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Gladiator fights

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Jean-L├ęon G├ęr├┤me, Pollice Verso
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pollice Verso

Gladiator (gladiatores) was a wrestler fighting in the arena or amphitheater. His name came from the Roman sword, gladius. The duels themselves were called munus (pl. munera), which meant “sacrifice for the dead”.

Many people today think that gladiators’ fights in the arenas always ended with the death of one of the fighters. However, this is not true. It is known that gladiators had excellent medical care, and their lives were more valuable than of a single citizen. However, it can not be concealed that the “slaves of the arena” died at a relatively young age. The average age was 30 years and it was rare for a gladiator to live longer . It should be emphasized, however, that the commonly existing idea of gladiator’s certain death is a myth.

Excellent training and incredible courage of gladiators were repeatedly used by the emperors who incorporated them into the army, as it was during the “Year of the Four Emperors” “Year of the Four Emperors” in 69 CE. At that time, when there were no recruits, two legions of slaves were set up, among whom there were probably many gladiators. They were also recruited to serve as the rulers’ guard.

Interestingly, today’s name “arena” is derived from the Latin word harena, which meant absorbent sand, which was scattered on the ground at the place of gladiators’ fights and aimed at absorbing the blood of the fighters.

The history of gladiators’ fights

The custom of gladiators’ battles comes from the Etruscan tradition of worshiping the dead through struggle, instead of making human sacrifices. In Rome, this kind of fighting appeared for the first time probably in the year 264 BCE. At the time, at the funeral of senator Junius Brutus Pera taking place at the Forum Boarium, six warriors (three clashes) fought to commemorate the late senator. Among the gladiators there were also his two sons. After this event, the gladiators’ struggles immediately became one of the most popular Roman pastimes.

Gladiator fighting with a lion.
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As Rome was expanding and many slaves came to Italy, gladiatorial struggles were organized on a big scale. At the end of the 3rd century BCE at the aristocrats’ funerals, fought dozens of war prisoners. With time, munera became more an “advertisement” for their organizers than a real tribute to the deceased. While at first only the family used to watch the fight in silence, later many people began to come and watch, as interested in the bloody spectacle and loudly “cheering” the gladiators. Gradually, the religious rite turned into source of entertainment for the people. In 183 BCE the family of the deceased Publius Licinius Crassus organized munera, in which took part 200 prisoners. The fights lasted for a few days and brought crowds of spectators. From then on, gladiatorial battles became Olympic games – a spectacle as popular as chariot races. Scipio Africanus organized huge munera out of Rome in 206 BCE – after conquering the New Carthage, several hundred captives were forced to fight against each other.

The amphitheater in Arles until today is a place of entertainment. Nowadays corrida takes place in the arena.
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With time, the organization of gladiatorial struggles became a tool in the hands of politicians, who gained the favor of the people this way. In 105 BCE the first gladiatorial competitions organized by the consuls took place. For the first time, the munera was organized at the expense of the state, not as a tribute to the deceased, but to uplift the citizens when Italy threatened to invade the Teutons. It is not known whether this brought the intended effect, but it resulted in almost complete deprivation of its former religious significance. Many politicians saw in them a good method of winning over voters.

Lots of money was spent, and loans were even made to organize the most sumptuous games that would be memorable and ensure a high position. The organization of spectacular gladiatorial struggles was even demanded from people elected to be aediles. During the munera funded by Pompey in 55 BCE fought not only prisoners but also exotic animals – lions, tigers, leopards, elephants. Numerous schools were established, where slaves were being prepared for duels in the arena. An increasing number of gladiators were associated with the risk of uprisings – the largest and the most dangerous, under the leadership of Spartacus, took place in the years 73 – 71 BCE. After the initial successes, the rebels were beaten by Crassus, and thousands of captured alive were crucified along Via Appia. The ruthlessness with which it was suppressed caused that later such rebellions were less common.

At the end of the Republic, the popularity of the munera increased steadily, and was organized during most of the holidays. Some of the best gladiators became widely known, as today’s outstanding athletes. During this rough period, when riots were frequent, many rich Romans bought up gladiators famous for their skills and employed them as private security guards.
During the Empire, the games were even more spectacular. It was organized by the emperor, and with the distribution of grain for free was the best method of satisfying the poor (the famous slogan “bread and games”). The number of holidays, on the occasion of which the munera took place, increased. During the reign of Augustus it was 66 days a year, then more than one hundred, and in the 4th century – 175. If you add to this fights organized by the emperor and various rich people without a special occasion, then it can be said that in the imperial Rome there was almost no day without gladiatorial fights. It was similar in the provinces – Roman amphitheaters, where prisoners fought, are still standing in many European cities.

Reconstruction of the fight – Retiarius vs. Secutor
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Starting from the half of the 1st century CE munera became more and more macabre. With the madmen such as Nero or Caligula in the arenas happened things disgusting for many Romans. In addition to ordinary fights of armed gladiators with equal chances, terrible executions were carried out in front of the audience – the condemned were burned alive, crucified or thrown to the lions to be devoured. Persecuted Christians usually ended up in the arenas of Roman amphitheaters. In turn, emperor Domitian, known for his cruelty and black humor, liked women and dwarves in battles. All boundaries crossed the insane Commodus, personally fighting in the arena. 2nd and 3rd century CE was a period of the greatest development of the munera – huge games with thousands of gladiators lasted in Rome for months. Trajan in 107 CE organized the largest Olympic games in history – lasting 123 days, and 10 000 gladiators fought in them.

In the 4th century CE Christianity became more significant for the Romans. This religion could not agree to the bloody games, which, however, still had great popularity. For the first time, gladiatorial battles were forbidden by Constantine the Great in 326 CE under the pressure of the Church. In reality, however, in Rome and Italy, as well as in other provinces, they usually continued. Another edict from 357 CE forbade the participation of soldiers and Roman officials in the battles. In 397 CE it was forbidden to recruit gladiators as the bodyguards, which was a very popular practice during civil wars. In 399 CE it was decided to shut down most of gladiatorial schools. The last official battles in Rome took place in 404 CE for Honorius, in fact, they were organized until 440 CE.


Gladiatorial fight
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Gladiators could be:

  • a free man (eg a soldier, a resident of Rome) after signing an appropriate “contract”;
  • a criminal (for murder, mutilation, robbery, arson or lese – majesty);
  • a slave;
  • a prisoner of war.

Gladiators were usually prisoners of war, mainly from the Thracians, Gauls and Germans, but criminals also went to gladiatorial school. Every strong man who had any skill in using the weapon could become a gladiator. However, if free volunteers could at any time resign from cladding in the gladiatorial school and return home, the convicts did not have that choice. It is worth noting that women were also fighting, but on a much smaller scale. Women’s fights grew in great popularity until their performances were banned by the emperor Septimius Severus, c. 200 CE. Apparently, Domitian particularly liked to watch struggles between women.
It should be emphasized that gladiators never dressed up as legionaries, nor did their wear full armor. This was due to the fact that the gladiator was lower in rank and respect than a professional soldier in the Roman army.

Spartacus in the last battle hit the legion as he wanted to kill Crassus. Probably his body was dismembered with gladius, because the corpse could not be found after the battle. There were rumors, however, that he managed to escape from the battlefield and settle in Gaul.

Spartacus in the last battle hit the legion as he wanted to kill Crassus. Probably his body was dismembered with gladius, because the corpse could not be found after the battle. There were rumors, however, that he managed to escape from the battlefield and settle in Gaul.
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The level of gladiator training was very high. At school they were punished even for such things as squinting when the sword was waving right in front of his nose. Peaceful training ensured strict discipline and cruel punishments for the disobedient. Some, however, did not cope with such conditions. A mass murder of 29 Saxon prisoners who preferred to commit suicide rather than fight against each other in the arena. However, the gladiators were provided with food and medical care at school, which exceeded what the average free Roman could expect. In addition, every owner (lanista, from the Etruscan “butcher”) had to provide his ward with all the comforts, lovers and equipment. After the fight, gladiator received the appropriate amount of money that could be used for entertainment and other activities.

The gladiators were garrisoned in ludi, and trained under the supervision of a teacher (lanista). The team of gladiators from one school created the so – called familia gladiatoria and was rented or resold to an official who organized the fight. The most famous gladiator school was in Capua, where, among others, trained Spartacus. Also schools in Rome and Ravenna are worth mentioning. Gladiator’s career was very much appreciated in ancient Rome. Women loved them for their courage and bravery, and society adored the way of fighting. The sympathy of the public, which increased the slave’s chance of liberation, was particularly valuable. The gladiator might have obtained freedom on the basis of the owner’s or the emperor’s decision. Usually it happened after many years of fighting in the arena. The gladiator then received a wooden sword (rudis), symbolizing the end of the gladiator’s life and the beginning of a free life. However, he had the right to continue fighting in the arena or to train new gladiators.

In the social ladder, gladiators were on a par with slaves, beggars and criminals. They did not have any rights, and the owners were the only ones who decided about their lives. The dead were not buried in the arena, unless the owner, family or one of the devotees demanded it. Gladiators could set up families and in exceptional cases they were allowed to live outside the barracks.

Gladiators initially fought in squares or forums in various cities of the state. In the period of the late republic, buildings designed specifically for the fight of gladiators – amphitheaters began to be built. The first Roman amphitheater was Circus Maximus. However, of course the most famous and at the same time the largest was the Flavian Amphitheater, which could seat 50,000 spectators.

Gladiator’s life

Gladiators fighting (mosaic) .
Gladiators’ fights spread in Rome with the end of the republic and came there from Campania. Initially, they were a spectacle organized by private people, and from the end of the 2nd century BCE officially entered the program of the state games. Gladiators were recruited from prisoners of war, convicts and slaves, who then underwent appropriate training.

A man captured during the battle was taken prisoner and became as a house servant or laborer in a quarry. Being a servant, he did not have much chance of getting into the arena, as he was usually not good enough for it. On the other hand, strong and resilient men who could withstand hard work were being taken to the quarries. From time to time, a merchant (owner of gladiators) appeared in the quarries, who bought selected slaves and then put them in the arena.

In ancient Rome, there were special schools for the gladiators in which slaves were trained and cared for. Each of them received medical care, housing and food. They learned how to use the weapon properly, according to their specialization, but also to accept with the dignity of death. Every day, they trained blows on a 180 cm high palus, a wooden training pole. At the end of a few months of training there was a test, which was to judge whether the gladiator is ready to fight in the arena. To this end, he fought wooden swords on a platform with an armored rival. If the slave won, he became a gladiator and could represent his master in prestigious battles. If the gladiator had been lucky, he could have met a novice, but if he had not been so fortunate, his future would have been uncertain.

Gladiators’ fights were fought between the schools from which their came. Before the fight, they armed themselves with the equipment they used the most. It should be emphasized again that the death of any gladiator rarely occurred. Unless we talk about the games organized during Titus‘ (the son of Vespasian) reign. Titus, after the construction of the Colosseum, organized the games in honor of his father. At that time, no one was spared in the arena, of course, to the delight of the viewers.

Gladiators enjoyed enormous popularity and, therefore, and success among women. There were even situations where the sweat of Roman gladiators was sold in vials as an aphrodisiac!

The death of the protégé was a huge financial burden for the owner. He had to be replaced by a new, well-trained warrior, which unfortunately cost a fortune. Therefore, the gladiator’s life was in the hands of the most outstanding doctors. It is worth mentioning about Galen of Pergamon, later a personal physician of Marcus Aurelius. He worked in one of the gladiatorial schools in Asia Minor from the first half of the 2nd century. It is him who is credited with healing Commodus from the mysterious epidemic brought to Rome from the East by his uncle Verus.
According to the latest research, it was found that gladiators ate mainly chickpeas, peas, beans and lentils. Legumes were also a basic component of the diet of Roman soldiers, because, like today’s military pea soup, it is an easy-to-obtain food, a satisfying and cheap meal.

Gladiators fight during a meal at Pompeii, Francesco Netti

Before entering the arena, the gladiators were swearing (autocratusa) that they would not be spared in the fight. It is also a myth that before the fight, the gladiator paraded in front of the audience with his hand raised in a welcome gesture, reciting the quote “Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant!” (“Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you”), Because this is confirmed by only one message from Suetonius. Fights did not last longer than a few minutes, though there were sometimes many hours of duels. Duels rook place mostly in the afternoon. The fight could not be avoided because passive gladiators were whipped or pricked with burning hot rods.

Among the fighters there was an referee (summa rudis) who supervised the fight and could stop it if any of the gladiators were seriously injured or used illegal “plays”, encourage gladiators to fight bolder or give the decision to win to the sponsor of the games (editor). The judges 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.

Fights, but not a slaughter!

The costs of training a warrior were huge. Gladiator training amounts to dozens of thousands of sestertii. Few schools would allow pointless fights in which dozens of gladiators would die. In addition, it should be emphasized that the doctor was often admitted to the arena to quickly heal the wounds. The doctor then assessed which gladiator could fight, and which one, after the wounds he suffered, was useless. Of course, the gladiators died. There are cemeteries of gladiators, but it was not so tragic as we are told by the literature, which has nothing to do with reality. Many gladiators received freedom after winning dozens of fights, and many Romans treated battles as an opportunity to make a good career and make money.

It is believed that the struggles between the gladiators were carried out according to certain rules. We do not know them much, but some are clear. For example, the Referee could announce a duel (diludium) if the shield or piece of armor broke or fell. Then the armored man could repair the damage. Summa rudis also had responsibilities. He gave loud advice and instructions regarding attack or defense. If the gladiator did not play a straight bat or avoided the fight, he the fight could have been stopped and the gladiator – whipped.

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A defeated opponent could ask for mercy with raising a finger, to which the crowd observing the fight responded with their thumbs up (which meant giving life) or directing it down (death) – so-called pollice verso or verso pollice (literally “with a turned thumb”). However, this is a debatable matter, some scientists believe that they were pointing their thumbs down to give life, and to their throat when they wanted the gladiator to die. There is also another theory saying that the finger-pointing up after the gladiator’s defeat most likely did not mean giving life, but rather was a signal to kill him quickly as an evidence of mercy for a brave attitude. In turn, the thumb was directed towards the neck, which meant death with a sword in the neck, or actually in the back, to damage the cervical vertebrae and in this way cause the warrior’s quick death.

According to the current state of research, the hypothesis is most likely that a thumb pressed to the index finger (a hand curled into a fist) or a thumb hidden in a fist meant a request for grace, while a thumb protruding above a folded fist (the direction does not seem to matter) or an extended hand meant a deadly blow skillfully and cowardly he could not count on mercy. Enraged people shouted: “pierce him!” (lugula). At that time it was expected that the defeated, kneeling, would raise his head and wait for death in cold blood, as he was trained to. The winner made the blow with both hands, thrusting the sword in the back in the area of the left shoulder or in the heart, between the left collarbone and the neck. When the defeated could not continue fighting, he performed a following ritual: he threw the shield and the sword, kneeled on his knees, putting his hands on his back. In this position, he waited for mercy. Another gesture was throwing the weapon and kneeling before the winner with his head bowed, embracing his leg.

From the audience you could also hear the words: Mitte! (“Save it!”) Or Iugula!(“Kill!”).

A knuckle duster originates from ancient Rome, where it was known as the caestus and was initially a kind of glove or wrist protector made of leather and metal. It was used during boxing matches played by gladiators. Unlike the current boxing gloves, which are designed to suppress the impact force, the caestus was used to increase the damage inflicted on the opponent.
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If any of the fighters eventually died, two men entered the arena. One represented Mercury, the other one was Charon. The first hit his body with a hammer, and the other touched it with hot iron. The body was then carried to the dospoliarium, where it was stripped of armor and clothing. The corpse was thrown onto the wagon and together with other killed people were taken outside the city to mass graves. The winner received a palm, later also cash prizes, release from further participation in the battles, and even freedom. The fights ended usually in the evening. The Gladiators who won that day received the palm branches and cash prizes. The organizer received a kind of report – a list of gladiators with markings by their names. V (vicit) meant victory, P (perrit) death, and M (missus) meant defeat and pardon.

The weaker gladiators usually became the first to fight. They were displayed in pairs of several from each school. Then, exotic animals were used that fought between themselves or with gladiator (venationes). Especially desirable were huge Germanic aurochs, bears, African tigers, lions and panthers, which were imported from the most distant parts of the Empire. At the end there was a fight of the day, in which two best gladiators from two different schools met. Some gladiators were promoted, giving them easy – to – beat opponents, so – called. hares. In this way, fighting was set up.

Gladiators’ performances were also of a different nature. From the middle of the 1st century BCE the games often ended the fights of the andabates, scrabbling in helmets with a visor without holes for eyes. It gave their performances a comic character. Over time, gladiators were also used to entertain guests in private estates during feasts.

Before the proper fights of gladiators, so – called paegiarii who had the task of warming up the crowds before the battles of the evening. The warriors were armed with a wooden sword (rudis), and the body protected the imposed bands. Their fighting was accompanied by dulcimer, trumpet and so – called hydraulis – water organs. Paegiarii were extremely popular at the Olympics in the Colosseum during the reign of Commodus. These Gladiators did not die in the arenas.

During the breaks between the fights proper in the arena, paegniarius appeared, who was a clown dressed in parodies of gladiatorial armor. Often their shields were decorated with humorous or erotic patterns, while the armor was full of bizarre decorations. Their task was to entertain the crowd during breaks or during the gladiators’ preparation. It seems that most of them parodyed the fights between different types of gladiators and made all sorts of clowning. They also made harsh allusions about the current events in Rome and performed some scenes based on mythical events, such as the fight of cupids and satires.

Gladiators during their short lives could count on professional medical care of those who had great experience and knowledge after years of education. In addition, they were entitled to masseurs (unctor), often slaves who took care of the condition of the body. In their free time, warriors had the chance to go to term or satisfy their sexual desire. They did not have to look specifically for their chosen ones, because many wealthy women paid a lot, just to be able to spend an amazing night with a great gladiator. In Rome, among women, there was the ideal of a strong and courageous man who the gladiators perfectly impersonated.

More wealthy gladiators could even afford an epitaph to commemorate their lives. Forged in stone, a short inscription could not, of course, skip the balance of accomplishments: the number of fights fought or the laurels won. On the tombstone of a certain Urbicus who died in his thirteenth fight, there was engraved a piece of advice for his inexperienced colleagues: “I advise you to kill, those whom you have knocked down”.

Eques was one of the first gladiators you could see in the arena.

Gladiators’ fights were an extremely popular entertainment among Romans and any attempts to prohibit the organization of fights led to social unrest. It is worth mentioning Julius Caesar, who instead of spending time together with the people watching fights, devoted himself to studying laws and protocols, which negatively affected his popularity. Some of the rulers were also reluctant towards the fights: Claudius and Marcus Aurelius, who, however, did not prohibit the organization of the games, afraid of the reaction of the crowd.

For comparison, huge fans of gladiatorial fights were, for example: Caligula, Nero and Commodus, where the latter loved to stand in the arena. Commodus fought in the arena with the gladiators, which he trickedly murdered. There is a message about the duel of the emperor with gladiator Sceva, who detected the emperor’s scheme. After this fact, the scared emperor did not take up the fight but dismissed the powerful gladiator.

Types of Roman gladiators:

Andabata (pl. andabatae)

Dressed in heavy chain mail and a helmet with a visor without holes for eyes.
He fought either on foot or horseback. They probably fought blindly, inflicting cuts and searching for a rival trying to hear his sounds. This type of gladiators was popular in the middle of the 1st century BCE and its main aim was to entertain the spectators. We know little about this category.


Equipped only with a dagger or a spear. He fought with wild animals (in fights called venatio), often suffering death.


He fought in groups.

Crupellarius (pl. Crupellarii)


A heavily armored gladiator whose fighting style came from Gaul. A typical crupellarius was armored in lorica segmentata, carried a manica on his hands and wielded a gladius and a scutum (sometimes a smaller shield). His helmet was in the shape of a punched metal basket, with small holes for eyes and mouth – similar to a medieval cup – shaped helmet. The large weight of the armor meant that the crupellarii could only be very strong men. In the fight, he took the defensive side, taking counter – attacks and awaiting his opponents’ moment of weakness.

The Roman historian, Tacitus, mentions crupellarii in the first century CE. During the reign of Tiberius, an uprising of Sacrovir and Florus in Gaul in 21 CE took place, in which the armed rebels were dressed as later Roman gladiators.

Dimachaerus (pl. Dimarchaeri)

He fought without a helmet, using two daggers (swords). We know little about this category.

Eques (pl. Equites)


He fought horseback. Equipped with a sword, spear and a round small shield (worn in the left hand). He wore sleeveless tunics and a wide colored belt. Shins and the right arm were protected by the quilted armor. The helmet was constructed to protect the neck of the rider; the face was protected by a visor. The spear was about 2 meters long and ended with a broad, leaf – shaped tip. The sword was usually gladius (a standard weapon of the Roman infantry). Their armor was based on a Roman ride from around 100 BCE.

Equites usually went first into the arena. They rode gray horses (these were preferred). At some stage of the fight, the riders got off the horses and fought on foot. The reason for getting off the horse’s back is not clear. It seems that they did it only when they broke the spear. Most of them ended up on foot.


He fought on chariots pulled by horses (essedum).

Gallus (Gal)

It was a heavily armed gladiator, originally a prisoner of war from the Celtic tribes. He wore a round or crest helmet, a long or oval shield and was armed with a sword and a dagger. His right hand was protected by the sleeve. He had no breast protection and did not wear greaves.



He performed in an armor based on the one of the Greek hoplites. He was shielded by a helmet decorated with a great comb and feathers, metal greaves (applied to quilted protectors) and leather and woolen covers. It was equipped with a spear and a small round shield (it was much smaller than the hoplites’ – it was about 45 cm in diameter). The shield was a thick and heavy bronze plate that could be a weapon itself. His spear, 1.8 meters long, gave him a large range. Undoubtedly, the light armor allowed the gladiator to make quick moves. In a situation when the spear broke, hoplomachus drew a short dagger. The combination of a dagger and a long spear was typical for the Greek hoplites of the 1st century BCE. Hoplomachus usually fought against the a murmillo or a thraex.

Laquerius (laquearius, laqueator)

He used a loop – like rope similar to a lasso. It could have been a specialized form of the retiarius. We know little about this category.

Murmillo (myrmillo; pl. Murmilloni)


Domitian’s favorite kind of a gladiator. He replaced the Samnite, who fell out of favor in 30 CE. Equipped with a shield, a sword, an elongated shield, a helmet with a wide flat roundabout, and a large metal crest on top – a mormylos – like fish head (called Cassis Crista). A ponytail of horsehair was sometimes attached to the helmet. Some of the gladiators adorned helmets with tin or gold scales – in the sun, the armor made an interesting impression on the viewers. His armor was also ocrea (shin protector made mostly of gold or silver) and fasciae (thick padding under the protectors to prevent bruises and abrasions.) Murmillo had a large rectangular shield similar to the legionaries’ scutum, measuring over a meter and about 60 cm wide It was made of glued layers of wood, pressed in a form that gave it a semicircular shape. The edges and the center were reinforced with bronze, the upper was covered with leather, painted in colorful patterns. The left arm was protected by a metal armlet, which was applied to a quilted fabric protector. the protector also covered the other hand (at the wrist), in which the warrior wielded the sword. The hand shielded the sword, the total weight of the murmillo was about 18 kilograms, when the shield itself was about 8 kg.

During the fight, the warrior was facing the opponent sideways, pointing towards the left side of the body. He was slightly huddled, thanks to which he could cover his whole body with an opponent’s punch (from the visor to the greaves). Murmillo most often fought with a thraex or hoplomachus, i.e. with gladiators who were less heavily armed.



This type of gladiator appeared only in the 1st century BCE and enjoyed great popularity. His weaponry differed depending on the type of fight. He usually wore a shield similar to a legionary’s shield, short greaves, and a quilted handguard, in which he held a short sword for stabbing. He had a smooth helmet without a roundabout and plume, forged from one brown plate and shielded neck. The face was covered by a visor with holes. They were partially armored, unlike other types of gladiators. They wore breastplates held by leather straps crisscrossed on their backs. Their style of fighting required great skill in using the sword and operating the shield. The weight prevented them from being very finesse. Most often they fought against the samnites or other provocators.



He became popular especially at the end of the 1st century CE. Unlike most types of gladiators, he was not based on the Roman infantry. It seems that his weapon may be derived from the navy. He performed almost naked. He did not have a helmet, shield, or greaves. His only cover was a quilted sleeve and a metal armguard (galerus), covering the upper arm, shoulder and left side of the neck. Only after the 2nd century CE they sometimes put a sleeve of chain mail (manica) on their left arm, which reached up to the chest.
He fought a trident or a harpoon made of tuna’s bones, dagger and net, which he threw on his opponent head. The trident was long and set on a solid wooden spar. The fishing net was tied to the left wrist with long strings.

As he was lightly armored gladiator, he had to count on quick and deft defense. was throwing the net on his rival. If he managed to wrap his opponent, he killed him with a trident. In case the rival caught the net, the sower could easily get rid of it by cutting it with a short knife. His opponent was usually a secutor.


Equipped with an arch he fought on foot or on a horse, often with wild animals.



The oldest type of heavily armed gladiator. This category of gladiators consisted of prisoners of war from the people living in central Italy. Initially, they had weaponry typical for the Samnites. With time, Samnites fought with typical Roman weapons. He wore a helmet with a veil and plume or a putty, armed with an oval shield, a sword and a spear, he wore greaves on one calf, and leather protection (manicae) on his right shoulder, forearm and collar. He wore a bronze plate on the bare chest.



His weaponry resembled murmillo‘s equipment, except that it was suited to a clash with restiarius. His helmet was smooth as opposed to murmillo. All feathers and headdresses could easily be caught on the net. The visor did not have the shape of an openwork grate, and it was made of solid metal, in which there were two holes for eyes. The vision was very limited, but the face was fully secured. He fought against retiarius. As the secutor was much heavier than retiarius, he tried to get his rival as fast as possible, taking care not to get entangled in his network. The retiarius, in turn, avoided close combat by holding the opponent at a distance or trying to tire him.



Caligula’s favorite type of a gladiator. He had a helmet that covered his entire head, a small round or square shield (parma) and the greaves. He fought with a curved Thracian sword (sica) – considered a traditional weapon of warriors from Thrace – mostly against murmilloni. The helmet had a curved comb, ended with a decorative griffin, in which sometimes it was possible to fasten long feathers. Griffin was considered to be the sacred animal of the goddess of vengeance, Nemesis and probably therefore displaced a wide range of various other creatures whose images were placed on earlier Thracian helmets. The gladiator’s shield was in the shape of a square with a side length of approx. 60 cm. It was made of laminated wood with a tumor in the middle – to deal blows. Due to the small size of the shield, the Thraex wore longer greaves (usually on both legs), reaching from the ankles above the knees. The thighs and arm in which the weapons were held covered the quilted protectors.

His weapon was the curved sword, which originally served to cut, but in the arena it was more suited to stab. Initially, the Thracian national weapon was gently curved and in the shape of a sickle. Over time, the weapon took a more upright form, where the blade curved from the middle.

His movements were more agile and smoother than murmillo’s. He was expected to work intensely with his feet. The sheer size of the shield also forced the gladiator to be in constant motion.

Veles (velites)

He had a spear and a throwing loop. He fought on foot.


The chariots were introduced into the arena during the reign of Claudius, who after the conquest of Britain in 43 CE brought British warriors trained in the art of fighting in chariots. These were two – wheeled carts pulled by a pair of mountain ponies, with a place for a coachman and a warrior. Speeding carts were entering the arena, circling and maneuvering at a gallop, and at that time the warriors were throwing javelins at each other. Some were so nimble that they could jump on the shaft between ponies and throw from there. At some stage, probably, the warriors descended from the chariot and fought on foot, armed with oval British shields and long swords. This kind of gladiators rarely appeared in the arena and eventually stopped, which could be associated with high costs of chariots and the difficulty of finding skillful drivers.

The archers were also popular. They were to imitate the warriors from the eastern lands. They wore heavy armor and used large curved arches. We do not know their fighting methods exactly. However, on the basis of mosaics and paintings it can be estimated that for some time they were quite popular. With time, however, this type of gladiators disappeared from the arenas.

  • Bishop M. C. , Gladiators: Fighting to the Death in Ancient Rome
  • Gladiator, "The Roman Empire"
  • Grant Michael, Gladiatorzy, 1980
  • Krzemińska Agnieszka, Jak naprawdę żyli gladiatorzy? Celebryci z trójzębem, "Gazeta Wyborcza", 30 November 2011
  • Matthews Rupert, Rzym mroczny, ponury, krwawy, Warszawa 2007
  • Rochala Paweł, Powstanie Spartakusa 73 - 71 p.n.e., Zabrze 2009

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