The ancient Romans were well known for many things – their engineering marvels, their road networks, and the establishment of Roman law throughout the empire. They were, however, also renowned for their war-like nature. After all, this allowed the Romans to build an empire in the first place. This appetite for violence not only manifested itself in Rome’s imperialist policy, but also in its most well-known sport – the gladiatorial combats.
Two Venatores (those who made a career out of fighting in arena animal hunts) fighting a tiger. Floor mosaic in Great Palace of Constantinople (Istanbul), 5th century. (Public Domain)
It has been suggested that the concept of gladiatorial games has its roots in the Etruscans, the predecessors of the Romans. In Etruscan society, gladiatorial games were supposed to be part of the funerary rituals honoring the dead. Thus, gladiatorial combats originally possessed a sacred significance. Over the centuries, however, these funerary games came to be a form of entertainment, and the earliest Roman gladiatorial combat is said to have taken place in 264 BC.
‘The Garden Arbor’, 1878, depicting a brutal gladiator battle ( Public Domain )
The gladiators were often prisoners of war, slaves, or criminals with a death sentence. The use of Rome’s defeated enemies in these games is reflected in some of the gladiator types, including the Thraex (or Thracian), the Hoplomachus and the Samnite. Thus, gladiatorial combats may be seen as a way for the Romans to re-enact the wars that they had with their conquered subjects. Yet, not all gladiators were forced into the trade.
The Gladiators: Histor…
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