Roman Gladiators - GLADIATORS

GLADIATORS (Illustration) Biographies Geography Film World History Fiction Legends and Legendary People Ancient Places and/or Civilizations

This image depicts a 4th-century mosaic of gladiators fighting. Using the specific words, of the time, a retiarius attacks his downed opponent (a secutor) with a dagger. The scene is from a mosaic in the Villa Borghese. Image online via Wikimedia Commons.


Gladiators were often slaves or captured foreigners who filled a unique role in ancient Rome. Their job was to entertain large crowds of spectators by fighting brilliantly and, if needed, to kill (or die) well.  (Thanks to a BBC game, you can dress a Roman gladiator.)

The first recorded gladiator games were introduced to Roman society in 264 B.C. by Marcus and Decimus Brutus. The brothers sponsored the event to honor their father. At the time, gladiator games were more about funeral rites than mass entertainment.

Over time, however, the games became less associated with funerals and more associated with brutal slayings. Some of the victims had virtually no chance to survive. As the crowds roared, the walking dead were easy prey to strong men and wild animals. It was not uncommon for an entire family to be killed.

Sometimes the people of Rome were sickened by excessive killings.  One such event took place in 64 AD, during the reign of Nero (who was Emperor between 54 and 68).

When a terrible fire consumed much of Rome, citizens blamed their emperor.  One ancient source - Tacitus - says that Nero was elsewhere when the fire broke out, but people blamed him anyway.

Nero, in turned, blamed the Christians of Rome.  After "an immense multitude was convicted," the current Caesar "offered his gardens" as the place where those convicted people would die.  Their death sentences, as reported by Tacitus, were carried-out in horrifying ways:

Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.  (Annals of Tacitus, Book XV, Section 44 - see Google eBook version, at page 305.)

The spectacle of such cruelty, by their Emperor, sickened many Romans:

...there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good [that the Christians were thus put to death], but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.  (Tacitus, page 305 of the Google eBook version.)

Nero (who committed suicide in 68 AD) also used gladiators to entertain his subjects.  Professionals were trained in special schools, mostly located near the great arenas. During the time of the Caesars, gladiator schools were controlled by the Emperor.

No one ever expected to see an Emperor fighting in the arena as a gladiator.  One Caesar, however - Commodus, son of the still-studied writer and Emperor, Marcus Aurelius - decided he would do precisely that.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2004

Updated Last Revision: Mar 05, 2015

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"GLADIATORS" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2004. Feb 22, 2020.
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