Types of gladiator

Download 37.54 Kb.
Size37.54 Kb.
Types of gladiator

From http://www.roman-empire.net/society/soc-games.html

Types of gladiators

Limbs and lower torso protected by mail armour, chest and back plate, large visored helmet with eye holes


Sword fighter, but using two swords, no shield (see below 1 :)


Armoured riders, chest plate, back plate, thigh armour, shield, and lance


Fights from war chariots


(He later substituted the Samnite)Was very similar to the Samnite, but with a larger shield. His name was the Latin term for a Greek hoplite.


Most likely much like the Retiarius, but using a 'lasso' instead of a net and most likely a lance instead of a trident

Murmillo /Murmillo

Large, crested helmet with visor (with a fish on its crest), little shield, lance


Whip, club and a shield which is fixed to the left arm with straps


Like Samnite, but with shield and lance


Trident, net, dagger, scaled armour (manica) covering left arm, projecting shoulder piece to protect the neck (galerus)


medium shield, short sword, 1 greave (ocrea) on left leg, protective leather bands covering wrists and knee and ankle of right leg (fasciae), large, crested helmet with visor, small chest plate (spongia) (see below 2:)


Large, almost spherical helmet with eye holes or large crested helmet with visor, small/medium shield


Substitute fighter (see below 3 :)


Curved short sword (sica), scaled armour (manica) covering left arm, 2 greaves (ocreae) (see below 4 :)

The fighters' equipment as it is mentioned above is not based on an absolute rule. Equipment could vary to a point. A retiarius for example did not necessarily always have a manica on his arm, or a galerus on his shoulder. The above descriptions are merely rough guidelines.
1: The Dimachaerus was possibly, so it is thought, not a particular type of gladiator, but a gladiator of the sword-fighting variety who instead of a shield, fought with a second sword.
2: The Samnite disappeared roughly at the end of the republican era and appears to have been substituted by the Hoplomachus and the Secutor.
3: The Tertiarius (or Suppositicius) was quite literally a substitute fighter. In some cases it could be that three men were matched against each other. The first two would fight, only for the winner to be met by the third man; this third man would be the tertiarius.
4: The Thracian gladiator first appeared around the time of Sulla.
Gladiatorial Games

It was undoubtedly the ludi circenses of the amphitheatres which have given the Romans the bad press over time.

For people of our modern age, it is difficult to understand what could have motivated the Romans to watch the cruel spectacle of men fighting each other to the death.
Roman society was not inherently sadistic. The gladiatorial fights were symbolic in nature. Although there is little doubt that the mob baying for blood was little aware of the finer symbolical points. A Roman mob will have differed little from a modern day lynch mob or a horde of soccer hooligans.
But to most Romans the games will have been more than mere bloodlust. There was a certain magic about the games which their society appeared to understand.

In Rome entry to the games was free. It was a citizens right to see the games, not a luxury.

Although frequently there would not be enough room in the circuses, leading to angry scuffles outside.
People would in fact begin to queue throughout the night to make sure of a place in the circus.

Much like in modern day sports events, there is more to the game than just the event itself, there is the characters involved, the personal drama as well as technical skill and determination. Just as soccer fans do not just go to see 22 men kick a ball, and a baseball fan does not just go to watch a few men through a little ball about, so did the Romans not just sit and watch people being killed. It is difficult to comprehend today, yet there was a different dimension to the games in Roman eyes.

The tradition of gladiatorial combat was, it appears, not a Roman development at all. Far more the native tribes of Italy, in particular the Etruscans seemed to have brought about this gruesome idea.
In primitive times it was a custom to sacrifice prisoners of war at the burial of a warrior. Somehow, as a means of making the sacrifice less cruel, by granting at least the victors a chance to survive, these sacrifices were gradually transformed into fights between the prisoners.

This non-Roman tradition appears to have finally come to Rome from Campania.

The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome was held to honour the deceased Junius Brutus in 264 BC. Three pairs of slaves fought each other that day. They were called bustuarii. This name refers to the Latin expression bustum which means 'tomb' or a 'funeral pyre'. Such bustuarii appeared to be armed as what later were known as Samnite gladiators, with a rectangular shield, a short sword, a helmet and greaves.

(According to the historian Livy, it was supposedly it was the Campanians who in 310 BC to mock the Samnites, whom they had just defeated in battle, had their gladiators dress up as Samnite warriors for the fight.)

This first fight in Rome took place in the Forum Boarium, the meat markets on the banks of the Tiber. But the fights soon became established in the Forum Romanum in the very heart of Rome itself.

At a later stage seats were placed around the forum, but at first one merely would find a place to sit or stand and watch the spectacle, which at that time was still understood to be part of a ceremony, not entertainment.

These events became known as munera which meant 'debt' or 'obligation'. They were understood as obligations rendered to the dead. With their blood the manes the spirits of the deceased ancestors were satisfied.

Often these bloody events would then be followed by a public banquet in the Forum.

One can find a belief in some parts ancient of the ancient world, hard to understand by modern man, that blood sacrifices to the dead could somehow elevate them, granting them a form of deification. Hence many patrician families, who had made such blood sacrifices to the dead in form of the munera, went on to invent for themselves divine ancestry.

In any case, somehow these early gladiatorial fights gradually became celebrations of other sacred ceremonies, apart from merely funeral rites.

It was close to the end of the republican era of Rome at which the gladiatorial fights largely lost their meaning as a rite of some spiritual significance.
Their sheer popularity led to their gradual secularization. It was inevitable that something which was so popular would become a means of political propaganda. Thus more and more rich politicians hosted gladiatorial games in order to make themselves popular. With such blatant political populism it wasn't remarkable that the gladiatorial fights turned from a ritual into a show.

The senate tried its best to curb such developments, but didn't dare to enrage the populace by forbidding such political sponsorship.

Due to such senatorial resistance it took until 20 BC before Rome had its first stone amphitheatre (built by Statilius Taurus; the theatre was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64).

As the rich more and more intensified their efforts to dazzle the audience, the plebeians became ever more choosy. Spoilt by ever more fanciful spectacles the mob soon demanded more. Caesar even clad his gladiators in armour made of silver at the funeral games which he held in honour of his father! But even this soon no longer excited the crowd, once others copied it and it was even replicated in the provinces.

Once the empire was ruled by the emperors, the essential use of the games as a propaganda tool didn't cease. It was a means by which the ruler could show his generosity. The games were his 'gift' to the people. (Augustus matched an average of 625 pairs in his spectacles. Trajan had no less than 10,000 pairs fight each other in his games held to celebrate his victory over the Dacians.)

Private games still continued to be held, but they could not (and no doubt should not) rival the spectacles laid on by the emperor. In the provinces naturally the games remained privately sponsored, but in Rome itself such private spectacles were left to the praetors (and later to the quaestors) during the month of December when the emperor did not host games.

But if it was in Rome itself, or in the provinces, games were now no longer dedicated to the memory of the deceased but in honour of the emperor.

The games and their requirement of a large amount of gladiators brought about the existence of a new profession, the lanista. He was the entrepreneur who supplied the wealthy republican politicians with the troops of fighters. (Later under the emperors, independent lanistae only really supplied provincial circuses. In Rome itself they were only lanistae by name, as in fact the entire industry supplying the circuses with gladiators was by then in imperial hands.)

He was the middle man who made money by buying healthy male slaves, training to be gladiators and then sold or rented them to the host of the games.

The Roman paradoxical feelings towards the games are perhaps best shown in their view of the lanista. If Roman social attitudes looked down upon any kind of person related to 'show business', then this certainly counted for the lanista. Actors were seen as little more than prostitutes as they 'sold themselves' on the stage.
Gladiators were seen as yet even lower than that. Therefore the lanista was much seen as a kind of pimp. It was he who reaped the bizarre hatred of the Romans for having reduced men to creatures marked out for slaughter in the arena - gladiators.
In a strange twist, such loathing was not felt for rich men who might indeed act as lanista, but whose main income was in fact generated elsewhere.
Gladiators were always dressed up to resemble barbarians.

Whether they really were barbarians or not, the fighters would bear exotic and purposely strange armour and weapons. The more far-fetched the weapons and armour were, the more barbarous the gladiators appeared to Roman eyes. This also made the fights a celebration of Rome's empire. The Thracian and the Samnite all represented the very barbarians Rome had defeated. So too the Hoplomachus (Greek Hoplite) was a vanquished foe. Their fighting it out in the arena was living confirmation of Rome being the very centre of the world it had conquered.

The Murmillo is sometimes called the Gaul, so there might be a connection. Apparently his helmet was deemed 'Gallic'. This may therefore continue the imperial connection.
But generally he is seen as a mythical fish- or sea-man. Not least due to the fish supposedly set upon the crest of his helmet. He was traditionally paired with the retiarius, which makes perfect sense, as the latter is the ‘fisherman’ who seeks to catch his opponent in a net. Some suspect that the Murmillo may be derived from the mythical Myrmidons were led by Achilles at the Battle of Troy. Then again, given that the ancient Greek for ‘fish’ is ‘mormulos’, one tends to come full circle. The Murmillo therefore remains a bit of an enigma.
The smooth, almost spherical helmet of the secutor is believed to have been virtually ‘trident-proof’. It offered no angles or corners for the prongs of the trident to get a hold of. This seems to suggest that the fighting style of the retiarius was to stab at the face of his opponent with his trident.

The safety of the secutor came at a price though. His eye holes allowed him very little visibility. A fast moving, dexterous opponent might succeed in escaping from his limited field of vision altogether. Should this happen it would most likely be fatal for the secutor. His fighting style will therefore have depended very much on keeping his eyes glued upon his foe, determined to face him directly and adjusting his head and position with even the slightest of his opponent’s movements.

(Note: the secutor’s helmet seems to have evolved over time. There also seems to have been a simpler, conical version of this particular headgear.)
The staff of the lanista which looked after the gladiatorial school (ludus) was the familia gladiatoria. This expression, cynical as it clearly became, actually stemmed from the fact that in its origins they would be the household slaves of the lanista. With the schools becoming large, ruthless, professional institutions, this name no doubt became somewhat of a cruel joke.
The fighters' equipment as it is mentioned above is not based on an absolute rule. Equipment could vary to a point. A retiarius for example did not necessarily always have a manica on his arm, or a galerus on his shoulder. The above descriptions are merely rough guidelines.

The teachers at a gladiatorial school were called doctores. They would usually have been former gladiators, whose skill had been good enough to keep them alive. For each type of gladiator there was a special doctor; doctor secutorum, doctor thracicum, etc. At the opposite end of the scale of experience to the doctores was the tiro. This was the term used for a gladiator who had not yet had a fight in the arena.

Though despite all their training, Gladiators were mediocre soldiers. There were occasions on which gladiators were recruited to fight in battle. But they clearly were no match for real soldiers. Gladiatorial fencing was a dance, made for the arena, not for the battle field.

At the event itself, the pompa, the procession into the arena, was perhaps the last remainder of what once was a religious ritual.

The probatio armorum was the checking of the weapons by the editor, the 'president' of the games. Often this would be the emperor himself, or he would bestow the checking of the weapons to upon a guest he sought to honour.
This checking that the weapons were truly real, will most likely have been done in order to assure the public, many of whom may have placed bets on the outcome of a fight, that all was in order and no weapons had been tampered with.

Not merely the appreciation of the spectacle as such, but also the knowledge of the details surrounding the gladiatorial art seems to have largely been lost by today.

The audience was not interested in mere blood. It sought to observe the technical subtleties, the skill of trained professionals when watching the fights.
It appears that much of the interest in the fights lay in the way the various fighters and their different fighting techniques were matched. Certain matches were deemed incompatible and hence were not staged. A retiarius for example never fought another retiarius.

Generally a fight would be between two contestants, a so-called paria, but sometimes a fight might be made up of two teams pitched against one another.

Were it a single paria, or a team effort, similar types of gladiators did not normally fight each other. Contrasting types of fighters were matched, though always an attempt was made to assure a reasonably fair pairing.
One gladiator might only be lightly armed with little to nothing to protect him, whereas the other might be better armed, but restricted in his movements by his equipment.
Therefore each gladiator, to some extent or another, was either too heavily or too lightly armed. Meanwhile to assure that the gladiators actually showed sufficient enthusiasm, attendants would stand by with red-hot irons, with which they would poke any fighters who didn't show enough ardour.

It was largely left to the crowd to signify whether a wounded and downed gladiator should be finished off by his opponent. They did so by waving their handkerchiefs for a release, or giving the 'thumbs down' signal (pollice verso) for death. The deciding word was that of the editor, yet as the entire idea of holding such games was to win popularity the editor would rarely go against the will of the people.

The most dreaded of combats for any gladiator must have been the munera sine missione. For it is in fact true that quite often both gladiators would leave the arena alive. As long as the crowd was content that the two fighters had tried their best and had entertained them with a good show, it might often not demand the death of the loser. It of course also occurred that the better fighter might, only through bad luck come to lose a fight. Weapons might break, or an unfortunate stumble might suddenly swing fortunes to the other man. In such cases, audiences did not seek to see blood.

Missus was the term for a defeated gladiator being given a reprieve. He wasn't killed, but sent back to his barracks, where he would train for his next fight. But 'sine missione' meant 'without reprieve'. Such fights were indeed to the death, no matter how valiant the combatants had fought. Emperor Augustus did indeed forbid such fights, in which bravery could not save a man. He outlawed them as cruel. But after his death they would return, since their presence added to the very thing the game's organizers sought to create; variety.

Few gladiators fought without helmets. The most well known is undoubtedly the retiarius. Though this lack of a helmet proved to be to the disadvantage of the retiarii during the reign of Claudius.

Known for his cruelty he would always demand the death of a vanquished retiarius so that he could observe his face as he was killed.

This however was a crass exception. Gladiators were otherwise seen as absolutely anonymous entities. Even the stars among them. They were living abstract symbols in the struggle for life in the arena and not seen as human individuals.

Another well known class of gladiators not to wear helmets were women. There were indeed female gladiators, although they seem only to have been used in order to further add to the variety of the games, rather than as a mainstay comparable to the male gladiators. And it was hence, in this role as an additional facet to the games, that they fought without helmets, to add feminine beauty to the slaughter of the circus.

Much like in horse racing where there were so-called factions (defined by their racing colours) in the gladiatorial circus there was much the same passion for particular sides. Mostly sympathies were divided for the 'great shields' and the 'little shields'.

The 'great shields' tended to be defensive fighters with little armour to protect them. Whereas the 'little shields' tended to be more aggressive fighters with only small shields to ward off attacks.

The little shields would dance around their opponent, seeking a weak spot at which to attack. The 'great shields, would be far less mobile, waiting for the attacker to make a mistake, waiting for their moment when to lunge. Naturally a prolonged fight was always in favour of the 'great shield', for the dancing 'little shield' would grow tired.

Romans spoke of water and fire when talking of the two factions. The great shields being the calm of water, waiting for the flickering fire of the small shield to die down. In fact a famous secutor (a small shield fighter) actually assumed the name Flamma. It is also most likely that the retiarius (as well as the related laquearius), although fighting without a shield would have been classed as a 'great shield' due to his fighting style.

Along with the factions which the people might back, there were of course also the stars. These were famous gladiators who had proven themselves time and time again in the arena.
A secutor named Flamma was awarded the rudis four times. Still he chose to remain a gladiator. He was killed in his 22nd fight.

Hermes (according to the poet Martial) was a great star, a master of swordsmanship.

Other famous gladiators were Triumphus, Spiculus (he received inheritances and houses from Nero), Rutuba, Tetraides. Carpophorus was a famous bestiarius.
The greater a star became the more his loss would be felt by his master, if he was set free. Emperors were hence at times reluctant to grant liberty to a fighter and did so only if the crowd insisted.

There was no absolute as to what a gladiator would have to do in order to win his freedom, but as a rule of thumb one might say that a gladiator won five fights, or especially distinguished himself in a particular fight, he won the rudis.

In the school, the rudis was the name used for the wooden sword with which the gladiators would train. But in the arena, the rudis was the symbol of freedom. If a gladiator was given a rudis by the editor of the games it meant he had earned his freedom and could leave as a free man.

The killing of a gladiator was to modern eyes a truly bizarre affair. It was far from the mere butchery of a man. Once the editor had decided that the vanquished fighter was to die, a strange ritual took over. Perhaps this was a left-over from the days in which the fight was still a religious rite. The defeated gladiator would offer his neck to the weapon of his conqueror, and would - as far as his wounds allowed him - take a position where he was bent on one knee, gripping the other man's leg.

In this position he would then have his throat cut.

Gladiators would even be taught how to die at their gladiatorial schools. It was an essential part of the spectacle: the graceful death.

A gladiator was not to plead for mercy; he was not to scream as he was killed. He was to embrace death, he was to show dignity. More so, than just a mere demand by the audience it also appeared to be the wish of the gladiators to die gracefully. Perhaps there was a code of honour among these desperate fighting men, which made them die in such a fashion. It no doubt restored at least some of their humanity. An animal could be stabbed down and slaughtered. But only a human could die gracefully

Though with the death of a gladiator the bizarre and exotic show was not yet over.

Two strange characters would enter the arena in one of the intervals, by which time several corpses might litter the floor. One was dressed as Hermes and carried a red-hot wand with which he would prod the corpses on the ground. The second man was dressed as Charon, the ferryman of the dead. He bore with him a large mallet, which he would smash onto the skulls of the dead. Once again these actions were symbolical. The touch of Hermes' wand was supposed to be able to bring the worst enemies together. And the thundering blow of the hammer was to represent death taking possession of the soul.

But no doubt their actions were also practical in nature. The searing hot iron would quickly establish if a man was indeed dead and not merely wounded or unconscious. What precisely happened if a gladiator should indeed be found out to be well enough to survive is unclear. Because one can't help but suspect that the mallet which smashed in their skulls was meant to end whatever life was still left in them.

Once this was over the corpses would then be removed. The bearers, the libitinarii, might well carry them away, but it was also possible that they might drive a hook (the likes of which one hangs meat on) into the body and drag them out of the arena. Alternatively they might also be dragged out of the arena by a horse. Either way, they were awarded no dignity. They would be stripped and their corpses would be thrown into a mass grave.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page