(Lat. gladius, "sword"), professional fighter who performed in spectacles of armed combat in the amphitheaters of ancient Rome. The practice of armed men fighting to the death originated in Etruria, in central Italy, probably as a funeral sacrifice. The first gladiatorial exhibition in Rome was in 264 bc, when three pairs of gladiators fought as part of a funeral celebration. By 174 bc, at a 3-day spectacle, 37 pairs participated. Julius Caesar's large-scale exhibitions (300 pairs on one occasion) prompted the Roman Senate to limit the number of contestants. The largest contest of gladiators was given by the emperor Trajan as part of a victory celebration in ad 107 and included 5000 pairs of fighters. The emperor Domitian in ad 90 presented combats between women and between dwarfs.Mostly males, gladiators were slaves, condemned criminals, prisoners of war, and sometimes Christians. Forced to become swordsmen, they were trained in schools called ludi, and special measures were taken to discipline them and prevent them from committing suicide. One gladiator, Spartacus, avenged his captivity by escaping and leading an insurrection that terrorized southern Italy from 73 to 71 bc.A successful gladiator received great acclaim; he was praised by poets, his portrait appeared on gems and vases, and patrician ladies pampered him. A gladiator who survived many combats might be relieved from further obligation. Occasionally, freedmen and Roman citizens entered the arena, as did the insane Emperor Commodus.According to their arms and methods of fighting, gladiators were divided into various light- and heavy-armored classes. For example, the retiarius ("net man"), clad in a short tunic, attempted to entangle his fully armed opponent, the secutor ("pursuer"), with a net and then to kill him with a trident. Other classes fought with different weapons, or from horseback or chariots. According to the most common tradition, when a gladiator had overpowered his opponent, he turned to the spectators. If they wished to spare the defeated man, they waved their handkerchiefs; to indicate that he should be killed, they turned down their thumbs.Although Constantine the Great proscribed gladiatorial contests in ad 325, they continued to be held until about 500.
Gladiator. Funk & Wagnalls. 2005.
Discovery Education. 10 February 2011
Gladiator. Funk & Wagnalls.
(2005). Retrieved February 10, 2011, from
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