Bloody massacre without rules and regulations – this is how most people imagine gladiatorial battles. We still know from Spartacus that all gladiators were slaves and only men fought in the arena. And did you know that gladiatorial fights and sumo fights have a common cause, what role women have been given in battle, and how people have used gladiator sweat and blood? We have selected little known facts about gladiatorial battles – one of the most popular ancient spectacles.
Women also fought
Robins were regularly sent to the arena with men, but some free women grabbed the sword of their own accord. Historians are not sure exactly when women appeared in the ranks of gladiators, but by the first century AD they have become a common sight in battle. A relief dating from around the 2nd century depicts a battle between two gladiators called the Amazon and Achilles.
Not all gladiators were slaves
Not all gladiators were brought to the arena in chains. By the first century, the excitement of battle and the roar of the crowd began to attract many free people, who began to enroll voluntarily in gladiatorial schools in the hope of gaining fame and money. These were often ex-soldiers, and the fame of gladiators haunted some high-class patricians, knights, and even senators.
Gladiators did not always fight to the death
The most famous arena was the Colosseum. The second largest amphitheater is located in modern Tunisia. Arenas have been preserved in Paris and even in the Croatian city of Pula. Hollywood often portrays gladiatorial fights as bloody fights without rules, while most of the competitions were held under very strict rules. The competition was usually a duel between two men of equal height and experience. There were even judges who stopped the fight as soon as one of the participants was seriously injured. In addition, the match could end in a draw if the audience gets bored of the long battle. Because maintaining gladiators was expensive, their masters did not want the fighter killed in vain. However, the life of a gladiator was short: historians have estimated that every 5-10 battles one of the participants died, and rarely did a gladiator live to 25 years.
Gladiators have seldom fought animals
Whether we like it or not, the Colosseum and other Roman arenas today are often associated with animal hunting (or vice versa). First, the battle with wild animals was reserved for bestiaries – a special class of warriors who fought against all kinds of animals: from deer and ostriches to lions, crocodiles, bears and even elephants. Hunting animals was usually the first event of the games, and it was not uncommon for many unfortunate creatures to be killed in a series of battles. Nine thousand animals were killed during the 100-day opening ceremony of the Colosseum. Second, wild animals were also a popular form of execution. Convicted criminals and Christians were often thrown to predatory dogs, lions and bears as part of daily entertainment.
One of the most poignant such scenes is depicted in Henrik Senkiewicz’s historical novel Quo Vadis from 1896. The fights were originally part of funeral ceremonies. that gladiatorial battles arose as a funeral ritual for the rich. By the way, in this they are similar to the ancient Japanese sumo wrestling, which was also originally part of a funeral rite.
The Romans believed that human blood helped purify the soul of the deceased, and competitions could replace human sacrifices. Funeral games later expanded during the reign of Julius Caesar, who organized fights between hundreds of gladiators. Spectacles proved so popular that by the end of the first century BC. officials began to fund the fighting to gain the disposition of the masses. Emperors also participated in battles Gladiator games were an easy way for Roman emperors to win the love of the people, but some of them went further and did not limit themselves to organizing spectacles. Caligula, Titus, Adrian, Commodus (he fought 735 battles. Staged, of course) and others performed at the arena. Naturally, under strictly controlled conditions: with blunt weapons and under the strict supervision of security.
“Thumbs down” did not always mean death
Cinema often misrepresents history. The legendary gesture with the thumb is no exception. Here it is worth clarifying: about the legendary gesture described by the phrase Pollice Verso (Latin “inverted thumb”), scientists are still arguing. Some historians believe that the sign of death may have been “thumbs up”, while “thumbs down” may have meant mercy and was interpreted as “swords down”. Whatever gesture was used, it was usually accompanied by the piercing shouts of the crowd “Let go!” or “Kill!”. The gesture was popularized in 1872 by the French artist Jean-Leon Jerome in the painting “Pollice Verso”, which today has impressed Ridley Scott during the filming of “Gladiator”. Gladiators had their own categories. By the time the Colosseum was opened around 80 AD, gladiatorial games had gone from unorganized battle to death to a well-regulated, albeit bloody, sport. The fighters were divided into classes according to their achievements, level of skills and experience, each had its own specialization in the weapons and combat equipment used. The most popular were the Thracians and their main opponents the Myrmilons. In Raphael Giovanioli’s novel Spartacus, the protagonist fights in the arena with Thracian weapons. There were also equities that entered the horse arena; esedarii, who fought on chariots; and smokers who wielded two swords at once.
Gladiators were real stars
There are legends that Spartacus – the brave leader of the slave revolt against Rome, was born in the Sandanski region. Nowadays, the statue of Spartacus is one of the symbols of the city. Photo: tourism.government.bg Portraits of many successful gladiators decorated the walls in public places. The children played with clay figures of gladiators. The most enterprising fighters advertised food. Many women wore jewelry soaked in the blood of gladiators, and some even mixed gladiator sweat, which was considered a special aphrodisiac, into face creams and other cosmetics. Fascinating … isn’t it? The whole atmosphere is felt. And what other facts about gladiators exist?
Gladiators united in unions
Although they were regularly forced to fight to the death, gladiators considered themselves a kind of brotherhood, and some even united in alliances with a kind of leaders and guardian deities. When a warrior died in battle, these groups organized a dignified funeral for their comrade and, if he had a family, paid monetary compensation to relatives for the loss. Here are some interesting features of gladiatorial battles.
Photo: The painting “Pollice Verso” by Jean-Leon Jerome. Public Domain