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Ancient Roman Gladiators

QUESTION: Who were the Ancient Roman Gladiators?


Many people do not realize just who ancient Roman gladiators were, or how they received that position. Most gladiators were recruited from the ranks of criminals who had lost their citizenship rights, as well as slaves and prisoners of war, who had no rights whatsoever. The word gladiator comes from the Latin word swordsman. They did not receive the choice of choosing that position. However, some men, who did have their citizenship rights and were considered free-born, gave themselves up to the profession by swearing an oath to their master and gladiatorial troupe that they would endure branding, chains, flogging, or death by the sword.

There were many advantages to engaging in that particular profession. The profession called for courage, good morale, and absolute fidelity to the master to the point of death, so the participant’s life became a model of military discipline. Through courageous behavior, he received an honor similar to that of a Roman soldier on the battlefield. Another notable advantage would be that if an aristocrat suffered a financial setback, or lost his inheritance, he would find it difficult to make a living, so a career serving as a gladiator seemed most attractive. The position could prove to be one of adulation that modern athletes today enjoy.

In ancient Rome, gladiators were owned by a person called lanista and trained in the lanista's school. Combat was considered to be a science, just like boxing is today in the modern world. Years later, the gladiators were owned by the emperor because it was feared they would be trained into an army for revolutionary purposes by a private citizen. Outside of Rome, the lanista continued to train and own gladiators making a profit by renting or selling the troupe. This was especially true of the upper-class citizen who could own his own troupe and hire them out without suffering the scorn of his fellow aristocrats. That was because the citizen was a dabbler and not a professional so his main source of income did not derive from his ownership of gladiators.

Women also served as gladiators. Aristocratic women and men fought as entertainment for Nero in 63 AD. However, as the years went on, so many women were entering the profession that it was decided to disband them from choosing that career.

Gladiator fights were first introduced into Rome in 264 BC when the son of Brutus Pera paid honor to his father by showing three pairs of gladiators fighting. The Romans quickly learned to love watching these bloody fights. The event soon became one of the favorite types of entertainment for the amusement of the general public held in the coliseum.

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