Gladiators were a popular form of entertainment in ancient Rome. Though many people talk about them, they don’t know much about these ancient warriors. This essay will take you back in time to learn about gladiators, the unknown fighters of the Roman world.
WHAT IS A GLADIATOR?
In ancient Rome, a gladiator was a prisoner of war, a slave or criminal who was condemned to fight to the death. They were the lowest of the low, and Roman people weren’t able even to speak of or to them. Gladiator trade was highly profitable, and owning a gladiatorial school was an advantage for a politician, who used the gladiators to get more votes. Blood sports were popular with the Roman people. Events in the colosseum consisted of executions of criminals, men hunting dangerous animals, gladiators fighting animals, battle reenactments, and gladiator combat. Gladiators originated from Etruscan funeral processions, which made human sacrifices to the gods. The funeral were made more fun by having the sacrifice fight for his/her life. However, soon sacrifices were held only because they were popular and it soon became its own sport. This was the origin of gladiators.
WHY DID THE GLADIATORS FIGHT?
Gladiators were entertainment for the people, and politicians sometimes held events to drum up votes. Also, when Rome was suffering from low morale, blood sports were held to boost morale. Citizens would think, if a mere slave could be this aggressive and brave, think of what a real Roman could do. However, gladiators didn’t always fight to the death. If a defeated gladiator had fought well enough, the host of the event (usually the emperor or other politician) would ask the crowd whether the gladiator lived or died. Usually the gladiator would be killed. Gladiators willing decided to fight rather then rot in a prison. Though many died, a few went on to fame and fortune. People also became gladiators to avoid mandatory military service. If you were drafted, you would be in the army for twenty five years with a risk of dying and little chance at fame. A gladiator, however, could get rich and famous and retire after five years. Officially gladiators were scum, but unofficially they were superstars. This was part of the appeal to be a gladiator. Also gladiators were given high pay. The lowest type of gladiator known was given as much as three times an average Roman’s pay! An experienced, popular gladiator could receive twelve times the average pay, just from one appearance in the Colosseum! If a gladiator reached the Colosseum and survived five years, they’d be filthy rich by the time they retired.
The Roman Colosseum is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world. It was built by Emperor Vespasian around 70-72 AD and was finished by Titus 80 AD. It was called the Amphitheatrum Flavium, or the Flavian amphitheater. It had a sand floor, and was covered in arches and columns. It had eighty exits and entrances. Seventy six of these were for the public. The Colosseum also had a controllable villarium, which could shade spectators, while leaving the arena illuminated. Near the Colosseum stood a massive bronze statue, the colossus of Nero, which was later changed to Sol, the sun god. The arena itself was made of a wood floor covered with sand.
The stands were separated, with the best seats reserved for senators. A special box was reserved for the Emperor. The Colosseum could hold around seventy thousand spectators. Underneath the Colosseum was the hypogeum, a network of tunnels which is still visible today. The tunnels held animals, such as lions, that were imported from Africa and the Middle East. Rhinos, elephants, panthers, and lions could be placed into the arena via lifts and trap doors. The lifts were also used to send gladiators into the arena, as well as place terrain features, such as trees, in the arena. Hydraulic mechanisms could be used to flood the Colosseum, and create mock sea battles.
ARE WE STILL LIKE THIS?
Many modern sports, such as football and boxing, still embrace courage, skill, fighting, just as the gladiators did before us. The only difference between fencing and blood sport is that no one is hurt. In modern society, sports stadiums are our Colosseum. It is the closest we’ll come to being gladiators.