Gladiatorial Battles Essay Example

Published: 2022-09-16 20:09:40
Gladiatorial Battles Essay Example
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories: History
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1576 words
14 min read

Gladiatorial battles originally referred to as munera were fights between gladiators for the amusement of Romans. The gladiators fought with swords in arenas referred to as amphitheaters. Gladiatorial battles are believed to have originated from the killing of slaves in funerals of the deceased. The first gladiatorial battle was staged in Rome B.C. 264 during the funeral of Junius Brutus. It soon became a trend becoming a common scene in public funerals. People would set money aside before their deaths to pay for a gladiatorial battle during their funeral. The battles were seen as duties paid to the ancestors. The gladiatorial battles were meant to avert misfortune and were seen as a ritual to appease the gods. The blood shed by the gladiators was seen as a rite of passage for the dead whose funerals were b,eing held. The gladiatorial battles were believed to ease the transition between the world of the living and the dead. The gladiatorial battles were attracting large crowds of people which prompted their exhibitions at arenas for entertainment. They were held at public festivals to attract crowds and entertain people.

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The word gladiator is derived from the Roman word gladius which is a sword. Hence, gladiators were people who fought using swords for the entertainment of the Roman people. Gladiators comprised slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war. Freedmen were also allowed to volunteer to be gladiators and were known as auctorati. Such freedmen were after the fame and excitement of being a gladiator. Auctorati mostly comprised outcasts, soldiers who had been discharged or freed gladiators who came back for the money. A gladiator was given the lowest rank in the society and was not a respected member of the community. Gladiators had an oath in which they promised to endure being burned, beaten and killed by the sword. In making this oath, the gladiatorial battle became not a forced act but a voluntary one. Gladiators who survived would fight up to three times in a year. Gladiators who excelled and fought well were rewarded with money and in special instances, they would be granted wooden swords which signified their freedom. Along with the money and the freedom came the fame with gladiators often dubbed as heroes and admired by many. Gladiators were owned by politicians and were used as bodyguards by wealthy citizens. They could be sold or hired out and the money paid to the owners.

Categories of Gladiators

Gladiators had ranks based on the armor they had, the weapons used and how they fought. A battle would place one type of gladiator against the other. The following were some of the most common gladiators:

Hoplomachus: this was a gladiator who fought using heavy weapons. The weapons commonly used by the hoplomachus were a long spear as well as a short sword. He would wear a visored helmet and in order to protect his legs, he had long greaves.

Eques: this was a gladiator who began fighting on horseback and eventually came down to engage in hand-to-hand combat. They were associated with long swords and bronze helmets. What set them apart from other gladiators was the tunics they wore in place of body armor.

Provocator: also referred to as attacker, the provocator was heavily armed and had a rectangular shield. Most commonly, a provocator would fight against his fellow provocator probably due to his slow nature attributed to the heavy armor.

Retiarius: this name was given to the gladiator who exhibited speed and mobility. He would not wear a helmet which made him vulnerable to wounds. The retiarius often fought against the secutor who is discussed below.

Secutor: a secutor was the opposite of the retiarius wearing an egg-shaped helmet and had little range of vision.

Thraex: he was associated with a short curved sword known as the sica. He wore a helmet and had a rectangular shield.

Dimacheri: these were gladiators who fought with two swords.

Fiscales: these were gladiators who were under the empire.

Laqueatores: they used a noose in battle to trap their opponents.

Bestiarius: the name means animal fighter. Bestiarius was involved in fights against animals which he was trained to handle. They were the lowest ranking gladiators wearing no body armor and armed with a spear or a whip. Fights involving bestiarius had damaging impacts as it led to the death of thousands of animals. Species in certain areas became

extinct as they were killed or driven away. In Nubia, for instance, hippopotamus was eradicated. This led to the abolishing of these fights by Flavius Anicus Maximus.

Gladiatorial games often paired different types of gladiators against each other. The pairing was such that the gladiators compensated for each other's weaknesses. This ensured that no weak gladiator fought against a stronger gladiator to give the victories virtue.


Gladiators spent most of their time being trained to ensure that they staged a good fight. This was a matter of life and death which meant the training was taken seriously. There were special schools known as Ludi where gladiators were trained. The schools were set up next to the arena. The trainer was referred to as a lanista who was in charge of a gladiatorial group. The emperor had control over the gladiatorial schools. One of the largest schools was in the Colosseum referred to as Ludus Magnus.

The Day of the Battle

On the eve of gladiatorial battles, gladiators were pampered and a public banquet held in their honor. Some believed they were eating their last meal and ate to their fill while others for fear of the uncertainties of the battle lacked appetite. The diet comprised mostly of barley. The battle was advertised by writings made by painters using red ink. Programs were made to show the order of events. Betting was also popular before the battles.

On the day of the battle, the gladiators would be led to the amphitheater where they proclaimed their oath to the emperor. The editor would then examine the weapons of the gladiators to check aspects such as the sharpness of the swords. Before the real fight commenced a praelusio was held which was a sham battle where the gladiators used wooden swords. A trumpet would then be blown which would mark the start of the real battle. If one of the gladiators was badly wounded the crowd in the arena would call for him to be spared or to be killed. The wounded gladiator would surrender and plead for mercy by raising the index finger of his left hand. The referee would then intervene and stop any further injury. The fate of the wounded gladiator would fall on the hands of the crowd. If the crowd wished that he be killed they would press their thumbs down but if they wanted him to be spared they would point their thumbs up or keep their thumbs pressed against their hands. The emperor would then make the final decision. If the gladiator was to be killed he was expected to take the final blow without crying or flinching. After being killed, his body would be hit by a hammer to make sure that he was truly dead. The victorious gladiator would be given money or palms for his heroics. If the gladiator was old he would retire which was marked by the issuance of a rudis which was a wooden sword. The loser would be rid of their weapons and armor and returned to their group.

Gladiatorial battles were abolished by Constantine but they did not seize completely. Honorius was finally able to suppress them.

Modern Perspective of Gladiatorial Battles

Gladiatorial battles are seen today as primitive and heartless battles in which human life had no value. Today, the calls for human rights are as loud as they can get and such events would not see the light of day. To risk the lives of human beings for entertainment is seen not only as barbaric but inhuman. Evidence of these battles still lives on with some of the remains of the arenas having been preserved. One such arena is the Colosseum which was the biggest arena in Rome whose ruins still stand.


Gladiatorial battles were battles involving slaves, captives or freedmen who volunteered to fight for the amusement of the people. The fights were originally exhibited at funerals with a religious significance but soon lost this religious aspect and became a source of entertainment with arenas being built for this purpose. Gladiators varied depending on the type of armor they used and the way they fought. Gladiatorial battles gained popularity with crowds of up to fifty thousand people gathering to watch these battles. They were eventually abolished by Constantine and finally suppressed by Honorius. Today, people look at these battles and see the monstrosity of humanity by playing with human lives. At an age where human rights have gained worldwide recognition, gladiatorial battles are thought of as primitive and inhuman activities. Religion in form of Christianity and Islam which are widely practiced value human life and are partly attributed for the abolishment of these battles. Innocent blood was shed and yet the battles were called games: games of death.


Barbara F. McManus. "Arena: Gladiatorial Games". 2011.

Encyclopaedia Romania, "The Roman Gladiator," accessed October 30, 2018,

Leonhard Schmitz. Ludi. 1875.*/Ludi.html

Pollice Verso. American Journal of Philogy Vol. 13, No. 2.(1892) 213-225*.html

William Smith. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities: Gladiatores, 574-577. London, 1875.*/Gladiatores.html

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