In ancient times,
when the Roman Empire ruled over a great deal of Europe, public
entertainment was provided in huge venues, the most famous of
which was the Colosseum in Rome.
Today, actors dressed as gladiators greet tourists at Rome's colosseum image ©  Jupiterimages Corporation
The entertainment took the form of combat, and people called gladiators fought each other, or wild animals like lions, to the death. Generally, gladiators were condemned criminals, prisoners of war, or slaves. Professional gladiators were free men who volunteered to participate in the games. Gladiators were paid each time they fought. Criminals who had been found guilty of murder and condemned to death went into combat without weapons. Criminals who had committed other crimes were trained in special gladiator schools, called ludi, and they fought with weapons of their choice. They could earn their freedom if they survived 3-5 years of combat. However, although gladiators generally fought about 3 times a year, few survived 3-5 years.
Gladiators in the ludi were trained like professional athletes. They were fed three meals a day and given medical attention if needed. Training included using different weapons such as war chain, net, trident, dagger and lasso. They were taught combat techniques that disabled and captured their opponents rather than killed them. They wore armour in combat, but not the same armour as the Roman army.
Museum display of armour worn by Roman soldiers
Gladiators wore the armour of Rome's enemies, so that the Roman people wouldn't see what looked like a Roman soldier losing a match.
Some of the enemy uniforms that gladiators wore were:
Samnite, which included a large oblong shield (called scutum), a metal or boiled leather grieve (ocrea) on the left leg, a visored helmet (galea) with a large crest and plume, and a sword (gladius).
Thracian, including ocrea on both legs, a small square shield, either a full visored helmet or an open faced helmet with a wide brim, and a curved sword.
Secutor, naked except for an ocrea on the left leg, leather bands at the elbow and wrists (manicae), a helmet, and carrying only a large oval or rectangular shield and a sword or dagger.
Retiarius, (fisherman) wearing only a loin cloth (subligaculum) and a metal shoulder-piece (galerus) on the left arm, and carrying a net (iaculum), a dagger, and a trident (fascina..a three-pronged spear).
Laquearii, similar to the Retiarius but with a lasso instead of a net.
The winning gladiator asked the crowd whether or not the defeated gladiator was to be allowed to live or was to be killed.image ©  Jupiterimages Corporation
When one of the gladiators in a contest was wounded, the crowd went wild. If one of the gladiators felt he was defeated, he would raise his left hand with one finger extended. This was to ask for mercy. It is believed that the crowd voted for death or to spare him by signalling with their thumbs: thumbs up and the gladiator lived, thumbs down and his opponent was to kill him. The defeated gladiator knelt at the feet of the winner and was killed. The winner would receive a prize, such as a golden bowl, crown, or gold coin, along with a palm leaf that symbolised victory.
Successful gladiators, or those who fought in a spectacular way,
were regarded as heroes, rather like exceptional athletes are
Women gladiators, known as gladiatrix, once competed in the arena. Emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211 AD, allowed women to fight but later banned the practice in 200 AD.
Read more about
gladiators of ancient Rome:
This site has a game where players can build Ancient Rome: enter ancient Rome into the search barat the top of the page http://en.downloadastro.com/
Fun! A web-book 'You wouldn't want to be a Roman gladiator'
If you use any part of
this, acknowledge it in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, Shirley. & Thomas, Ron Gladiators [Online]: www.kidcyber.com.au (2009)
People and Places
updated November 2013 © kidcyber