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Text expanded to provide fuller discussion of the evolution of gladiatorial spectacles, gladiator types, and the social status and commemoration of gladiators in Roman society. Bibliography updated and expanded to reflect current research.

Updated on 7 March 2016. The previous version of this content can be found here.
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date: 14 December 2018

Abstract and Keywords

Gladiators were armed combatants who performed in the arena during Roman games called munera. They could be slaves, freeborn, or freedmen (ex-slaves). Slave gladiators were usually trained professionals based in a training school (ludus) run by a manager (lanista). Freeborn or freed gladiators were volunteers who fought under contract to a manager (such fighters were termed auctorati). There were different styles of armaments, carefully considered to pitch advantage against disadvantage. Thus the net-man (retiarius) was largely unprotected but carried a net and a trident with a long reach, whereas his opponent (secutor) carried a short sword but was more heavily armored and had a large shield. Evidence from gladiatorial graveyards and gravestones confirms the violent, often lethal nature of the contests, though a win could be achieved without a kill and the fighters clearly took pride in their skills and status with their peers and their fans. Despite their popularity, gladiators were officially regarded as infames (people of bad reputation) and ranked alongside or below actors, prostitutes, pimps, and bankrupts as social and moral outcasts. Roman sources date the first gladiatorial performances in the city to 264 bce, and gladiators continued to perform into the 5th century ce, when financial and pragmatic concerns (rather than moral ones) brought the shows to an end. Modern scholars theorize a variety of reasons for the popularity of gladiatorial shows among the Romans and the role gladiators played in Roman culture.

Keywords: gladiators, trained fighters, Roman spectacles, Roman games, Roman arena

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