Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]
Barbara McManus's Gladiatorial Games
is a better site than this one
- and in 21st‑century English, too. Don't miss it!

Und auf Deutsch, von Martin Bode:
Die Gladiatorenspiele und Tierhetzen

 p574  Gladiatoresa

Article on pp574‑577 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

GLADIATO′RES (μονομάχοι), were men who fought with swords in the amphitheatre and other places for the amusement of the Roman people (Gladiator est, qui in arena, populo spectante, pugnavit, Quintil. Declam. 302). They are said to have been first exhibited by the Etruscans, and to have had their origin from the custom of killing slaves and captives at the funeral pyres of the deceased (Tertull. de Spectac. 12; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. X.519). [Funus p559A.] A show of gladiators was called munus, and the person who exhibited (edebat) it, editor, munerator, or dominus, who was honoured during the day of exhibition, if a private person, with the official signs of a magistrate (Capitol. M. Anton. Philos. 23; Flor. III.20; Cic. ad Att. II.19 §3).

Gladiators were first exhibited at Rome in B.C. 264, in the Forum Boarium, by Marcus and Decimus Brutus, at the funeral of their father (Valer. Max. II.4 §7; Liv. Epit. 16). They were at first confined to public funerals, but afterwards fought at the funerals of most persons of consequence, and even at those of women (Suet. Jul. 26; Spartian. Hadr. 9). Private persons sometimes left a sum of money in their will to pay the expenses of such an exhibition at their funerals (Sen. de Brev. Vit. 20). Combats of gladiators were also exhibited at entertainments (Athen. IV p153; Sil. Ital. XI.51), and especially at public festivals by the aediles and other magistrates, who sometimes exhibited immense numbers with the view of pleasing the people (Cic. pro Mur. 18; de Off. II.16). [Aediles] Under the empire the passion of the Romans for this amusement rose to its greatest height, and the number of gladiators who fought on some occasions appears almost incredible. After Trajan's triumph over the Dacians, there were more than 10,000 exhibited (Dion. Cass. LXVIII.15).

Gladiators consisted either of captives (Vopisc. Prob. 19), slaves (Suet. Vitell. 12), and condemned malefactors, or of freeborn citizens who fought voluntarily. Of those who were condemned, some were said to be condemned ad gladium, in which case they were obliged to be killed at least within a year; and others ad ludum, who might obtain their discharge at the end of three years (Ulpian, Collat. Mos. et Rom. Leg. tit.II, s.7 §4). Freemen, who became gladiators for hire, were called auctorati (Quint. l.c.; Hor. Sat. II.7.58), and their hire auctoramentum or gladiatorium (Suet. Tib. 7; Liv. XLIV.31). They also took an oath upon entering the service, which is preserved by Petronius (117): "In verba Eumolpi sacramentum juravimus, uri, vinciri, verberari, ferroque necari, et quicquid aliud Eumolpus jussisset, tamquam legitimi gladiatores domino corpora animasque religiosissime addicimus." (cf. Senec. Epist. 7.) Even under the republic free-born citizens fought as gladiators (Liv. XXVIII.21), but they appear to have belonged only to the lower orders. Under the empire, however, both equites and senators fought in the arena (Dion Cass. LI.22; LVI.25; Suet. Jul. 39; Aug. 43; Ner. 12), and even women (Tacit. Ann. XV.32; Suet. Dom. 4; Juv. VI.250, &c.; Stat. Silv. I.VI.53); which practice was at length forbidden in the time of Severus (Dion Cass. LXXV.16).

Gladiators were kept in schools (ludi), where they were trained by persons called lanistae Suet. Jul. 26; Cic. pro Rosc. Amer. 40; Juv. VI.216, XI.8). The whole body of gladiators under one lanista was frequently called familia (Suet. Aug. 42). They sometimes were the property of the lanistae, who let them out to persons who wished to exhibit a show of gladiators; but at other times belonged to citizens, who kept them for the purpose of exhibition, and engaged lanistae to instruct them. Thus we read of the ludus Aemilius at Rome (Hor. de Art. poet. 32), and of Caesar's ludus at Capua (Caes. Bell. Civ. I.14). The superintendence of the ludi, which belonged to the emperors, was entrusted to a person of high rank, called curator or procurator (Tacit. Ann. XI.35; XIII.22; Suet. Cal. 27; Gruter, Inscr. p489). The gladiators fought in these ludi with wooden swords, called rudes (Suet. Cal. 32, 54). Great attention was paid to their diet in order to increase the strength of their bodies, whence Cicero (Phil. II.23) speaks of "gladiatoria totius corporis firmitas". They were fed with nourishing food, called gladiatoria sagina (Tacit. Hist. II.88). A great number of gladiators were trained at Ravenna on account of the salubrity of the place (Strabo, V p213).

Gladiators were sometimes exhibited at the funeral pyre, and sometimes in the forum, but more frequently in the amphitheatre.º [ Amphitheatrum] The person who was to exhibit a show of gladiators published some days before the exhibition bills (libelli), containing the number and sometimes the names of those who were to fight (Cic. ad Fam. II.8; Suet. Caes. 26). When the day came, they were led along the arena in procession, and matched by pairs (Hor. Sat. I.7.20); and their swords were examined by the editor to see if they were sufficiently sharp  p575 (Dion Cass. LXVIII.3; Suet. Tit. 9; Lipsius, Excurs. ad Tac. Ann. III.37). At first there was a kind of sham battle, called praelusio, in which they fought with wooden swords, or the like (Cic. de Orat. II. 78, 80; Ovid, Ars Amat. III.515; Senec. Epist. 117), and afterwards at the sound of the trumpet the real battle began. When a gladiator was wounded, the people called out habet or hoc habet; and the one who was vanquished lowered his arms in token of submission. His fate, however, depended upon the people, who pressed down their thumbsb if they wished him to be killed (Hor. Ep. I.18.66; Juv. III.36), and ordered him to receive the sword (ferrum recipere), which gladiators usually did with the greatest firmness (Cic. Tusc. II.17, pro Sext. 37, pro Mil. 34). If the life of a vanquished gladiator was spared, he obtained his discharge for the day, which was called missio (Mart. XII.29.7); and hence in an exhibition of gladiators sine missione (Liv. XLI.20), the lives of the conquered were never spared. This kind of exhibition, however, was forbidden by Augustus (Suet. Aug. 45).

Palms were usually given to the victorious gladiators (Suet. Cal. 32); and hence, a gladiator, who had frequently conquered, is called "plurimarum palmarum gladiator" (Cic. pro Rosc. Amer. 6); money also was sometimes given (Juv. VII.243; Suet. Claud. 21). Old gladiators, and sometimes those who had only fought for a short time, were discharged from the service by the editor at the request of the people, who presented each of them with a rudis or wooden sword; whence those who were discharged were called Rudiarii (Cic. Philip. II.29; Hor. Ep. I.1, ; Suet. Tib. 7; Quint. l.c.). If a person was free before he entered the ludus, he became on his discharge free again; and if he had been a slave, he returned to the same condition again. A man, however, who had been a gladiator was always considered to have disgraced himself,c and consequently it appears he could not obtain the equestrian rank if he afterwards acquired sufficient property to entitle him to it (Quin. l.c.); and a slave who had been sent into a ludus and there manumitted either by his then owner or another owner, merely acquired the status of a peregrinus dediticius (Gaius, I.13) [Dediticii].

Shows of gladiators were abolished by Constantine (Cod. 11. tit. 43), but appear notwithstanding to have been generally exhibited till the time of Honorius, by whom they were finally suppressed (Theodoret, Hist. Eccles. V.26).º

Gladiators were divided into different classes, according to their arms and different mode of fighting, or other circumstances. The names of the most important of these classes is given in alphabetical order:

Paintings of gladiatorial combats, as well as of the other sports of the amphitheatre, were favourite subjects with the Roman artists (Plin. N. H. XXXV.33; Capitol. Gord. 3; Vopisc. Carin. 19). Several statues of gladiators have come down to us, which are highly admired as works of art: of these the most celebrated is the gladiator of the Borghese collection, now in the Museum of the Louvre, and the dying gladiator, as it is called, in the Capitoline Museum.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Thayer Note: Now usually called the Dying Gaul.
Other photos of him:
from the back • from various angles: 1 2 3 4  — details: lower body calf & thigh foot

Gladiatorial combats are represented in the bas-reliefs on the tomb of Scaurus at Pompeii, and illustrate in many particulars the brief account which has been given in this article of the several classes of gladiators. These bas-reliefs are represented in the following woodcuts from Mazois (Pompeii I. pl. 32). The figures are made of stucco, and appear to have been molded separately, and attached to the plaster by pegs of bronze or iron. In various parts of the frieze are written the name of the person to whom the gladiators belonged, and also the names of the gladiators themselves, and the number of their victories. The first pair of gladiators on the left hand represents an equestrian combat. Both wear helmets with vizors, which cover the whole face, and are armed with spears and round bucklers. In the second pair the gladiator on the left has been wounded; he has let fall his shield, and is imploring the mercy of the people by raising his hand toward them. His antagonist stands behind him waiting the signal of the people. Like all the other gladiators represented on the frieze, they were the subligaculum or short apron fixed above the hips. The one on the left appears to be a mirmillo, and the one on the right, with an oblong shield (scutum), a Samnite. The third pair consists of a Thracian and a mirmillo, the latter of whom is defeated. The fourth group consists of four figures; two are secutores and two retiarii. The secutor on his knee appears to have been defeated by the retiarius behind him, but as the fuscina is not adapted for producing certain death, the other secutor is called upon to do it. The  p577 retiarius in the distance is probably destined to fight in his turn with the surviving secutor. The last group consists of a mirmillo and a Samnite; the latter is defeated.

[image ALT: missingALT]

In the last woodcut two combats are represented. In the first a Samnite has been conquered by a mirmillo; the former is holding up his hand to the people to implore mercy, while the latter apparently wishes to become his enemy's executioner before receiving the signal from the people; but the lanista holds him back. In the other combat a mirmillo is mortally wounded by a Samnite.

[image ALT: missingALT]

It will be observed that the right arm of every figure is protected by armour, which the left does not require on account of the shield. [Bestiarii; Venatio] (Lipsius, Saturnalia).

Thayer's Notes:

a There are many pictures of gladiators online. One of the best pages is Irene Hahn's series of photos of the great Gladiators Mosaic at Bad Kreuznach.

b If the dictionary's text seems vague here, there's a good reason. As long as the author limits himself to citing and translating the Latin expression, "to press the thumb", he's is safe territory; but a later edition of Smith's Dictionary will be more explicit — and quite rightly get called out for it. Even today, we have no clear idea of the actual gestures involved: Edwin Post's article Pollice Verso (AJP 13:213‑225) surveys the confusing possibilities and includes a photograph of an ancient sculpture showing the missio of a gladiator; but in his first order of business, he will criticize that later edition of our dictionary.

c Ancient polemicists do claim that their target had once been a gladiator; see for example Hist. Aug., Macr. IV.5.

d A garble in the citations. No catervarii are mentioned, strictly speaking, in Suetonius' Caligula. In §30, those who "fight as a team" (gregatim dimicantes) are not called catervarii; it is in §18 that the word caterva (team, crowd, mass) appears, applied to gladiators.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 15 Feb 20