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Summa rudis – referee of gladiatorial fights

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic showing the fight between gladiators and a referee
Roman mosaic showing the fight between gladiators and a referee

In the arena between the gladiatorial fighters there was a referee (summa rudis) who supervised the fight and could stop it if any of the gladiators were seriously injured or used illegal “plays”, to encourage gladiators to fight bolder or to convey the decision to win to the sponsor of the games (editor).

The referees wore long sticks/rods (rudes) to indicate illegal movements or to urge fighters. They were dressed in white tunics with maroon trim (clavi). Additionally, there could be a second referee secunda rudis in the arena. Most often, the referees of gladiatorial fights were retired and liberated gladiators.

It is believed that the fights between gladiators were fought according to certain rules. We don’t know much about them, but some are clear. For example, the referee could have called a duel (diludium) if a shield or piece of armor broke or fell off. Then the armorer could repair the damage. Summa rudis also had responsibilities. He gave aloud advice and commands about attacking or defending. If the gladiator did not follow the instructions or avoided the fight, the fight had to be stopped and the fighter was lashed.

In Ankara (Turkey) an inscription was found where summa rudis named Aelius was mentioned, who was previously a famous gladiator and for his attitude, he received the citizenships of several Greek cities. In Amisus (Turkey), one of the tombstones mentions a referee who changed the result of the match to the detriment of the winner, as a result of which a certain Diodorus died. The inscription says: “Here I lie victorious, Diodorus the wretched. After breaking my opponent Demetrius, I did not kill him immediately. But murderous Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me…”.

  • M. C. Bishop, Gladiators: Fighting to the Death in Ancient Rome
  • Michael Grant, Gladiatorzy, 1980

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