Weak-willed slaves who were driven into the arena, or adventurers hungry for wealth and blood? Who were the gladiators of ancient Rome? Disputes on this issue continue among historians to this day. Research carried out over the past decades has largely shed light on the history of this bloody sport.
During its existence, gladiatorial fights have been fun, punishment, and even part of a political game. Gladiators evoked delight and horror, they were loved and feared. Many stereotypes about gladiators and arena fighting have to do with the fact that they were slaves. But, however, as the results of archaeological excavations show, as well as the study of ancient documents, things were somewhat different.
The exact date of the appearance of gladiatorial games as a way of entertainment in Ancient Rome is not known. At the same time, the Roman chronicles accurately indicate the date of the formation of gladiatorial games as a public event. It happened in 106 BC. This is also known from legal documents. So, in many decisions of the Roman Senate it was said that from that moment on, all cities with arenas had to take care of their improvement and maintenance. Also from about 106 BC. there is evidence that the state has borne all the costs of gladiatorial fights. It follows from this that the custom of gladiatorial games existed long before that.
The very Latin word "gladiator" comes from the word "gladius" (sword) and is translated as sword-bearer. The study of ancient Roman traditions prompted historians to believe that originally gladiatorial games were something like punishment or execution of a court decision. Most likely, the first games of gladiators were held among prisoners of military campaigns and criminals who were doomed to death. Two people were armed with swords and forced to fight. Those who survived the battle were left with life. Apparently, this custom appeared among the Roman soldiers, since the Roman army, like most of the ancient armies, had a "tradition" of exterminating the entire male population in the captured settlement. In the same ingenuous way, the soldiers not only decided who to kill, but also had fun. Over time, the tradition could become widespread and become very popular among all the Romans. Of course, such games required a living resource, and here their "talking instruments" came in handy for Rome. However, it is one thing to make two doomed deaths fight among themselves, and quite another to organize an unforgettable bloody way to entertain the crowd.
There were many types of gladiators. As a rule, they differentiated themselves according to the principle of weapons and ammunition, as well as the type of enemy they must fight with. Moreover, Roman written sources say that in the Colosseum alone, legendary battles and battles were staged, in which dozens and sometimes hundreds of gladiators participated. The Colosseum even held naval battles, for this, several decorative ships were placed in the arena, and the arena itself was flooded with water. All this shows that gladiatorial games from 106 BC to They were distinguished not only by colossal capital investments, but also by good organization. Obviously, gladiators were supposed to be more than just a bunch of slaughtered slaves.
It should be understood that when comparing the fight of armed slaves in the arena, driven there from some quarry, and the fight of professional gladiators, one can find as many differences as between the fight of drunks at the local grocery store and the fight of professional boxers in the ring. This means that gladiators had to be not just slaves, and written sources testify to this.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of gladiators were just slaves, but only the strongest, hardiest and most prepared were suitable for an effective performance. In addition, physical data alone is not enough for such an event; you need training, the ability to fight, and handle certain types of weapons. It is not for nothing that the type of weapon was one of the defining factors in the type and name of a gladiator. Besides, getting a person to fight, even a bonded one, is not so easy. Yes, the fear of death is an excellent stimulant, but death also awaited in the gladiator arena, which means there must be other stimuli.
Successful gladiators, although they remained slaves, received many privileges, the number of which increased depending on the number of successfully fought battles. So, after the first two battles, the gladiator was entitled to a personal room with a bed, a table and a statuette for prayer. After three fights, each victory or at least survival of the gladiator was paid. Approximately one successful battle cost the gladiator an annual salary of a Roman legionary, which at that time was a very, very decent amount. And since gladiators received money for their labor, they should have been able to spend it somewhere. Since ammunition and weapons were completely provided by the state or the master, then the place where the money was spent went beyond the arena.
There is a lot of written evidence that gladiators were released into the city according to special documents. In addition, professional gladiators did not know the need for anything. The fighters were well fed, their clothes and cleanliness were taken care of, women and men were provided for them. After each battle, the surviving wounded gladiators were treated by Roman doctors, who were famous for being excellent at dealing with stab, laceration and cut wounds. Opium was used as anesthesia. Over time, the most successful gladiators could even win their freedom, it is noteworthy that many even after that remained gladiators and continued to earn their bread in this way.
With the flourishing of bloody sports in ancient Rome, gladiatorial schools also appeared. Selected slaves began to be prepared, making real "death machines" out of them. The training of gladiators was already carried out according to the army model with the addition of training in the use of exotic types of weapons, for example, fighting with a net. After the decree of Emperor Nero in 63 AD, women began to be allowed to participate in the games. Prior to this, according to written sources, it becomes known that the schools of gladiators are beginning to accept residents of the empire, in addition to slaves. According to the Roman Chronicle, the mortality rate in these schools was relatively low, given the occupation - 1 in 10 gladiators during training. Thus, we can conclude that the fights of gladiators at some point became something akin to a sport. It is also interesting that the battle was judged not only by the emperor and the crowd, but also by a specially appointed judge, who could often influence the decision of the emperor, helping the most effective but defeated gladiators survive.
From all of the above, we can conclude that gladiators were more likely professional athletes of their time, rather than just a crowd of people who were limply driven to slaughter. The Romans treated gladiators with adoration. They were known among the common people. In those dark times, they were comparable in popularity to modern pop stars.In this regard, gladiators often became a political instrument, the purpose of which was to win the love of the people in relation to the future emperor, because Rome was always ruled by the one whom the crowd loved. Gladiator games were banned only in 404 AD, due to the spread of Christianity in the empire. Today, the days of gladiators have become a very popular topic for movies, and enthusiasts are making copies of the colosseum from wine corks and Lego.