Roman Gladiators Essay, Research Paper
History shows competition in the form of war, games and political ventures as early as recorded history. The Roman Gladiators were a unique example of this competition during the Roman Empire. Through studying the gladiators one can see how the competition influenced politics, games, human lives and the culture.
The term Gladiator comes from the term gladius after the Roman sword. They were mostly condemned criminals, prisoners of war and slaves. These individuals would be forced to fight, sometimes till their death as a punishment. This fighting was a primary form of entertainment for the Roman society. Rarely gladiators would be free men would volunteer to take on the status of a slave to reap the benefits of fame, excitement and money. Gladiators were known for their courage, moral, integrity and loyalty to their masters for whom had complete control in there highly disciplined lifestyles. Although gladiators were determined infamous (beneath the law) they often were admired by the Roman women and could achieve high public adoration. It is estimated that by the end of the republic almost half of all gladiators were volunteer.
During the reign of Nero women were able to fight as gladiators. These women would often times fight male dwarfs or by torchlight. The Romans enjoyed to these events to the point where women were taking up the occupation in alarming numbers. It was during the time of Septimius Severus that female gladiators were banned.
Gladiators were owned by a person called a lanista and were trained in a lanista school. There was a great deal of technique and science in the gladiatorial combat. Training entailed the studies of different figurines and movements. It is during the time of the early empire that gladiator training was taken over by the state for fear that the lanistas would become too powerful and form an army to revolt against the state. There were a total of four gladiator schools and they were often located near the amphitheatres. Ludus Magnus was the largest of these schools and had a practice amphitheatre located inside it. Ruins of the practice amphitheatre can still be seen today.
The first gladiator contests were part of a funeral ritual and took place in 264 BC. Decimus Junius Brutus did the funeral gift for the dead in honor of his father. The purpose of this was to keep the memory of the dead alive. These rituals were held after the funeral and often repeated at annual or 5 year rituals. Gladiatorial games eventually moved from the funerals to the public eye and were a popular form of entertainment staged by politicians and emperors.
The popularity of the gladiatorial games can be seen through art and many household items from the time. An entire floor of a Roman villa in Nenning, Germany was illustrated with the many different aspects of the games.
The games or contests were held in large open areas where many people could be seated. As the games became more and more popular the Circus Maximus was often used because of its large seating capacity. To better accommodate the games the Romans developed the amphitheatres. The first amphitheatres were constructed of wood and eventually stone. It was during this time that the Colossuem was built. The colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheatre named after the emperor at the time. The exterior walls were 4 stories high and seated between 40,000 and 60,000 people. The seating in the theatre was a reflection of the roman society. The emperors, senators and knights had their own special sections. The solders sat away from the civilians and the boys sat with their tutors. Women sat with the poor men in the top levels.
The games were also of a political significance. They could bring great popularity or despair to an emperor depending on how well he related to the interest of the crowds. The giver of the games would be held in high popularity and was under the pressure to continuously improve the games.
There were several different types of gladiators. The Thracian, Secutor, Retiarius and the Bestiarius were distinguished by their armor, weapons and fighting styles. The Bestiarius is the lowest ranking gladiator and was usually left to fight the animals without any armor. This type of animal fighting was known as venatio and would take place before the Gladiator fights.
The day of the gladoritial games would start with a procession of the combatants and the emperor. All of the day s events were often accompanied with music. The day would begin with mock fights or animal displays. Eventually this would lead to pitted animals fighting each other. At lunch criminals of heinous criminals would be executed. During certain periods Christians would be executed, as they were guilty of sacrilege and treason for not acknowledging the divinity of the emperor. It was during the afternoon that the games would begin between the gladiators. The life of the losing participant would often depend on the emperor and audience. Once a gladiator was wounded and wished to finish the fight he would hold up an index finger. They crowd would indicate whether they wished for that fighter to be killed or spared. Depending on their hand gestures the sponsor of the games who was most often the emperor would make his decision. If a gladiator were to be killed the other participant would kneel over him and end his life with a final stab in his neck. The gladiator was expected to die respectfully without flinching or crying out. It was not too often that the gladiators were killed, as this was costly for the lanista.
Gladiators who were skilled fighters made a good sum of money and were awarded the wooden sword symbolizing their freedom. Once freed, the gladiators could continue to fight for money but more often became trainers in the gladiatorial schools or bodyguards.