Who Were the Most Famous Gladiators?

An iconic symbol of ancient Rome, gladiators are looked back on, as being fearsome, heroic fighters, skilled in battle and famed for their endeavours. Do you know any of these ancient celebrities? 

There is no greater and more well-known roman character than the fierce gladiators. The Kings of entertainment in the epic amphitheatres of Italy. With screaming crowds cheering with every slice of bloodshed. These fighters became so successful and beloved in their time that they have gone down in history as the most famous gladiators to ever live.

What is a Roman gladiator?

Their iconic roles were to entertain the Romans by fighting and butchering their opponents in the rinks. With one-on-one battles ranging from light armour, horseback fights, pair fighting, or heavy armoured competitions. The fighters were typically slave fighters or criminals forced to compete, but sometimes included free men (or women) wanting gold and glory who had lost the majority of their money by gambling or lacked other means of support.

Why Roman Gladiators were so famous?

Humans are naturally violent species, with us and the Romans not being so different when seeking brutal shows for entertainment. Gladiators were games were similar to modern boxing competitions or violent movies that we watch today but was popular to a wider audience due to limited entertainment offered and the closer proximity to everyday death and violence. Gladiators were like celebrities in Ancient times, with posters of popular fighters or even gladiator dolls for children. These fighters were particularly popular with the ladies, with women seeing them as sexual objects. However, any fornication with gladiators and citizen women were forbidden, but this did not stop a large majority of senators wives running off with gladiators.

Their Daily Routine of Roman Gladiator

Despite the glory and fame of a gladiator, their life for the majority was grime. With most being slaves’ fighters, their homes were cells that they were locked into at night. For their owners they were seen as high commodities, with their hygiene and food were superior to the average citizen. However, while getting these bonuses’ they were required from moral choice, with speaking restricted during mealtimes and those not training even shackled.

If a fighter was a free man or successful in the rink, their life improved substantially. With great living conditions which they were able to leave at will. The majority of the gladiator fights required huge amounts of training and effort, fighters were only expected to fight at most 5 times a year which gave them plenty of free time to enjoy their winnings.

The Famous Gladiators

  • Spartacus

    Probably one of the most well-known gladiators in history. Spartacus started off as a Thracian soldier who was captured by Roman soldiers and sold into slavery. He began his career as a gladiator, all the while secretly turning other gladiators against their fate. In the end, he and 70 other fighters escape out of the gladiator school, revolting against their owner. His rebellion grew, only ending after they sent 50,000 well-trained soldiers to kill Spartacus, leaving six thousand of his followers crucified.

  • Marcus Attilius

    He started off as a free man, choosing to join the gladiator school due to the massive debt he had accumulated over the years. Usually when a game is organised, gladiators with similar experience and skill are put against each other, however, Attilius’ first match was against Hilarus, a fighter who had already won thirteen battles in a row. Despite this unfair advantage, Attilius surprisingly was victorious and continued to defeat some of the toughest warriors throughout his career.

  • Tetraites

    Notorious for going bare-chested into fights, they document Tetraites’ fame less in ancient books, and more in olden graffiti found throughout the city. His legendary spirit goes down in history mainly due to his battle over Prudes.

  • Priscus & Verus

    One of the most cherished gladiator battles was against these two fighters. The battle was the first gladiator fight ever to be fought in the Flavian Amphitheatre. The fight was said to of dragged on for hours as both fighters were well matched and spirited. Finally, both fighters dropped with weapons down, conceding a draw and their respect for one another. The fight was so impressive that Emperor Titus awarded both combatants their freedom, with both fighters leaving the stadium side by side as free men.

  • Spiculus

    Spiculus’s success and fame were mostly due to Emperor Nero, who ruled Rome in the first century AD. He was a skilled fighter, with many wins against skilled adversaries, however, his winnings were a lot greater than other gladiators. Emperor Nero took a liking to Spiculus, granting him palaces and gold far greater than any other gladiator prize. Nero liked Spiculus so much that when he was overthrown, he requested to be killed by Spiculus, however, this message did not reach him in time and Nero ended up ending his own life.

  • Flamma

    For salve fighters, the most sought-after triumph was to win possession of the Rudis, a wooden sword which symbolises a fighter’s freedom. After fighters won this prize, there became free men, letting them start a new life however they choose.  Flamma went down in history as one of the only gladiators to turn this prize down. However, Flamma didn’t just stop once, but in total turned the Rudis down four separate times, choosing instead to continue fighting. He died at age 30, fighting a total of 21 times, only losing a total of 4 times.

  • Carpophorus

    Carpophorus differs from the other fighters on the list as he falls under the category Bestiarius. This means rather than defeating other gladiators, a Bestiarius gladiator fought against vicious animals. He was famed in fighting more than one animal at once, one of his most remembered performances was at the opening of Flavian Amphitheatre, where he took down a bear, leopard and lion in one singular battle.

Related article: The Life of a Gladiator

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