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How much did gladiatorial fight cost?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic showing the fight of the secutor and retiarius gladiators
Roman mosaic showing the fight of the secutor and retiarius gladiators

Gladiator fights were one of the most popular events for Roman society. The custom of gladiatorial fights derives from the Etruscan custom of worshipping the dead through fighting, rather than sacrificing human beings.

In Rome, gladiatorial fights (munera, privately organized; or ludi, organized by the state) appeared for the first time probably in 264 BCE at the funeral of Senator Junius Brutus Per at the Forum Boarium, six warriors fought (3 clashes) to honour the deceased. Among the gladiators, there were also two sons of an aristocrat. The organizer of the event was Decimius Junius Brutus, who honoured his father in this way. After this event, gladiatorial fights immediately became one of the most popular Roman pastimes.

With time, the organization of gladiatorial fights became a tool in the hands of politicians, who in this way influenced politically or won the favour of the people. At the end of the 2nd century BCE, the first gladiatorial competition was held, which was not to pay tribute to the deceased, but to raise the spirits of citizens, when Italy was threatened with a Teutons invasion. The event was organized by the incumbent consuls: Rutilius and Manlius, and since then many politicians saw an opportunity to gain popularity among the people in this way. From then on, munera was not organized according to needs, but rather took the form of regular shows.

Huge amounts of money were spent on the Games, and politicians deliberately got into debt, hoping that in the future they would pay off their debts when they achieved high positions in the state. The aediles, who were at the beginning of the cursus honourum bracket, had the organization of the games among their tasks. On the occasion of the performance, viewers often received free food and seats.

How much was spent on the Games?

Polybius, who lived in the 2nd century BCE, states that organizing the games did not cost less than 30 talents, or 750,000 sesterces1. In 186 BCE Hunting for wild animals was organized by Marcus Fulwius Nobilior, who, thanks to the Senate, had to limit his venatio to 80,000 sesterces.

Plutarch reports2 that Gnaeus Pompey became famous for hosting large-scale games involving wild animals. In 55 BCE when he became a consul, he started building a theatre, where he staged mimic competitions, music competitions and fights of wild animals, including elephants. According to Plutarch, 500 lions were also to be killed there. According to the information from the Edict of Diocletian of 301 CE, a first-class lion could cost a maximum of 150,000 denarii or 600,000 sesterces. It follows that 500 lions in total cost, according to the value of money at the beginning of the 4th century CE, 300 million sesterces. Of course, prices from the 1st century BCE, and the 4th century CE are not identical, as money has been losing its value over the centuries and inflation has progressed. However, this gives some idea of ​​how much money was involved in organizing the games and how much money politicians could have borrowed.

At the end of the 2nd century CE, during the rule of Marcus Aurelius, a special decree was issued Senatus Consultum de Pretiis Gladiatorum Minuendis, which regulated expenditure on munera and categorized them. The highest possible ceiling of expenses could be 150,000-200,000 and the lowest 30,000-60,000 sesterces.

  1. Polybius, The Histories, XXXI.28.6
  2. Plutarch, Pompey, 52
  • M. C. Bishop, Gladiators: Fighting to the Death in Ancient Rome
  • David Bomgardner, The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre

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