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Gladiators in Ancient Rome

An investigation of gladiators in ancient Rome.

Rowan Hofmeister

on 14 July 2011

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Transcript of Gladiators in Ancient Rome

Adopted from the earlier Etruscans
Gladiatorial games (munera) originated in the rites of sacrifice due the spirits of the dead
The need to propitiate them with offerings of blood
Introduced to Rome in 264 BC
Sons of Junius Brutus honored their father by matching three pairs of gladiators
Munera were the obligatory funerary offerings owed aristocratic men at their death, although the games did not have to be presented then
During the Republic, munera had been privately financed by the family, whose duty it was to present them.
Increasingly a display of aristocratic wealth and prestige
Ritual lost much of its religious significance and became more overtly political
Most popular form of entertainment in Ancient Rome
Adoption in Roman culture led to the creation of countless training schools and ampitheatres throughout the empire
Deaths of thousands of men and animals
Legal and Social Status
Came from all over the Roman Empire
Originally most were enemies defeated in Rome's wars of conquest
Prisoners sold as slaves, executed, or forced to kill each other
A few were sentenced to the gladiator school (ludus)
First century BC onwards - slaves became gladiators
Often if a slave committed a grievous offence (murder, poisoning etc.)
Free men also voluntarily reported to the gladiator schools and signed a contract for a specific period
Free men captivated by the atmosphere, excitement and potential winnings
Prospect of escaping poverty
Volunteers were often ex-soldiers
More free gladiators in the provinces than in Rome
Roman aristocrats/patricians ranked gladiators at the bottom of the social scale
Seen as rough, frightening outsider, doomed, disreputable slave
Within arena, seen as behaving with dignity
Mixture of disdain and admiration
For the gladiator - arena was one place where he could find fame and honour and display his bravery i.e. virtus
Seneca did not believe gladiators should be pitied
Christian author Turtullian, a self-declared opponent of the gladiator shows

"What kind of judgement is this, that a man deserves commendation for the very sam reasons that he inspires contempt?"
Gladiator Training
Gladiator school (familia gladiatoria)
Individual came second to the prestige of the school
Swore an oath to the gods of the underworld (under duress) confirming their downgrading
Endure humiliation
Suffer death
Gladiators of free will signed an agreement with a gladiator manager
Contractually obliged to perform as gladiators for a given period
Earnings, how often they would fight and with which weapons
Standard and laws of normal society did not apply
Only the rules of the barracks
Individual was the property of the gladiator manager
Took charge of training
Hired individuals to the people who organised tournaments
Life spent largely in walls of barracks
Trained on rectangular training ground
Lived in barracks – cell of 3x4 meters
Meals taken with other gladiators
Hospital for treatment
Weapons stored in special armoury
Guarded by watchmen
No opportunity for gladiator to access weapons
Gladiator Managers
No certainty as to how many gladiator schools in Roman Empire
Considering ampitheatres – must have been more than a hundred
Schools at Nimes, Arles and Pergamum
Good reputations
Accommodation to trainers
Ludus Magnus
One of the four training grounds for Roman gladiators, close to the Colosseum.
Well equipped training complex
Large training ground (small arena)
Tiers of seating
Every school had strict entry requirements
Examined by a doctor (emphasis on physical appearance)
School rejected unsuitable candidates (unable to withstand the harsh training or unattractive)
Novicii (passed test) continually tested especially after injury from a fight
Nothing worse than a combatant attracting pity from the crowd during a serious fight
Gladiators received capable medical treatment
Manager didn’t want to loose on his investment
Good diet was essential
Barley gruel with beans
Contributed to fat and flabby gladiators (protection against minor wounds)
Gladiator recruits taken on by special trainers (ex-gladiators)
Manager decided which weapon to be used
Same exercises for days on end to ingrain automatic responses
Competition within the group
Hierarch quickly emerged
Rivalry during the first exercises with wooden weapons against a two-metre pole
Survive first fight (veteranus)
Rest of career trying to get to the top
Best combatants (primus palus)
Veterans tried to maintain existing order of merit
Psychological advantage in fights
Lower rank gladiators think twice before taking initiative in a fight against a renowned opponent
Vegetius – 4th century AD
The ancients, we read, trained their recruits in this manner: They wove rounded shields from switches in the shape of ribbing, so that the weight of the ribbing would be double the weight an ordinary shield would have. In the same way, they gave wooden practice swords of almost double the ordinary weight as swords to the recruits. In this way, not only in the morning, but even after noon they practiced against stakes. For the use of stakes, not only for soldiers, but even for gladiators is very common. Neither the arena nor the field of battle ever pronounced a man untested by weapons acceptable unless he was taught, having excercised diligently, at the stake. Instead, individual stakes were fixed into the ground by individual recruits so that they could not sway and stood up six feet tall. Against this stake, as if against a foe, the recruit with the weighted shield and sword practiced as if with a real shield and sword - now as though he were attacking the head and face, now as though threatening from the side, and from time to time he would try to attack the thighs and legs from below, he would move back, jump forward, and on it, as if against an actual foe, so that he tested the stake with every blow, with every art of making war. In this excercise, this precaution was observed - that the recruit moved forward to deliver a blow in no way by which he himslef would open himself to one.
Gladiatorial Comabat
Gladiator Training - Initial Training
Gladiator Training commenced with getting the new gladiator to the peak of fitness
Training did not initially involve using real weapons - dangerous for the trainers and staff of the schools
Wooden training swords called the the rudus were used (lusoria arma)
A rudus was also given in the arena to a successful gladiator. In this context the rudis as given as a symbol of freedom.
When new recruits entered the gladiator schools they were first referred to as novicius
On completion of their initial training (and were ready to fight in the arena) they were called Tirones gladiatores or Tiro.
Training reflected the armor and weapons used
Skill in using ancient Roman weapons was dependent on weapon practice
The weapons included swords, lances, tridents and nets and bows and arrows
Gladiator training was designed around fitness and acquiring skills with different types of weapons.
Training Techniques
A wooden pole called a palus was first used as a target to practise moves with a sword.
Wooden swords used during training on the palus were often double the weight of the actual weapon ensuring that the gladiators would built up their upper body and arm strength.
Palus training allowed a gladiator to practise various vicious strokes and manoeuvres such as thrusting, cutting, and slicing without imposing an injury on an opponent.
Other training equipment was used such as shield and dummy which were suspended from a swinging pole
When the shield was hit the whole apparatus would rotate
Gladiators's task was to avoid the rotating arms which sometimes had a heavy sandbag attached to them
By first century AD specific types of combat began to emerge
Based on different weapons involved
Variety of helmets, shields and breastplates
Alongside lance and spear, various swords and daggers
Clearly identifiable weapons increased value
for public
Earliest gladiators
distinguished by ethnic tribal names that
once fought against Rome - galli, thraeces and samnites
Gladiators specialised in a particular set of weaponry
throughout their lives
Fights involved extreme expertise
Rare to switch weapons
Historians have formed a reliable impression of the various types of gladiators despite limited literary evidence
Numerous ancient paintings, helmets, swords, armour and leg-plates found in Pompeii in 1767 under a thick layer of ash
Also have terracotta statuettes, bronze figures, pictures on headstones, mosaics, frescoes, oil lamps and grave inscriptions
Full transcript