By: Elizabeth Flynn
The Roman gladiators are one of the most interesting groups of people in history. The activities of the gladiators have played an important role in the history of Italy and many of the Roman ruins are monuments to significant moments in history that involved these truly hardcore Italians. Here are ten interesting facts about the Roman gladiators.
- The gladiators were not always slaves that were brought into an arena in chains. This was certainly the case with the earliest gladiators but this changed around 1AD. Men began to willingly sign contracts to attend gladiator schools as they were lured by the thrill of the screaming audiences.
- Bouts were once part of funeral ceremonies, particularly at the funerals of wealthy aristocrats. Historians have provided several explanations for this. One is that the Romans believed that human blood purified the soul. Another is that the bouts were a crude substitute for human sacrifice.
- There were different classes and types of gladiators depending on their skills, experience and record in the arena. Some of the categories included the Murmillones, the equites, and the thraeces.
- The thumbs down gesture is famously associated with the gladiators but it is unlikely that this gesture meant death as is commonly believed. Instead, historians believe that the thumbs down gesture meant mercy when given by the spectators.
- Gladiatorial bouts are often depicted in the movies as a fight unto the death but this isn’t historically correct. The men were paired according to size and ability and referees would usually stop the fight as soon as one man was seriously wounded.
- Gladiators are often depicted fighting with animals, such as lions, ostriches, deer, and crocodiles. However, this very rarely happened as animal hunts usually happened in the opening stages of an event with either ‘bestiarii’ or ‘venatores’ fighting the animals. These were a special kind of warrior that were completely unrelated to the gladiators.
- The gladiators had organizations that were similar to trade unions. These were called ‘collegia’ and the gladiators chose their own leaders.
- There were also female gladiators and this is something that is rarely shown in the movies. Like the men, the women who fought as gladiators were originally slaves but there are a few women on record who signed up of their own free will.
- Gladiators were the celebrities and sex symbols of their time. There was something that greatly appealed to the Roman women about the gladiators.
- There are records of Roman Emperors participating in staged gladiatorial bouts. Some of these rulers included Hadrian, Titus, and Caligula.