Rome’s Colosseum has long been the symbol of the Eternal City, however the stories about what took place inside the Colosseum are just as famous as the sight of this ancient structure.
The Colosseum played host to a notorious form of entertainment in ancient times – the Gladiatorial battle – where Gladiators would fight for their freedom and their lives, in front of a packed crowd inside the Colosseum. So, who were these Roman Gladiators?
Gladiators were ‘swordsmen’.
In Latin, the name Gladiator literally translates as ‘swordsman’. They were professional fighters who fought in ancient Roman times, in front of a crowd, usually in large amphitheatres, including the Colosseum.
Gladiators were fighters that date back to the 4th century BC.
Gladiators lived in ancient times. Their role existed for some 700 years or more. Some historians believe that the Gladiators date back to the time of the Etruscans who were predecessors to the Romans in Italy.
Some Gladiators were slaves.
Gladiators may have a fierce reputation. They were warriors but sometimes their reason they were Gladiators in the first place was tragic. Most were slaves, prisoners of war or criminals. Their status meant they were forced into the role.
Being a Gladiator was a tough existence.
They were often fighting for their lives, survival and freedom. Sometimes it was combat to the death. Gladiatorial battles may have been ‘entertainment’ but they were savage and few questioned them.
However, there were some who CHOSE to be a Gladiator!
Ironically, as these battles grew in popularity, some people signed up and chose to become Gladiators. It is believed they were hungry for glory and fame since the strongest and most successful Gladiators were revered amongst the public. The money they received for taking the Gladiator’s oath was also attractive!
Gladiators were highly trained warriors.
Whether they were slaves, prisoners, criminals or whether they chose to be Gladiators – they were all highly trained. They lived in a Gladiator school, which we think may have been like a barracks. It was here they practised and honed their skills.
They may have been slaves or criminals but Gladiators were expensive!
Ironically, they were quite expensive to house for those who managed them. There was their school and barrack style accommodation to maintain. Gladiators were always well fed, as even then they knew this would help their fitness and strength. Similarly, they received the best medical attention. So, those who owned them did not want them to be hurt in battle. It was important to win. However, it was often the sponsor of the fight who was billed for the owner’s loss. Interestingly, as Gladiators often lived together, they sometimes knew their opponents in fights, which one can only assume heightened the atmosphere and the stakes.
They were usually men, but some Gladiators were women.
Some gladiators were women. At one stage, female warriors regularly fought against dwarves as well as other women. However, Septimius Severus outlawed their involvement around 200 AD.
Gladiators played an important part in Roman society
Gladiator games were a blood sport. They initially happened at funerals and gravesides as a way of honouring the dead. As they increased in popularity, they were hosted by the ruling classes as a way of entertaining the masses and building their own popularity in society. Sometimes they were used as a way to distract the population from other negative issues in society. Sometimes these battles were used to celebrate winning wars, birthdays or the presence of an important visitor.
Gladiators were popular heroes amongst the lower classes.
Successful Gladiators grew in popularity. They had a hero like status amongst those who watched them. That’s why some people signed up to become Gladiators. In the largest events, tens of thousands from all across society would watch these battles – and Gladiators became synonymous with honour and courage.
The most famous Gladiators.
One of the most famous Gladiators of all time was Spartacus – a soldier who was captured and sold as a slave. He is so well known because he escaped and led an uprising of Gladiators and slaves, which he grew into an army in its own right. Pursued by the Roman armies, he defeated them on several occasions before his capture.
Some Roman Emperors themselves took part in Gladiator games inside the arena. Amongst them were Caligula, Titus, Commodus and Hadrian. Other famous Gladiators include Spiculus who won the favour of Emperor Nero, and Hermes who was famous for mastering several fighting styles, making him a very strong adversary.
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