The Life of a Gladiator

One of the most iconic characters in Ancient Rome – the Gladiator. Seen as strong, ferocious men who ruled the amphitheatre games. But apart from their violent work, what else do we know about these ancient beings?

Rather than being a skilled swordsman of high birth, gladiators were armed combatants often forced to entertain the masses in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. Their violent confrontations took place in the infamous Colosseum, where they faced other gladiators, wild animals and condemned criminals. Irrespective of their origin, gladiators offered spectators an example of Rome‘s martial ethics, and in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. The significant values a gladiator emboldens can still be seen in gladiators remaining a symbol of Ancient Rome, studied with awe and fascination. The gladiator complex is an interesting one, as despite being the lowest of society and forced to their deaths for others entertainment, they were still celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world. The life of a gladiator holds much of our interest today, but it wasn’t as simple as just hiring slaves, let us explain…

Becoming a Gladiator

Majority of the time gladiators were criminals, prisoners of war and most commonly slaves. Being either sold or conquered for the purpose of training them into fierce fighters. But as the games became more and more famed, free men began signing contracts with gladiator schools due to the lure of glory and prize money. Ranging from being desperate men out of work to professional freelance warriors, ex-soldiers, or sometimes even knights. As well, the gender of a gladiator wasn’t always restricted to men. With a rise in female gladiators acclimating by the 1st century to become a common fixture in the games. Usually, these fighters were slaves forced to fight, as women volunteers were scarce. However, the respect of these women was still limited, and their participation was put to an end in 200 A.D. when women fighters were banned.

Their Reputation

Back in the day, instead of Hollywood celebrities, the lower-class citizens of Rome saw gladiators as sex symbols and superstars. Treated similarly to today’s Hollywood stars, these figures had their own endorsements, action figures for children, and public portraits displayed on the streets. Women adored the most successful fighters, dipping their hairpins and jewellery into the fighter’s blood and sweat, sometimes even mixing it with their facial creams. At the peak of gladiator tradition, successful gladiators gained sponsors. These were often political or private citizens who were looking to gain favour with the public, and by sponsoring a gladiator who was in the spotlight, they could hope to gain recognition, as a sort of self-promotion tactic.

The Training of a Gladiator

Due to their being different fights, including full armour, light armour, animal fights, or expert fights, training varied according to the fighter’s abilities. Their initial training, however, focused on getting their fitness levels up. They would then introduce weapon training, with wooden swords rather than any high dangerous weapons that could cause the gladiators to die before they got in the area. Moving forward, their training was very much dependent on their build. Light armour fighters practised their speed, whilst heavy armoured fighters who would be slower, required different techniques.

Their Daily Routine

Despite the glory and fame, the life of an average fighter was grime. With most being slaves, they were locked away in their cells at night, only to be woken up at the crack of dawn each morning. As they were seen as high commodities, their hygiene and food were superior to the average citizens, but they were not free to enjoy these extras, with speaking restricted during mealtimes and those not training even shackled. Still, there living conditions were superior to that of the lowest class citizens of Rome. To prevent disease, they were allowed hot and cold baths, and three meals a day, consisting o meat or fish, cereals and vegetables. If a gladiator was very successful or a free man, their life was much better. Compared to the slaves, free gladiators had great living conditions, and they were given much more freedom, able to leave their homes at will. Majority of these gladiators were only expected to fight at most 5 times a year which gave them plenty of free time to enjoy their winnings. Because of this, the life of a gladiator was appealing to some free men who lived worse off than these apparent slaves. Paid when they fought, with money, fame, glory. It’s almost no surprise that some free men did enrol as gladiators, it was a lucrative role.

To get as close as you can to the life of a gladiator book onto our Private Colosseum Tour for you next visit to Rome, and try to picture yourself in the ring. Would you sign up to be a gladiator?

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