Gladiators Come Alive
Western Civ

Research Report
Web Resources


    During the height of the Pax Romana a new and improved form of entertainment came to the Roman world.  Gladiator fighting was the ultimate spectator sport where the audience is given the choice of letting the competitor live or die.  Men, Women, free and incarcerated alike were all given the chance to partake in the extravagant festivities.  Join the 'civilized' world when gaining access to behind the scenes of The Gladiators.

Historical Background

    “Maximus, Maximus, Maximus!”  When most think of gladiators the first thing that enters their head is the movie “Gladiator” and the sounds of chanting fans calling for death.  Though this was only a movie, there were many true aspects within it.  The Colosseum filled to the brim with Roman people, the royalty in prime positions to see everything, and the gladiators fighting to the death with glory and honor.  “…To excel as a warrior, is not only distinguished from, but precedes, being a brave general, winning military victories under his own auspices, and being elected to magistrates.”(P.36 Wiedemann)  If given the chance to fight in one of the larger or main arenas gladiators would gladly be willing to sacrifice their lives to entertain the public.  It epitomized the lifestyle and great show of wealth that the Romans held so close to them.  Even though many people question the reality of the gladiators, in fact they were very real and went through more than what people believe they did.

Research Report

    The first thing most people want to know about the gladiator is who they are, and what I found was that there were two types: the voluntary and the involuntary gladiators.  In such cases the gladiators were sent to camps where they were instructed in the art of fighting.  Each gladiator was trained with a specific weapon, and the weapon that the gladiator used depicted his or her status.  A little-known fact is that women were also gladiators.  True enough, women were not the most common fighters seen, but they did exist in large numbers.  All the gladiators competing fought for honor and respect.  May they be a slave or a free man they fought to please others and in a morbid way themselves.  Slaves would work extremely hard to please their master by performing well and also by suffering and dying well.  What does this say about the people of this time period?  These valiant acts of bravery show the dedication, even while in bondage, that the fighters had when they served their master to the death.
There were so many arena fights that there is no way to tell how many gladiators or animals were killed over the course of the tournaments, on the other hand at some festivals they did keep track of how many fought in each match.  In the Titus games in 80 AD 9,000 lions, tigers and bears were killed.  Many other exotic animals were also brought in for some special games.  Another set of games that were well documented were the Trajan games where 10,000 gladiators fought and 11,000 animals were killed.  Where would all of these able body gladiators come from?  In many cases the gladiator trainer would own many slaves just in case he needed someone to fight.  Another source would be prisoners of war; they were often kept healthy and alive just to fight to their death.  This way the Roman Empire would not have another mouth to feed and they would entertain them as well.  The last place and one of the most vital were criminals condemned to death in the arena.  These cases were solved easily; the criminal would be put in the arena with no weapon whatsoever and made to stand defenseless until they were killed.  Records of gladiators are somewhat vague since there were many controversies surrounding the disposal of the bodies.  Since some of the glads were slaves, criminals and volunteers, their religious beliefs varied and so did their beliefs on burial.  Mass burials were out of the question, and so were burning in many cases.  In some books the mentioning of the bodies being eaten will be found, but in each case it was ruled untruthful.

 “For it seems to me God has made us apostles the last act in the show, like men condemned to death in the arena, a spectacle to the whole universe – to angels as well as men.”(1 Corinthians 4:9 Bible)  False as it may seem Christians were truly persecuted at the hands of the Romans as their source of entertainment.  Because of the lack of loyalty to the cult of Rome, the Christians were persecuted in numbers.  Though most of these mass killings were taken care of in Northern Africa and the Eastern part of the Roman Empire they were still treated as criminals made to fight and die in the arenas.  In normal cases a good gladiator could fight well, please the crowd and win his freedom back, but the Christians who fought only left the arena one way: dead.

     For a long time the Etruscans have been given the credit for giving Rome their “spectacles of death”, but new information has surfaced giving Campania the same credit.  Historians have tried on numerous occasions to discover the true bearer of these spectator sports but the answer is buried way to deep in antiquity.  So, why did these events become so important to the Roman people? “I propose that the amphitheater was a politicized temple that housed the mythic reenactment of the cult of Roman statehood.”(P.170 Futrell)  The arena and its events were, in fact, a play out of the social lives of all Romans.  Rome was big on social order, one thing that can be attributed to the Etruscans, and that was displayed in everything that they did, including the games.  Inside the Colosseum seats were arranged by social class, and in some cases the lower classes were not allowed to attend the events.  Of course the royalty and the highest regarded families were given the first few rows to ensure that they could see the attractions.  Although there were women who were apart of the families they were made to sit at the top of the arena.  This sectioning off at the games reinforced the class system that was imposed in all of Rome.  Another, and seemingly the most important reason for the games were for the emperor of the time.  He would use the games and gladiatorial fights as a way to boost his favor with his fellow Romans, and also to keep them happy.  In the process of entertaining through the use of the gladiators he would also be getting rid of unwanted criminals and people that were kidnapped.  Though the Romans of the day did not realize it, they were setting the stage for sports to come in the future.

Historical Significance

    The significance of the gladiators is as ambiguous as how Rome came to use gladiators in their arenas.  One thing that did come from the gladiators and the games they participated in are many of the spectator sports that we know partake in.  The gladiators demonstrated a sense of independence and strength, qualities that are held close to the heart of all competitors.  All the deaths between both humans and beasts made people think and cherish life more tenderly then they had in the past.  The fights in the arenas set the stage for Christianity and also put together a foundation that all sports are built on.


Edward, Catherine. Roman Presence.  Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Futrell, Alison. Blood in the Arena.  University of Texas Press, 1997.
Grant, Michael. Gladiators.  The Trinity Press Worcester and London, 1967.
Jackson, Ralph. Gladiators and Ceasars.  British Museum Press, 2000.
Kyle, Donald. Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome.  New York: Routledge, 1998.
Wiedemann, Thomas. Emperors and Gladiators.  New York: Routledge, 1992.

Web Resources

This web site gives many different accounts of women in history.  By going to the second Celtic/Roman link you can discover the world of women as Roman Gladiators.

This site displays a nice picture of the Colosseum and gives many accounts of the Gladiators and the games they competed in.

This site gives a short synopsis of the Colosseum and its use.  It explains how big it is and also how the Gladiators utilized the Colosseum.

Discusses the bloodshed and also what was accomplished through the use of the Gladiators.  These are all done through the eyes of other college students around the U.S.

The ins and outs of the Colosseum, how it came to be and what happen to it.  It also notes the beginning and the demise go Gladiatorial fighting.  Also discussed is the way the public viewed them and their importance in many Roman's lives.

Created By: Mekeeda Finlayson