A gladiator’s life is one of mystery. There is no way of finding out the true feelings or how scared a gladiator was before he walked through the massive, intimidating gates of the coliseum, into a fight which could lead to his death. In this essay I will explain what made the games such an intricate and exciting part of Roman lives and how they were treated on there journey to the coliseum. I will also try and look into the feelings of the gladiators and how their feelings could have made the games more exciting. The meaning of a gladiator and how they became gladiators
A gladiator meant a sword fighter, or a fighter in an arena. A gladiator must have fought another combatant or a wild beast in public to be known as one. They originated from funeral processions. In roman times they operated under the belief that when a very important man died, his spirit would need to require a ‘blood sacrifice’ to survive in the afterlife. Supposedly, the dead spirits would not survive or be satisfied without this ‘blood sacrifice’. Gladiators were usually recruited from criminals, slaves (especially captured fugitives), and prisoners of war.
Criminals, having lost their citizen rights and slaves and prisoners of war having none, had no choice about becoming a gladiator, if they had the physical and emotional make-up necessary for the profession. There were many occasions however of a free born man who voluntarily chose the profession and pledged themselves to the owner, ‘lanists’, of a gladiatorial ‘famillia’ by swearing an oath. But why would a free man drop to the lowest social status and have to be embarrassed by making the oath?
Well there are many good reasons; although he may have lost all citizen rights he can restore some dignity by taking on the hardest, most brutes job in roman times. Although the gladiators were often frowned upon in roman society by the ‘upper class’, who considered them as useless slaves fighting for the pointless enjoyment of others. They did in some respects often enjoy a good social prestige with in particular young roman boys. Matrons would also enjoy affairs with gladiators. Gladiator Training The conditions of the places in which the gladiators trained in were not that bad.
The owners of gladiator schools and the trainers saw the gladiators as good investments so they were treated correctly and put on a strict diet of high protein, and also received decent medical care. Gladiators were trained by ‘Doctores’. And within each gladiator school there would have been a competitive hierarchy of grades ‘paloi’. Gladiators would be able to move up or down grades. Gladiators would be trained by using two metre poles buried in the ground. As a gladiator went up through the grades his training would become very intense and less manufactured.
This is an old gladiator training ground in Pompeii. You can see the different areas of the training ground for example the large grass square will be were athletes will train for gladiatorial battles. Many events would be trained in these areas such as boxing sword fighting and running. I feel this adds an extra factor to the games. The fact that people were trained is a very key point which would make the games more thrilling because the fighters are semi professionals/professionals which would make it more exiting because they know what they are doing.
Gladiators were not only trained to kill but also how to make an exhilarating killing blow, and also if defeated, they were trained how to offer there body for the most effective ‘coupe de grace’. The day before the event, a public banquet (coena libera) was given for the gladiators, some of whom gorged themselves at what might be their last meal, others eating in hopeful anticipation of the next day, and some with no appetite at all, terrified at the prospect of what was to come. From this passage it is clear that gladiators in most respects are treated like human beings.
Types of Gladiators and their armour There are three main types of gladiators, all of whom risk their lives every time they step foot into the great coliseum. Gladiators were originally named according to their equipment and the country which they came from. A Thracian – wore okra on both legs, carried a small square shield, wore either a full visor helmet or an open faced helmet with a wide brim, and carried a curved Thracian sword with an angled bend in the blade; This is a picture of a Thracian vs a Thracian
You can see they are both wearing fully visor helmets and the one on the left has a bent sword and has dropped his square shaped shield. A Gaul – A gaul, was originally lightly armoured, using the traditional Gallic equipment of a long flat shield with a spindle boss and cut and thrust sword with a straight blade about 60 cm. By the late republic he was armed with a slashing sword and had acquired a helmet. A samnite – The samnite was probably originally a lightly armoured Gladiator fighting in the samnite way but over time he became heavily armed and by the end of the republic he was a standard heavily armed gladiator.
At the beginning of the imperial period he became known by a different name (hoplomachus). He wore a large crested helmet with a visor, and a thigh length grieves on his left leg and he carried a large rectangular shield of the type used by legionaries. A separate type of gladiator created a great event against the three main pursuers. They were named as the retiarius and were very lightly armoured. There is no evidence to suggest why the retiarius wore such strange equipment. To me it seems a very strange concept.
The idea of a gladiator with just a net a trident and a breast plate could fight a fully armoured samnite. A retiarius was basically a gladiator armed with a net for entangling his adversary and a trident for despatching him. However the retiarius were very popular and were very entertaining and exciting. They were quick and agile which would make it very exciting for the audience. Armour had a real affect on how popular the games became. Roman citizens must have found it very exciting watching fully armoured men against weak looking opponents.
Armour would add an extra exciting factor to the games. This is a picture of a trhracian vs a retiari From this picture it is clear that a retiari would have a huge disadvantage, because of the lack of armour. However because he is wearing very little therefore he is able to move freely, he must be quick and agile to ever achieve victory. In some ways less armour works in his favour because after a while a heavily armoured gladiator would become very hot and tired which allows the retiarius to use his speed and fitness to produce a killing blow.
I feel this is also a reason why the games became so popular because there is such a wide range of gladiators who each fight in there own way which is one reason for it being so exciting. Different types of gladiators and their armour This is a gladiator scene from the zilten mosaic. This scene shows a retiarius on the far left. He is wearing a shoulder shield and an arm guard. It this picture it shows he has been disarmed and appears to be wounded. He is fighting a secutor. A secutor was known as the pursuer and would fight virtually naked.
He would carry a large oval shield and a sword or a dagger. He would also wear okra on his left leg, with a ribbon round his wrist and a fully visor helmet. The secutor is holding up his finger which means he is in a plea for mercy. Gladiators would usually fight to the death but in some rare cases gladiators would be spared if he had fought well. He would appeal for mercy by holding his finger up which is what the retiarius is doing. If the retiarius was successful then the crowd would give him a ‘thumbs pressed’ signal.
If the crowd gave him this signal the retiarius would walk away alive, however if he got the ‘thumbs turned’ signal he would be killed. He would be killed amidst a fanfare of trumpets. The actual meaning of the phrases ‘thumbs pressed’ and the ‘thumbs turned’ is not 100 per cent certain. It is said the thumb represents the gladiator’s sword. The modern phrases ‘thumbs up’ and thumbs down’ are said to be a misunderstanding of the above phrases. The second scene e. g. the fight in the middle shows a fight between a two heavily armoured gladiators of uncertain types.
However I feel they are two Thracian gladiators because they have square shields okra and fully visor helmets with bent swords. Next to them is another Thracian. He has a small shield and is standing waiting whilst his opponent puts his finger up to beg for mercy. It is clear his opponent is heavily armoured. He is appealing to the ‘Lanista’. The lanista is a referee or a trainer. He is holding a whip so he can keep the gladiators under control at all times. This may be a con because it stops full on gladiator fights and the referee may stop it at very tense moments however the excitement would still be there.