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Life Of Gladiators In The Roman Empire

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The name 'gladiator' was derived from a Latin word 'gladiatores'. Gladiators were both skilled and amateur fighters in ancient Rome who were regarded as expensive investments and fought to death in entertaining their spectators. Throughout the empire the matches took place in arenas with engagements pitying man against man or man against animals in combat. To the Romans themselves, the foundation of the arena was one of the significant features of their civilization. There was hardly any contemporary voice that was against the morality of staging gladiatorial combat in fact, the gladiators' own epitaphs proudly talked about their profession without indignity, regret, or resentment. At present, the notion of gladiators combating to the death, and ideas of an amphitheatre where battle could be staged and watched by a passionate audience, epitomizes the extent to which the Roman Empire was capable of falling.

The origin of gladiatorial combat originated from the Estruscan customs that sacrificed humans to appease the dead. The first gladiators were slaves who were forced to fight to the death at the funeral of an eminent aristocrat, Junius Brutus Pera in 264 BC. This spectacle was organized by the heirs of the deceased in honor of his commemoration. This concept of (the Munus) was that it kept alive the memories of important personalities after their death. The munus was held sometime after the funeral and were frequently repeated at annually or a five year intervals. This gladiatorial games or munera as it was locally referred were not made a regular part of public spectacle until the late first century. Gradually the gladiatorial exhibitions were separated from the funerary perspective and began to be staged by the affluent people as a way of showing of their power and influence in the society. The number of gladiators to be put on show was the main attraction, the bigger the number, the more generous the sponsor was alleged to be, and the more thrilling the spectacle.

Most gladiators were recruited from slaves, criminals and prisoners of war and had no choice if selected for such duty. Since they had lost their rights and some never had citizenship they had no option but to comply as they would have an opportunity of a renewed life in the arena as a respected gladiator. Surprisingly, a number of gladiators were not prisoners of war or slaves but free-born volunteers. They had never lost their rights as citizens but choose the profession voluntarily by pledging their allegiance to the owner of a gladiatorial troupe by swearing an oath "to endure branding, flogging or die by the sword" (UNRV History).The oath meant that the owner of the troupe had the final authority over the gladiator's life, even assimilating him to the status of a slave. The key motivation was perhaps the down payment that a volunteer received after taking the oath as a gladiator. By the closing stages of the Republic, almost half of the gladiators were volunteers that took on the position of a slave for an agreed-upon duration of time, similar to agreed servitude that was widespread in the late second millennium.

Throughout the Roman Empire gladiators were trained in exceptional and specialized schools called ludi that could be found as general amphitheatres. In these schools, the gladiators were subjected to a thorough training, fed on a high-energy diet and received expert medical attention, this made them an expensive investment that were not to be dispatched lightly. Rome itself boasted of four schools, the largest of which was named the Ludus Magnus and was connected to the Colosseum by an underground subway. The most famous training ground was the school of Capua where Spartacus sparked the gladiator and slave rebellion in 73 BC. In general, most of the gladiators would not battle more than two or three times a year but with the fame and fortune of the arena they would eventually buy out their freedom. However, some gladiators who had initially committed crimes were either anticipated to die within a year 'ad gladium', or might get their freedom after three years 'ad ludum', if they survived in the arena (Coit 967).

Matches involving gladiators took place in ampitheatres or colosseums and were often staged after the animal fights (Venationes) and open executions the noxii. In its original forms the equestrian status or persons of patrician often planned the matches in order to gain political favor on the part of the public and audience. The organizers of these games were commonly referred to as dominus, the editor or munerator and were privileged with the official status and respect of a magistrate. In case a gladiator dies in combat, the lanista or trainer received payment for compensation by the sponsor of the fatal and deadly spectacle almost a hundred times the cost of a gladiator who survived the battle. For this reason it was very much expensive for sponsors to supply the bloodshed that spectators frequently demanded, though if they did allow a gladiator to be slaughtered it was taken as a suggestion of their kindness(Bagnell 621).

In spite of their servile, outlaw, legal and slavery status, gladiators commanded a wide-ranging following. They often benefited from great social prestige as even young Roman boys were fond of hanging out at gladiator schools and sometimes taking combat lessons by the gladiators, something their parent's really disliked. In many occasions, Roman matrons in particular enjoyed having affairs with gladiators due to their celebrity status. Many tombstones of the gladiators had wall graffiti's marked with comments such as, "Celadus makes the girls swoon" (Coleman). More so, there were cartoons that contained accompanying messages and headings scratched on plastered walls showing the tally of a gladiators records. It was the sanction of the sponsor, acting upon the wishes of the crowd in the coliseum, to make a decision whether to hand in official pardon for the defeated gladiator or consign him to the victor to be slain.

The guiding rules for gladiatorial fights were almost certainly precise to different styles of combat. In the arena gladiators were armed individually in different combinations, each combination commanding its own fighting style and technique. It was uncommon to find gladiators being paired against an opponent in the same fighting style. For example, it was difficult to find the equites (horsemen) who entered the arena on chariots and horseback fighting against other horsemen. The most interesting pairing involved divergent advantages and disadvantages against each other the most favorite being combat between the fish fighter (Murmillo) and the hoplomachus or thraex. The fish fighter had a large shield that covered him from shoulder to calf giving him stout protection but was very heavy. The thraex carried a small squared shield in combat that only protected his torso while the hoplomachus had a small and rounded shield however; all of them wore leg protectors that stretched well above the knee.

Out of all the gladiators, the retiarius (Net fighter) was the most defenseless since he only had a shoulder guard on his left arm that acted as his protection. On regular combats he fought with the secutor who was heavily armed although virtually invincible, crumbled under the heavy weight of his armor. These gladiators were named according to their fighting styles, initially the various fighting styles emanated from the types of combat the Romans encountered with the natives who they fought and conquered. For instance, thraex literally meant inhabitants of Thrace the unfriendly land bordering the north and east by the Danube and notorious black sea respectively.

Consequently, as styles in fighting became recognized and official gladiators were trained in a definite ethnic style that is totally different from his real place of origin.

Interestingly there was also a category of women gladiators, this was widespread but never lasted for long as women fighting in the arena was outlawed by Emperor Septimius Severus in the third century, C.E. The Roman Empire had gladiatorial barracks that were marked by heterogeneity as membership and life of brotherhood constantly fluctuated due to betrayal and tours by troupes in the local circuit. Some gladiators survived up to retirement as fresh recruits were brought in to train as gladiators. Above all, gladiatorial combat was a demonstration of bravery and skillfulness.

Work cited

Bagnell, John.B. The student's Roman Empire: A history of the Roman Empire from its foundation to the death of Marcus Aurelius [27 B.C.-180 A.D.]. London: J. Murray, 1900. Print.

Coit, Moses.T. Library of Universal History: Alexander's empire and Roman Empire. New York: R. S. Peale, J. A. Hill, 1897. Print.

Coleman, Kathleen. Gladiators: Heroes of the Roman Amphitheatre. BBC History. 17th February 2011. Web. 3rd June 2011.

Hopkins, Keith. Murderous games: Gladiatorial contests in ancient Rome. History Today. n.d. Web. 3rd June 2011.

Roman Gladiator. UNRV History. n.d. Web. 3rd June 2011.


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