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This article is about the Roman professional fighter. For other uses of the word, see gladiator (disambiguation).

Image:Jean-Leon Gerome Pollice Verso.jpg
Pollice Verso ("With a Turned Thumb"), an 1872 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, is a well known history painter's researched conception of a gladiatorial combat.

Gladiators (Latin gladiatōrēs, 'swordsmen'or 'one who wields 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.


[edit] Ancient Roman gladiators

[edit] Origins

The gladiatorial games were originally established by the Etruscans, but were later adopted by the Romans as a means of entertainment. The Etruscans believed when an important man died his spirit needed a blood sacrifice to survive in the after life (Nardo, Games of 21). The first recorded gladiatorial combats took place in Rome in 264 BC. Decimus Junius Brutus Scaeva staged it in honour of his dead father. 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 dead 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.

[edit] Golden age

Public spectacles (Latin munera or ludi) took place in amphitheatres (like the Colosseum), during the latter half of the day after the fights against animals (venationes) and public executions of criminals (noxii). Initially rich private individuals organized these, often to gain political favour with the public. The person who organized the show was called the editor, munerator, or dominus and he was honoured with the official signs of a magistrate. Later the emperors would exert a near complete monopoly on staging public entertainment which included chariot racing in the circus (ludi circenses), hunts of wild animals, public executions, theatrical performances (ludi scaenici) and gladiator fights. There was usually musical accompaniment.

Emperor Trajan organized as many as 5000 gladiator fighting pairs. Gladiator contests could take months to complete.

Gladiators could be also the property of a wealthy individual who would hire lanistae to train them in specialized training schools (also called ludi). Several senators and emperors had their own favourites.

[edit] Banned

Gladiator fights were first outlawed by Constantine I in AD 325, but they kept going for many years. Such contests were finally stopped in AD 404, supposedly as a result of the daring of Saint Telemachus, an Asian monk. After he rushed into the arena to try to separate two gladiators, the spectators stoned him to death. Afterward the Emperor Honorius issued an edict suppressing such exhibitions.[1]

[edit] Training

There were also occasional volunteers. They were trained in special gladiator schools (ludus). One of the largest schools was in Ravenna. There were four schools in Rome itself, the largest of which was called the Ludus Magnus. The Ludus Magnus was connected to the Colosseum by an underground tunnel. Gladiators often belonged to a troupe (familia) that travelled from town to town. A trainer of gladiators or the manager of a team of gladiators was known as a lanista(to whom the gladiators often had to swear an oath). The troupe's owner rented gladiators to whoever wanted to stage games. A gladiator would typically fight no more than three times per year.

Gladiators were such an investment for their rich owner that their training-school would include the best medical care. The Greek physician Galen worked for a while as a gladiator's physician in Pergamon, giving him the chance to learn much about battlefield medicine without getting in harm's way.

[edit] A typical combat

Criminals were expected to die within a year (ad gladium) or might earn their release after three years (ad ludum) — if they survived. Fights were generally not to the death during the Republic, although gladiators were still killed or maimed accidentally.

Image:Borghese gladiator 1 mosaic dn r2 c2.jpg
The Gladiator Mosaic at the Galleria Borghese, showing the latter stages of various combats, late Roman period
A flask depicting the final phase of the fight between a murmillo (winning) and a thraex.

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 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).

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. 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 the historical sources, but merely a product of Hollywood and epic films such as Quo Vadis (1951 film). It is possible that they pointed their thumbs upwards if they wanted the loser to live, and downwards if they wanted him to die; or, they may have done the opposite, pointing downwards if they wanted the gladiator to live. Another possibility is that they raised their fist but kept their thumb inside it (pollice compresso, literally "compressed thumbs") if they wanted the loser to live, and pointed down to signify death. Further, since the victorious gladiator would often finish off the loser with a quick, lethal sword blow to the neck, it may be that the thumbs of the crowd would be turned to jab at their own necks, imitating this blow. 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 the Juvenal's Satires 3.34-37 and would seem 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:

The one-time horn players, traveling to municipal arenas, their puffed-out cheeks known in all the little towns, are now putting on their own munera, and when the crowd gives the order with upturned thumb, they kill just as the people want.

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 - though 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.

Recent research has come to light which suggests that gladiators were not as savage as once thought and actually adhered to a strict code of discipline and did not resort to savage violence and mutilation which could occur on the battlefields of the day. Furthermore if the order was given to kill the opponent - which was very rare as gladiators were expensive - the wound may have been made so that it appeared that the gladiator had died, but in reality the gladiator would be dragged backstage and would have been executed "humanely" by a backstage executioner who would kill the gladiator with a hammer on the forehead.<ref>Head injuries of Roman gladiators Forensic Science International, Volume 160, Issue 2-3, Pages 207-216 F. Kanz, K. Grossschmidt</ref>

A Secutor defeating a Retiarius

[edit] Types of Gladiators

Gladiators were typically picked from prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals. Different gladiators specialized in different weapons, and it was popular to pair off combatants with widely different, but more or less equivalent equipment. Some of the first gladiators had been prisoners-of-war, and so some of the first types of gladiators, Gauls, Samnites, and Thraces (Thracians) used their native weapons and armor. Gladiator types and their weaponry included:

  • Andabatae: Fought with a helmet with no eyeholes and on horseback. They were called andabatae, from άναβαται, ascensores, because they fought on horseback, or out of chariots.<ref>This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain.</ref>
  • Bestiarii: Not really a kind of gladiator, but a specially trained kind of fighter who fought against beasts, usually with spears.
  • Bustuarii: fought around the remains of a deceased person, as part of his funeral rites.
  • Dimachaeri ("fighters with two shorts or daggers"): Little more than what their name suggests is known about this type of gladiator.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, p. 63</ref>
  • Equites ("knights"): In early depictions, these lightly-armed gladiators wear scale armour, a medium-sized round cavalry shield (parma equestris), and a brimmed helmet without a crest, but two decorative feathers. In imperial times, they sport an arm-guard (manica) on their right arm and sleeveless, belted tunics, in contrast to other gladiators who usually fought bare-chested, and no greaves. At least in Isidore of Seville's times, the equites rode white horses and opened a day's program of fights (Origines 18.53ff.). They started on horseback, but after they had thrown their lance (hasta), they dismounted and continued to fight on foot with their short sword (gladius).<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 47-48</ref>
  • Essedari ("war-chariot fighters"): The name of these fighters derives from the Latin word for a Celtic war-chariot, esseda. These chariots were still used by the Celts in Britain when Caesar tried to invade the island in 55 B.C. Essedarii appear as arena-fighters in many inscriptions after the first century A.D. Yet since no pictorial representations exist, we do not know anything about their equipment and manner of fighting.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, p. 63</ref>
  • Hoplomachi: Like the Thraces, these heavily armoured fighters may have developed out of the earlier Samnites. They wore quilted, trouser-like leg wrappings, maybe made from linen, a loincloth, a belt, a pair of long shin-guards or greaves, a manica (arm-guard) on the right arm, and a brimmed helmet, not unlike that of the Thraces, with a crescent-shaped crest that could be adorned with a plume of feathers on top and a single feather on each side. Equipped with a gladius and a very small, round shield made of one sheet of thick bronze (an example from Pompeii survives), they were paired with murmillones or Thraces.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 52-53</ref>
  • Laquerarii ('lasso fighters"): These may be a kind of retiarius who tried to catch their adversaries with a lasso (laqueus) instead of a net.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, p. 63</ref>
  • Murmillones: Named after the stylized fish (Greek mormylos) on the crest of his helmet, a murmillo wore a manica (arm-guard), a loincloth and belt, a gaiter on his right leg, thick wrappings covering the tops of his feet, and a very short greave with an indentation for the padding at the top of the feet. Murmillones carried a gladius (40-50 cm long) and a tall, oblong shield in the legionary style. They were paired with Thraces, occasionally also with the similar hoplomachi.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 48-51</ref>
  • Provocatores: This type of middle-weight fighter wore a loincloth, a belt, a long greave on the left leg, a manica on the lower right arm, and a visored helmet without brim or crest, but with a feather on each side. They were the only gladiators protected by a breastplate (cardiophylax) which is usually rectangular, later often crescent-shaped. They fought with a tall, rectangular shield and the gladius and were usually paired with another provocator.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 57-59</ref>
  • Retiarii: Developed in the early Augustan era, the retiarius (net-fighter) carried a trident, a dagger, a net, and no helmet. Except for a loincloth, a manica on his left arm, and a metal shoulder-guard (galerus) above the manica, the retiarius fought naked and was always paired with a secutor.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 59-61</ref>
  • Sagittarius- A fighter who used a bow and arrow
  • Samnites: The Samnites, an early type of heavily-armed fighter that disappears in the early imperial period, point to the Campanian origins of gladiatorial contests because the Samnites were a powerful league of Italian tribes in the region of Campania south of Rome against which the Romans fought three major wars between 326 and 291 BC. A Samnis was armed with a long rectangular shield (scutum), a plumed helmet, a short sword, and probably a greave on his left leg.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, p. 37</ref>.
  • Secutores: This kind of fighter, specifically developed to fight the retiarius, was a variant of the murmillo and wore the same armour and weapons, including the tall rectangular shield and the gladius. His helmet, however, covered the entire face with the exception of two small eye-holes in order to protect his face from the thin prongs of the trident of his opponent. The helmet was almost round and smooth so that the retiarius' net could not get a grip on it.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 40-41 and 61-63</ref>
  • Thraces: The Thracians also wore the same protective armour as the hoplomachi and a similar helmet, except that theirs was distinguished by a stylized griffin on the protome or front of the crest (the griffin was the companion of the avenging goddess Nemesis). In contrast to the hoplomachi, Thraces were equipped with a small, rectangular (almost square) shield (parmula) and short sword (ca. 34 cm long) with a curved or bent blade (sica). The Thraces may originally have been prisoners-of-war from Thrace. They commonly fought murmillones or hoplomachi.<ref>Junkelmann 2000, pp. 51-57</ref>

[edit] Roman attitudes towards them

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 must have been happening [2]). 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. They were 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.

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: Nos morituri te salutamus ("We who are about to die salute you") (though, as not all gladiators would die at once, this greeting has sometimes been re-assigned to those condemned to execution at the same shows).

[edit] 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. After this, gladiators were deported from Rome and other cities during times of social disturbances, for fear that they might organize and rebel again.

[edit] Female gladiators

Main article: Female gladiator

Female gladiators also existed; The Emperor Domitian liked to stage torchlit fights between dwarves and women, according to Suetonius in "The Twelve Caesars".

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 programme on the UK's Channel Four. [3]

[edit] Dwarf gladiators

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

[edit] Emperors as gladiators

Some emperors are said to have entered the arena as gladiators. However, these may be stories made up after their deaths to blacken their names (e.g. Caligula and Commodus), been rigged, or occurred in private as part of an exercise regime (e.g. Hadrian, Titus). Certainly they would have earned ignominy if they had really fought in public, unless they were making some ideological point which has been lost in our sources.

[edit] Gladiators in modern popular culture

[edit] 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 (1951 film) and Rome (TV series).

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] References

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[edit] See also

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