the 20th Legion,who used it as a port administration base and military fort. It was then one of the principal towns of Roman Britain, with many relics remaining today, including parts of the original Chester Roman walls, parts of a hypocaust system from a Roman bathhouse, and a strongroom from the 'principia', as well as the street pattern at the 'cross' where the four main streets intersect and, controversially, half of its original amphitheatre, with the other half built over.

The Roman Quay Wall

Parts of the Roman quay wall of the port can still be seen under the medieval walls at the race course. It has been suggested that this quay wall formed a platform for a jetty which stretched out across the River to allow ships to dock at low tide.

Later on in the Fortresses history settlements began to develop outside the Fortress walls between the west wall and the port area near the River. Also Mansion buildings were created for wealthy Romans outside the Walls. An example of which was discovered on Castle Street. Roman shops and workshops lined the incoming roads and to the south as far away as modern day Eccleston. A bath complex was established outiside the Fortress walls on the modern Watergate Street under the site now occupied by Sedan House.

By Roman law, the dead were buried outside the Fortress in cemeteries along the incoming roads to the north and east. Some were cremated and buried in urns others buried in stone lined tombs. Elaborate monuments lined the roads. Sometime in the Roman period these monuments were broken up and used to repair the Fortress walls. During the nineteenth century these tombstones were recovered from the north wall and now form the best collection of Roman tombstones in the UK. They are now located in the Grosvenor Museum.

The Roman Fortress was occupied up to the Fourth Century, Roman coins have been found in the area dating up to this time. The Fortress was described as waste land in the sixth century. It is thought that some Roman building remained standing in to the Norman period, this is the reason why Northgate Street is dog legged in shape, a massive column base of the Roman 'principia' can be seen through the floor in the shop 'Blacks'. Much of the Roman masonry was robbed out and reused in later periods.

A recent Timewatch investigation by the BBC speculated that, from the size and scale of the fort, had the Roman Empire not begun to collapse, Deva would have become the Roman capital of Britain and a launch post for invasions on Ireland. In fact, recent discoveries of a fort in Ireland suggest that at least one foray was made.

Although both Gildas and Bede located the Roman martyrs, Julius and Aaron, in the 'City of the Legions', this is generally identified as Isca Augusta (Caerleon) rather than Deva, because of the chapels there dedicated to the two saints from at least medieval times.

Legionary Baths
Like most Roman settlements Deva Victrix had a large legionary bath complex for the soldiers to wash. The remains on the east side of Bridge Street were largely destroyed during the construction of the Grosvenor Shopping Mall. However a Hypocaust and small parts of the original mosaic floor remain under the Mall and can be viewed from the shops.

The Minerva Shrine
Legionary Quarry
The Roman fortress of Deva was constructed of local sandstone which was quarried from across the river to the south of the fortress. Traces of the quarry can still be seen today in Handbridge. A large amount of sandstone was taken and used in the construction of the fortress wall and the many buildings inside. On the old quarry face near an old ford was carved an image of the Roman goddess Minerva. It may have been carved by the workmen of the quarry for protection. The figure can just about be seen today holding a spear and a shield with an owl above the left shoulder to symbolise wisdom. There is also a carving of an altar were offerings were left. It is thought that the shrine was used by travelers crossing the ford before going into the fortress from the south. The shrine is unique in Britain because it is the only rock cut Roman shrine still in situ in the country.

Chester's Roman Amphitheatre
Recently it has been discovered that Deva's amphitheatre had two phases of construction, both of stone. Before this discovery, it was argued that there was an earlier wooden structure, that was replaced by a later stone structure. It has now been discovered that a small stone amphitheatre was constructed first with wooden seating. Which was then later replaced with a much larger and grander amphitheatre, with stone buttresses and arches. It would have been an impressive sight when viewed from the river below.

Evidence for gladiatorial combat have also been found in the shape of part of a gladius sword handle. Also parts of a Roman bowl showing scenes from a gladiator fight have been found.

It has been recently proposed to turn the amphitheatre into an open air concert venue.

Recent discoveries
During the autumn of 2006 part of a Roman barrack block was uncovered under an old bowling green located to the south of Hunter Street. This is in preparation for the Northgate Development scheme, which will see the creation of a new department store on the site. The barrack block was constructed of roughly squared sandstone blocks with a sandstone fragment core. The remains were found at a depth of 67 centimeters.
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« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2007, 08:03:19 PM »

Ancient Mosaic of the Real Gladiator Found

By Nick Pisa in Rome  - 29 April 2007

   A chance discovery by archaeologists has brought to light a mosaic nearly 2,000 years old depicting what may have been a real-life version of the Roman combatant played by Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator.

   The mosaic was found as Italian researchers carried out work on the spectacular Villa dei Quintili, south of Rome and home to the sports-loving Emperor Commodus.

In for the kill: The mosaic depicts Montanus, possibly a favourite of the sports-loving Emperor Commodus

   Commodus, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the film, was known to enjoy gladiatorial combat and had a small amphitheatre in which fighters would train, near the villa, which Commodus had seized after having its owners executed on a trumped-up charge of treason. It was nearby that the mosaic was found - picturing a gladiator named Montanus holding a trident alongside a referee who appears to be pronouncing him the victor over a prone opponent.

   Riccardo Frontoni, who is leading the dig, said: "Historically, this is a very significant and exciting discovery because of the location where it was found: the Villa dei Quintili, which we know was Commodus's residence.

   "It's close to the area where there was a small amphitheatre, and his love of blood sports is well known.

   "The mosaics are in excellent condition and show the figure of a gladiator with the name Montanus. It's possible that Montanus may have been a favourite of Commodus and that the mosaic was dedicated to him."

   Commodus was emperor from AD180 to 192, when he was strangled in his bath by the wrestler Narcissus, at the age of 31. He is depicted in the film as a scheming, bloodthirsty megalomaniac who eventually murders the character played by Crowe, the gladiator Maximus.

   The real-life Commodus occasionally dressed up as a gladiator himself and fought in the arena, a practice that scandalised polite Roman society, which regarded such fighters as occupying the lowest rungs on the social ladder.

   But while his arena opponents frequently survived because they submitted to the emperor, he is known to have enjoyed killing his sparring partners.

   Appreciation of the potential value of the new discovery has not been confined to the archaeological world. Just hours after it was shown to The Sunday Telegraph, thieves tried to prise the 10 sq m scene from the ground, damaging the mosaic.

   Mr Frontoni said: "We are disappointed that someone has tried to steal it. However, the damage was relatively small and the pieces that were broken off have been recovered, so we should be able to restore it."


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« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2007, 01:52:05 PM »

Image from the tombstone of a gladiator.

BBC Timewatch

Scientists believe they have for the first time identified an ancient graveyard for gladiators.

Analysis of their bones and injuries has given new insight into how they lived, fought and died.

The remains were found at Ephesus in Turkey, a major city of the Roman world, BBC Timewatch reports.

Gladiators were the sporting heroes of the ancient world. Archaeological records show them celebrated in everything from mosaics to graffiti.

Motifs of gladiators are found on nearly a third of all oil lamps from Roman archaeological digs throughout the Empire.

But how much did they risk every time they stepped into the arena? Did they have much chance of getting out alive?

The discovery of what is claimed to be the first scientifically authenticated gladiator graveyard has given researchers the opportunity to find out.

Gravestones helped identify the site as a gladiator graveyard

'Strict rules'

The Ephesus graves containing thousands of bones were found along with three gravestones, clearly depicting gladiators.

Two pathologists at the Medical University of Vienna - Professor Karl Grossschmidt and Professor Fabian Kanz - have spent much of the past five years painstakingly cataloguing and forensically analysing every single bone for age, injury and cause of death.

They found at least 67 individuals, nearly all aged 20 to 30. One striking bit of evidence is that many have healed wounds.

Analysis of their bones and injuries has given new insight into how they lived, fought and died

To Kanz and Grossschmidt, this suggests they were prized individuals getting good and expensive medical treatment. One body even shows signs of a surgical amputation.

And the lack of multiple wounds found on the bones, according to the pathologists, suggests that they had not been involved in chaotic mass brawls. Instead, it points to organised duels under strict rules of combat, probably with referees monitoring the bouts.

But there was also evidence of mortal wounds. Written records tell us that if the defeated gladiator had not shown enough skill or even cowardice, the cry of "iugula" (lance him through) would be heard throughout the arena, demanding he be killed.

Final blow

The condemned gladiator would be expected to die "like a man" remaining motionless to receive the mortal blow.

The pathologists discovered various unhealed wounds on bones that showed how these executions could have taken place. And these are consistent with depictions on reliefs from the time showing a kneeling man having a sword rammed through down his throat into the heart. A very quick way to die.

Tell-tale nicks in the vertebrae or other bones suggest at least some of the bodies suffered this fate.

A number of skulls were also found to have sets of up to three holes at odd intervals, consistent with a blow from a three-pronged weapon such as a trident.

"The bone injuries - those on the skulls for example - are not everyday ones, they are very, very unusual, and particularly the injuries inflicted by a trident, are a particular indication that a typical gladiator's weapon was used," says pathologist Professor Karl Grossschmidt.

But not all head injuries found were trident wounds. A number of the skulls showed rectangular holes that could not have been made by any of the known gladiator weapons. Instead, they suggest the use of a heavy hammer.

"One possible explanation, which is supported by a number of archaeologists, is that there must have been an assistant in the arena who basically gave the gladiator the coup de grace," says Professor Kanz.

"I assume that they must have been very severely injured gladiators, ones who had fought outstandingly and so had not been condemned to death by the public or by the organiser of the match, but who had no chance of surviving because of their injuries. It was basically the final blow, in order to release them."

'Comfortable' retirement

The work of the Viennese pathologists has been independently reviewed for the BBC's Timewatch programme by Dr Charlotte Roberts of Durham University, a leading physical anthropologist.

"I've looked at quite a few hundred Roman skeletons. I've seen examples of head injuries, healed and unhealed. I've seen evidence of decapitations," she says.

"But this (new find) is extremely significant; there's nothing been found in the world at all like it. They've really dispelled quite a lot of myths about gladiators and how they fought."

If a gladiator survived three years of fighting in the arena, he would win his freedom. Those who did often became teachers in the gladiator school. And one of the skeletons found at Ephesus appears to be that of a retired fighter.

He was of mature age and because he was much older than the others. The scientists were able to reconstruct nearly his entire body. His head showed apparent signs of healed wounds from previous fights and none of them would have proved fatal.

"He lived quite a normal Roman lifespan," says Professor Kanz. "And I think most probably he died of natural causes."

Historical records suggest a gladiator's chance of survival was slim, with some estimates as low as a one in three chance of dying each time he fought. But it appears one of the Ephesus gladiators at least survived the odds and had a chance to enjoy his retirement from the arena.

Timewatch: Gladiator Graveyard is on BBC Two at 2100 BST on Friday 9 May

Gladiators Played by the Rules, Skulls Suggest

March 3, 2006

Although their final outcomes may have been brutal, ancient Roman gladiators fought like gentlemen, according to new research.

Forensic analysis of remains from a gladiator cemetery in Turkey indicates that gladiators followed a strict set of rules, never letting the fight descend into the type of mutilation common on battlefields of the day.

What's more, the new findings suggest, is that when a gladiator was close to death, he would be put out of his misery by a backstage executioner with one swift hammer strike to the side of the head.

Fabian Kanz from the Austrian Archaeological Institute and Karl Grosschmidt from the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, analyzed the injuries of 67 gladiators. All the men had been buried in a gladiator cemetery dating back to A.D. 2 in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, which was then part of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists first discovered the cemetery in 1993. Fighters depicted on the tombstones gave it away as a burial ground for gladiators.

Using microscope analysis and CT scans of bones, Kanz and Grosschmidt were able to determine how and when the gladiators received their wounds.

"Wounds that occur at or near the time of death are distinguished by lack of healing and [by] fracture margins characteristic of fresh bone breaks," Kanz said.

By contrast, old battle scars in the bone have a more knitted-together appearance, because they had time to heal.

Fair Fights?

All but one of the gladiators studied had only one wound associated with his death. In addition, injuries to the back of the head were rare.

These findings back up ancient Roman accounts that gladiator fights had strict rules of combat, with no sneaky blows from behind.

"It is wonderful evidence, and it reenforces what we know from other sources. These guys were not just beating each other into the ground," said Steven Tuck, a gladiator expert from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who was not involved in the study.

Kanz and Grosschmidt also describe evidence of 16 nonfatal injuries in their paper, which is to be published in the journal Forensic Science International.

"Most of them showed excellent healing signs," Kanz said.

The fighters, it seems, received excellent medical care if they survived their bouts.

One gladiator had a distinctive double puncture wound to the front of his skull. The spacing of the holes perfectly matched that of a trident?a three-pronged, pitchfork-like weapon?found nearby in the cemetery.

Art and literary sources indicate that gladiators normally wore helmets, but it seems that this unfortunate gladiator may have lost his protective headgear.

"Perhaps there was a certain point in the fight where the organizer ordered them to take off their helmets, or else he just lost his helmet," Kanz said.

Other gladiators had sharp, slice-like wounds, which the scientists think were caused by the daggerlike gladius.

A gladiator typically took on a distinct persona?and the weapons to go with it. For instance, during the second and third centuries the retiarius-and-secutor gladiator pairing was the most popular.

"The retiarius was the 'fisherman,' who fought with a net, a gladius, and a trident [and was] protected with just a small shoulder shield," Kanz said. "His opponent, the secutor, was the 'fish,' protected by a fishlike helmet with very narrow eye holes and a large shield, and fighting with a gladius," Kanz said.

Mercy Killings

Ten of the gladiators had square holes in the sides of their skulls, validating the theory that very badly wounded gladiators were killed by a hammer-wielding executioner who waited in the wings.

"This matches what we know from literary and other sources. The blow to the side of the head suggests an avoidance of eye-to-eye contact," said Latin professor Kathleen Coleman of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Despite the bloodthirsty fights depicted in the movie Gladiator, for which Coleman was a consultant, it seems that real gladiators didn't fight to kill.

"The audience and the organizer of the games decided whether gladiators would live or die, but if two brave gladiators put up a good fight, they often both got out alive," study co-author Kanz said.

Ancient fight records show that around 90 percent of trained gladiators survived their fights.


While fighting as an untrained gladiator meant almost certain death, life as a trained gladiator may not have been so terrible?especially considering that the alternative for many gladiators (who were often criminals, slaves, or war prisoners) was a life of indentured servitude or even execution.

Providing they survived their one-year of training, gladiators in established troupes were well fed and highly respected. After a few successful years, the fighters were often released from servitude to their troupes.

And the food might not have been so bad either.

For another yet-to-be-published study, Kanz and Grosschmidt have analyzed the chemical composition of the bones. Their results suggest that gladiators ate a diet rich in barley and beans.

Gladiators "were nicknamed hordearii, which means 'barley eaters,'" Kanz said.
« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2007, 05:26:04 PM »

The Gladiator Mosaic at the Galleria Borghese, showing the latter stages of various combats, late Roman period

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 during the Roman republic and the Roman Empire.

The word comes from gladius, the Latin word for a short sword used by legionaries and some gladiators.



The origin of the gladiatorial games is not known for certain. There are two theories: 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 Nicolas of Damascus in the second half of the first century BCE describing the origins as Etruscan, an account by Isiodorus of Seville during the 600s CE 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 trCEition 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 trCEition from the Greeks who could have introduced funeral games with human sacrifices to the area in the eight century BCE. Regardless of the origin, the Romans CEopted the trCEition of funeral games to display important people's status and power.

The first recorded gladiatorial combats took place in Rome in 264 BCE, at the start of the First Punic War against Carthage. Decimus Iunius Brutus Scaeva staged it in honour of his deCE father Brutus Pera. It was held between three pairs of slaves, and held in the Forum Boarium. The ceremony was called a munus or ?duty paid to a deCE ancestor by his descendants, with the intention of keeping alive his memory? (Baker, Gladiator 10). These were held for notable people and were repeated every one to five years after the person?s death.

GrCEually, the funeral games transformed into public performances as the connection to funerals fCEed in the late second century BCE. The moment when a true split from the funeral backdrop occurred was after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 42 BCE. BCEE omens plagued the city and the games were seen as a method to please the gods and save Rome. A clear distinction between games organized by public officials (ludi) and those held by private citizens (munera) was set. 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. The amphitheaters built for the games were mCEe of wood and were neither structurally sound not did they survive the fires of Rome. Not until CE 70 and Vespasian's reign did plans for a stone venue for the games develop. The Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavium) was unveiled in CE 80.

A Day at the Colosseum: the Pinnacle of Popularity of the Games

Gladiator fights took place in amphitheatres (like the Colosseum) during the afternoon of a full day event. These events were carefully and precisely planned by an organizer on behalf of the emperor (editor). The combinations of animals and gladiator types were meticulously premeditated 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 and programmes containing the glCEitorial 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. When the day of the event came, gladiator fights were preceeded by animal-on-animal fights, animal hunts (venationes), and public executions of criminals (noxii) during lunchtime. Before the afternoon fights, 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. After a period of inspecting the weapons and the gladiators warming up the fights began. There were five possible outcomes for a gladiator: victorious, killed fighting, killed after capitulating by order of the people or the emperor, shown mercy and allowed to leave alive after a defeat, or allowed to leave along with his opponent after a draw. After hours of fights, the bodies of the gladiators were disposed of either in humane or humiliating ways depending of the status of the fighter. Animal carcasses were either disposed of or welcomed by the poor for sustinance.

The Decline of the Games

Gladiator games were not loved by all emperors and peoples 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 thrid century CE 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 hCE much less of an effect on the economy and gladiator shows prevailed. The grCEual decline in the east has been attributed to the effect of Christians on the gore-filled games. They saw the arena as a place of martyrdom and both refused to participate as spectators and sought for an end to the shows. Constantine issued an edict in CE 325 which briefly ended the games. Speculation that the edict was a permanent ban is rebuked by the presence of uncontested games only three years later. In CE 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 CE 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. It is speculated that gladiator fights were no longer practiced by CE 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 hCE they still occurred.

Life as a gladiator

Who They Were

Gladiators could have been either prisoners of war or criminal slaves condemned to gladiator schools (CE ludum gladiatorium). There were also a number of volunteer gladiators (auctoratus). These were either sons of prominent men perhaps looking for a rCEical 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. These men came from all different backgrounds but were soon united as they entered the training schools.


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. Attractiveness was one part of the package that was crucial to performing before an audience. Dislike of one's appearance could be costly in the arena. 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.

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 hCE barracks for the gladiators with small cells and a large training ground. The most impressive hCE seating for spectators to watch the men train and some even hCE boxes for the emperor. From the beginning, novicii were given special trainers (doctores) who were often ex-gladiators themselves. They trained using two meter poles buried in the ground (palus). Competition arose quickly on the training grounds and a hierarchy of skill was developed. The levels were named for the training pole and were primus palus, secundus palus, and so on.

Typical combat

Gladiators usually fought in pairs (Ordinarii), that is, one gladiator against another. 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 even from outside the established 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).
A flask depicting the final phase of the fight between a murmillo (winning) and a thraex.
A flask depicting the final phase of the fight between a murmillo (winning) and a thraex.

Fights were generally not to the death during the Republic, but gladiators were still killed or maimed accidentally. At the end of a fight, one gladiator acknowledged defeat by raising a finger, and the audience could decide whether he should live or die.

It is known that the audience (or sponsor or emperor) pointed their thumbs a certain way if they wanted the loser to be killed (pollice verso, literally "with turned thumb"), but it is not clear which way they pointed. 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. They may have pointed their thumbs up if they wanted the loser to live, and down to die; or, the opposite. Or, they may have raised their fist with thumb inside it (pollice compresso, literally "compressed thumbs") if they wanted the loser to live, and pointed down to signify death. One popular belief is that the "thumbs down" meant lower your weapon, and let the loser live. The thumbs up sign pointed towards the throat, signalling the gladiator to stab him there. An imitation of the downward thrust of a sword, without the sword in the hand, naturally has the thumb in a downward position and also compressed into the first finger. 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)[1] and seems to indicate that, contrary to modern meaning, the thumbs down signified that the losing gladiator was to be spared and that the thumbs up meant he was to be killed.

A gladiator did not have to die after every match ? if the audience felt both men fought admirably, they would likely want both to live and fight for their amusement in the future. But equally, a patron of the games who killed too few gladiators would be seen as stingy. 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 rudis, a symbolic wooden sword, as a memento.

A rudarius (umpire) with his wand of office. A mosaic at Bignor Roman Villa.[2]

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. And, if ordered to kill the opponent ? which was very rare as gladiators were expensive ? they may have pretended to kill him while in reality he was dragged backstage to be executed "humanely" with a hammer on the forehead.[3]

Gladiators rarely lived past age 30 unless they were particularly outstanding and accommplished victors. 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. George Villes, a French historian, estimated the chances of survival for a third century AD gladiator at 3:1 (meaning that the loser had a 50/50 chance of surviving his defeat).

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.

Venator fighting a Wild boar

Roman attitudes towards gladiators

The Romans' attitude towards the gladiators was ambiguous: on the one hand they were considered as low as slaves, 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[4]). There was even a belief that nine eaten gladiator livers were a cure for epilepsy.

Gladiators often developed large followings of women, who apparently saw them as sexual objects. This may be one reason that many types of gladiators fought bare-chested. It was socially unacceptable for citizen women to have sexual contact with a gladiator. 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. 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 gotten 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.

Roman people were extremely supportive on the whole of the horrors that occurred in the arena. Many people saw gladiators as lesser people than free Roman citizens.

Female gladiators

Female gladiators also existed ? the Emperor Domitian liked to stage torchlit fights between dwarves and women, according to Suetonius in "The Twelve Caesars". It seems they fought bare-chested, or with one breast exposed.

A female Roman skeleton unearthed in Southwark, London in 2001 was identified as a female gladiator, but this was solely on the basis that she was an important burial but outside the main cemetery, and had pottery lamps of Anumbis (ie Mercury ie the master of ceremonies) and most experts now believe it to be erroneous. 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.[5]

Dwarf gladiators

As mentioned above in Female gladiators, there were dwarf gladiators, which were not always paired with women, rather usually three or more dwarfs working as a team fighting one or more regular gladiators.

Emperors as gladiators

Caligula, Titus, Hadrian, Lucius Verus, and Didius Julianus were 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 remebered for his participation in gladitorial shows. He often 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. He also chased animals in the arena and donned gladiator apparel and fought under the title of 'Hercules.' He is often depicted this way in art.

Secutor vs. Retirarius

Gladiators in modern popular culture


Gladiators of the Empire was released. The first book in the series, Sand of the Arena by James Duffy (McBooks Press, 2005; hardcover, ISBN 1590131118; paperback ISBN 159013124X) presents a detailed, historically-accurate look at life in a training ludus and the visceral struggles of the arena, all through the eyes of a young Roman who volunteers as a gladiator. The training and use of venatores (arena animal hunters, sometimes called bestiarii) is also shown in great detail through an Ethiopian character named Lindani. The book was well received by historical fiction readers and literary critics. Book 2 in the series, Fight For Rome by James Duffy (McBooks Press, 2007; hardcover, ISBN 1590131126) follows the gladiator troupe as they are conscripted into the Roman legions during the civil war of 69 AD, the Year of the Four Emperors. Gladiators fighting as mercenaries alongside the legions, or used by their owners to bolster their political gangs (eg Clodius and Milo), was recorded in a number of historic battles and instances.

Films and television

Naturally, gladiators feature frequently in many epic films and television series set in this period. These include obvious ones such as Spartacus (1960), Gladiator (2000) starring Russell Crowe and Demetrius and the Gladiators in 1954, as well as Quo Vadis, the television series A.D. (1985) (which features a female gladiator), and Rome.

Video games

Known video games to explore several aspects of Rome and its gladiatorial games include KOEI's Colosseum: Road to Freedom, CAPCOM's Shadow of Rome, Acclaim's Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance , SEGA's Spartan: Total Warrior and Gladius.

While developers try to portray the settings as realistic as possible, some elements might be intentionally misplaced or interpreted to allow room for gameplay elements. Developers strive to deliver a product as historically accurate as possible so as to increase their appeal.

Science fiction and fantasy

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

In many fictional universes, gladiatorial games have the same reputation as the ones portrayed by Hollywood; violent exercises of brutality to appease and entertain a crowd, with little to no hope of survival for the gladiators.

Reality entertainment

For obvious human rights and liability reasons, it has been impossible to revive gladiator fights in the Ancient Roman sense (where the fight concludes with serious bodily injury or death).

In the U.S. during the 1990s, there was a game show called American Gladiators, and around the same time, World Wrestling Entertainment popularized a rather wild style of wrestling which some compared to gladiator combat. However, the competitors on American Gladiators never directly attacked each other but did face the established stadium gladiators, and the WWE fights are openly acknowledged to be staged performances, as opposed to actual competition.

In California, Corcoran State Prison became infamous in 1997 when it was discovered that the guards were staging informal "gladiator" fights with the prisoners (some of which were videotaped). Such fights differ from true gladiator fights in that they were not state-sponsored or approved.

Gladiatorial imagery is also associated with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, whose opening credits in their broadcasts feature a gladiator preparing for battle.

References and further reading
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

    * Gladiator: 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 Encyclop?dia 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, ISBN 0-14-029934-3
    * 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.


   1. http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/juvenal/3.shtml
   2. Bignor Roman Villa Guide Book
   3. "Head injuries of Roman gladiators", Forensic Science International, Volume 160, Issue 2?3, Pages 207?216 F. Kanz, K. Grossschmidt
   4. http://www.personal.kent.edu/~bkharvey/roman/texts/sclaurin.htm
   5. http://www.channel4.com/community/showcards/G/Gladiator_Girl.htm
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