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Amphitheatres and Gladiators

Gladiatorial Combats

The gladiatorial combats were very famous form of entertainment in Italy. We first here about them in Campania and Etruria. In Campania rich men made their slaves fight to death in order to entertain their guests. However, in Erutia the tradition is related to human sacrifice. The victims were captives taken in the war, eventually it became a custom to give the victim a chance to live by fighting another captive. The winner was spared, at least for the time. Romans slowly adapted this form of entertainment, the first exhibition was given in 264 BC. Gladiatorials combats were most common during the funeral games, known as munera. As time grew these "games" became more common and elaborate. By the time of the Republic these games were still "private in theory" and not paid for by the State. Even under Augustus the gladiators did not fight on the days of regular public games. The "December shows", under Domitian are the only known fixed date for gladiatorial shows.

Popularity of the Combats

The popularity of the munera had grown so much by the time of Sulla, that the politicians though of these events as the most effective means of advertisement. In fact Caesar owned so many gladiators that the afraid Senate passed a law limiting the number of gladiators a private citizen may employ to 320 pairs. During the empire the numbers of these gladiatorial shows grew rapidly. Augustus gave eight munera in witch no less than ten thousand men fought. Trajan exhibited as many gladiators only in four months of year AD 107.

Sources of Supply

The main source of gladiators were war captives, however, soon this source was not enough. By the time of Sulla, there were gladiatorial schools in which fractious slaves were trained. From the time of Augustus all non citizen criminals were sentenced to combat fighting. Later on in the Empire, those found guilty of treason, arson, or murder were forced to fight with lions. Finally by the end years of the empire there were volunteer gladiators, known as auctorati. The Romans became so desperate that they forced men of petty offences into the arena to fight. The persecution of Christianity was mainly to supply gladiators. Occasionally, even women and children were used in fights.

Schools for the Gladiators / Place of Exhibition

By the time of Cicero's consulship, 63 BC, there was a gladiatorial school in Rome. There were schools in Capua and Praeneste, as well. The gladiator's in these schools were looked after, with a special diet and gyms. All gladiators in one school were called a familia.

These schools also served as barracks, or rather prisons, for gladiators between engagements. It was form schools of Lentulus in Capua that Spartacus lead the great slave uprising in 73-71 BC. The Romans needed no second lessons.

During the republic the combats took usually took place in the forum, the arena, or at the place of a grave. All these areas were not ideal. Therefore the Romans decided to built a place permanent for the munera, these places were called amphitheatrum.

Amphitheatre at Rome

We do not know when the first amphitheatres were built in Rome. Caesar is said to have erected a wooden amphitheatre in 46 BC. IN 29 BC an amphitheatre was built which lasted until the great fire in Nero's reign. Nero himslef made one in Campus Martius. Finally, by AD 80 an immense structure was completed; it was first known as Amphitheatrum Flavium, later known as the Colosseum.

The Colosseum

The Flavian Amphitheatre, or Colosseum, is best known of all buildings of the ancient Rome, because it has greatly survived. It was built on the street level with walls which rose to one hundred sixty feet. The Colosseum covers nearly six acres of ground. Its interior and the arena are ellipses. The width of 166 ½ feet all around the arena was allotted to the spectators. Under the floor of the arena were chambers which were used as regiments for the gladiators, for dens of wild beasts, beast elevators. Above all these chambers allowed the arena to be flooded very quickly for mock naval battles. The wall that surrounded the arena was fifteen feet high. It was made of marble and had metal reinforcements. There were rollers hung on this wall to prevent the animals from climbing it. On top of this wall was a podium which seated the imperial family, the man who gave the games, magistrates, senators, vestal virgins, ambassadors of foreign states and other important persons. Behind these were the seats for the ordinary citizens. Further above, were the wooden seats for the lower class, and slave, which had very bad view due to the pillars in front of them. Above these, were the seats for the women. They were not urged to attend these public entertainment, unless they could be seated in the marble podium. The seating capacity of the Colosseum has been estimated at eighty thousands with another twenty thousand standing room.

Amphitheatre at Pompeii

The essential features of an amphitheatre may be most easily understood from the ruins of the ruins of the one at Pompeii, which was erected about 75 BC. This amphitheatre is the earliest one known to us either through archaeology or literally sources. The amphitheatres seats lied in a great hollow excavated for this purpose. The amphitheatre must have occupied around twenty thousand spectators. The walls around the arena are only six feet high. It is believed that admission to higher seats was free, because they were so undesirable.

Styles of Fighting

Gladiators usually fought in pairs, man against man, but sometimes in masses. When they were first taken as captives, they obviously fought with the weapons that they were accustomed to. When professionally trained they were divided into two groups the "Samnites", heavy armed, or the "Tharcians", light armed. Later on different methods of fighting was introduced, for example chariot fighting in time of Caesar. When the Romans were bored of the traditional methods, they matched up women, dworfs, or different kinds of gladiators.

Weapons and Armor

Different gladiators had different tools and weapons: A Samnite wore a helmet with a visor, a thick sleeve on his right arm, a greave on his let leg, a belt, a short sword, and carried a long shield. Under the empire the Samnites, eventually lost their name which was derived from Rome's ancient enemies. They were called the hoplomachi, heavy-armed, when they fought the Thracians, and secutores when they fought the net-men. A Thracian was armed in much the same manner as a Samnite, but had a small shield and carried a curved sword. They had greaves on both legs rather than one. The net-fighters had no defensive armor except leather protection for the shoulders. A net-man carried a huge net in which he tried to trap the opponent, who then he stabbed with his dagger. If he lost his net his only weapon was a heavy spear.

Announcement of Shows

The announcement of the shows were often made by painting the advertising on walls of the city. Sometimes the results were added to the advertisement after the matches. A "v" stood for vicit meaning he won. A "p" stood for periit meaning he was killed. A "m" stood for missus, meaning he was let off.

The Fight

The day before the exhibition a banquet was given to the fighters. The games took place in the afternoon. After the presiding official took his place, the gladiators marched in procession around the arena and gave the famous greeting, Morituri te salutant, Those about to die salute you. All then left the arena, and came back according to the program. In the preliminary fights blunt weapons were used. When the people had enough of this the trumpeters signalled for the fierce fighting to begin. Those who had lost courage in the last minute were driven into the arena with whips or hot iron bars. Sometimes fighters asked for mercy by holding one finger up to the official in charge, then the people said whether they wanted him to live, by sticking their hand out and thumb up. The crowd might gesticulate death, pollice verso, by sticking their arm out and their thumb down. By the time of Augustus, he had forbidden combats were all must fight to the death.


A beginner gladiator was called a tiro. However, when he fought many matches he might be named as primus palus, First Sword, meaning he was the best. Another title was the secundus palus, Second Sword, obviously meaning the second best. When a gladiator was set free he was given a wooden sword, named rudis. From this the titles prima rudis, and, secunda rudis, were given to those gladiators who decided to become training masters, doctores.

Other Shows in the Amphitheatre

Other shows in the amphitheatre included fights of wild beasts. Also by flooding the arena with water, it could be adapted for the manoeuvring of the boats. Naval battles, naumachiae, were often fought very desperately and bloody. These naumachiae were so famous that there were many artificial lakes constructed around Rome.