previous next


GLADIATO´RES (μονουάχοι) were men who fought with swords in the circus, the forum, or in later times in the amphitheatre, for the amusement of the Roman people. ( “Gladiator est, qui in arena, populo spectante, pugnavit,” Quintil. Declam, 302.) They are said to have been first exhibited by the Etruscans, and to have had their origin from the custom of killing slaves and captives at the funeral pyres of the deceased. (Tertull. de Spectac. 12; Serv. ad Verg. A. 10.519) [FUNUS p. 893 b.] A show of gladiators was called munus, and the person who exhibited (edebat) it, editor, munerator, or dominus, who was honoured during the day of exhibition, if a private person, with the official signs of a magistrate. (Capitol. M. Anton. Philos. 23; Flor. 3.20; Cic. Att. 2.1. 9, 3.)

Gladiators were first exhibited at Rome in B.C. 264, in the Forum Boarium, by Marcus and Decimus Brutus, at the funeral of their father. (Valer. Max. 2.4, 17; Liv. Epit. 16.) They were at first confined to public funerals, but afterwards fought at the funerals of most persons of consequence, and even at those of women. (Suet. Jul. 26; Spartian. Hadr. 9.) Private persons sometimes left a sum of money in their will to pay the expenses of such an exhibition at their funerals (Cic. in Vat. 15, 37; pro Sulla, 19, 54; Hor. Sat. 2.3, 84). Combats of gladiators were also exhibited at entertainments by the degraded nobles of Campania (Athen. 4.153; Sii. Ital. 11.51), though not at Rome, and especially at public festivals by the aediles and other magistrates, who sometimes exhibited immense numbers with the view of pleasing the people. (Cic. pro Mur. 18, 37; de Off. 2.16, 55.) [AEDILES] Under the empire the passion of the Romans for this amusement rose to its greatest height, and the number of gladiators who fought on some occasions appears almost incredible. After Trajan's triumph over the Dacians, there were more than 10,000 exhibited (D. C. 68.15).

Gladiators consisted either of captives (Vopisc. Prob. 19), slaves (Suet. Vitell. 12), and condemned malefactors, or of freeborn citizens who fought voluntarily. Of those who were condemned, some were said to be condemned ad gladium, in which case they were obliged to be killed at least within a year; and others ad ludum, who might obtain their discharge at the end of three years. (Ulpian, Collat. Mos. et Rom. Leg. tit. xi. s. 7.7, 4.) Freemen who became gladiators for hire were called auctorati (quint. l.c.; Hor. Sat. 2.7, 58, with Acron's note), and their hire auctoramentum or gladiatorium (Suet. Tib. 7; Liv. 44.31). They also took an oath on entering upon the service, similar to that which is preserved by Petronius (117): “In verba Eumolpi sacramentum juravimus, uri, vinciri, verberari, ferroque necari, et quicquid aliud Eumolpus jussisset, tamquam legitimi gladiatores domino corpora animasque religiosissime addicimus.” (Compare Senec. Epist. 7.) Even under the republic free-born citizens fought as gladiators (Liv. 28.21), but they appear to have belonged only to the lower orders, and the profession was considered degrading (cf. Mommsen, C. I. L. 1.1418), though to some it had many attractions. Under the empire, however, both equites and senators fought in the arena (D. C. 51.22, 56.25; Suet. Jul. 39, Aug. 43, Ner. 12), and even women (Tac. Ann. 15.32; Suet. Dom. 4; Juv. 6.250, &c.; Stat. Silv. 1.6, 53); a practice which was at length forbidden in the time of Severus (D. C. 75.16).

Gladiators were kept in schools (ludi), where they were trained by persons called lanistae (Suet. Jul. 26; Cic. pro Rosc. Amer. 40, 118; Juv. [p. 1.917]6.216, 11.8). The whole body of gladiators under one lanista was frequently called familia (Suet. Aug. 42). They sometimes were the property of the lanistae, who let them out to persons who wished to exhibit a show of gladiators; but at other times belonged to citizens, who kept them for the purpose of exhibition, and engaged lanistae to instruct them. Thus Spartacus belonged to the school of Lentulus at Capua (Flor. 3.8), and Caesar had one at the same place. Domitian built four ludi at Rome, and there were several others in Italy and the provinces (Caes. Civ. 1.14). The number of gladiators which any citizen might keep was limited by the senate in B.C. 68 (Suet. Jul. 10), but Caligula did away with the restriction (D. C. 59.14). The superintendence of the ludi, which belonged to the emperors, was entrusted to a person of high rank, called curator or procurator. (Tac. Ann. 11.35, 13.22; Suet. Cal. 27; Wilmanns, Inscr. 1290, &c.) The arrangements of a ludus gladiatorius are now known to us from one excavated at Pompeii, a plan of which is given in Overbeck's Pompeii, p. 170. The gladiators fought in these ludi with wooden swords, called rudes (Suet. Cal. 32, 54). Great attention was paid to their diet in order to increase the strength of their bodies, whence Cicero (Cic. Phil. 2.25, 63) speaks of “gladiatoria totius corporis firmitas.” They were fed with nourishing food, called gladiatoria sagina (Tac. Hist. 2.88). A great number of gladiators were trained at Ravenna on account of the salubrity of the place (Strabo v. p.213).

Gladiators were sometimes exhibited at the funeral pyre, and sometimes in the forum, but more frequently in the amphitheatre. [AMPHITHEATRUM] The person who was to exhibit a show of gladiators published some days before the exhibition bills (libelli), containing the number and sometimes the names of those who were to fight (Cic. Fam. 2.8; Suet. Jul. 26): e. g. at Pompeii we have (C. I. L. 4.1189), “A. Suettii Certi aedilis familia gladiatoria pugnabit Pompeiis prid. Kal. Jun. venatio et vela erunt;” and similar notices. When the day came, they were led along the arena in procession, and matched by pairs (Hor. Sat. 1.7, 20); and their swords were examined by the editor to see if they were sufficiently sharp. (D. C. 68.3; Suet. Tit. 9; Lipsius, Excurs. ad Tac. Ann. 3.37). At first there was a kind of sham battle, called praelusio, in which they fought with wooden swords, or the like (Cic. de Orat. 2.78, 317; Ovid. Ars Amat. 3.515; Senec. Epist. 117), and afterwards at the sound of the trumpet the real battle began. When a gladiator was wounded, the people called out habet or hoc habet; and the one who was vanquished lowered his arms in token of submission. His fate, however, depended upon the people, who turned up their thumbs if they wished him to be killed (Hor. Ep. 1.18, 66; Juv. 3.36), and ordered him to receive the sword (ferrum recipere), which gladiators usually did with the greatest firmness. (Civ. Tusc. 2.17, 41; pro Sest. 37, 80; pro Mil. 34, 92.) A relief has been discovered at Cacillargues, showing a combat between a Samnite and a retiarius, with four spectators, one of whom, a woman, is holding up her thumbs. There is no clear evidence that the wish that mercy should be shown was expressed by pressing down the thumbs (Plin. H. No. 28.25 is barely to the point): this was indicated rather by waving handkerchiefs (Mart. 12.29, 7). If the life of a vanquished gladiator was spared, he obtained his discharge for that day, which was called missio (Mart. 12.29, 7); and hence in an exhibition of gladiators sine missione (Liv. 41.20), the lives of the conquered were never spared. This kind of exhibition, however, was forbidden by Augustus (Suet. Aug. 45).

Palms were usually given to the victorious gladiators (Suet. Cal. 32); and hence a gladiator who had frequently conquered is called “plurimarum palmarum gladiator” (Cic. pro Rosc. Amer. 6, 17); money also was sometimes given (Juv. 7.243; Suet. Cl. 21). Old gladiators, and sometimes those who had only fought for a short time, were discharged from the service by the editor at the request of the people, who presented each of them with a rudis or wooden sword; whence those who were discharged were called Rudiarii. (Cic. Philip. 2.2. 9, 74; Hor. Ep. 1.1, 2; Suet. Tib. 7; Quint. l.c.) If a person was free before he entered the ludus, he became on his discharge free again; and if he had been a slave, he returned to the same condition again, unless he received the cap of freedom (Plin. Ep. 10.40). A man, however, who had been a gladiator, was always considered to have disgraced himself, and consequently it appears that he could not obtain the equestrian rank if he afterwards acquired sufficient property to entitle him to it (Quint. l.c.); and a slave who had been sent into a ludus and there manumitted, either by his then owner or another owner, merely acquired the status of a peregrinus dediticius. (Gaius, 1.13.) [DEDITICII]

Shows of gladiators were abolished by Constantine (Cod. 11, tit. 43), but appear notwithstanding to have been generally exhibited till the time of Honorius, by whom they were finally suppressed. (Theodoret. Hist. Eccles. 5.20.)

Gladiators were divided into different classes, according to their arms and different mode of fighting, or other circumstances. (Cf. Friedländer in Rhein. Mus. 10.582 ff.) The names of the most important of these classes is given in alphabetical order:--

Andabatae (Cic. Fam. 7.1. 0) wore helmets without any aperture for the eyes, so that they were obliged to fight blindfold, and thus excited the mirth of the spectators. They are generally believed to have fought on horseback, but this is denied by Orelli (Inscr. 2577) and Friedländer; the name cannot be derived from ἀναβάτης. It is perhaps Celtic, with the meaning “blind-fighter” (Whitley Stokes, in Academy, Feb. 9, 1889).

Catervarii was the name given to gladiators when they did not fight in pairs, but when several fought together. (Suet., Aug. 45; gregati<*> dimicantes, Cal. 30.)

Dimachaeri appear to have been so called, because they fought with two swords, (Artemid. 2.32; Orelli, Inscr. 2584.)

Equites were those who fought on horseback. (Orelli, 2569, 2577; Cic. pro Sest. 59, 126.)

Essedarii fought from chariots like the Gauls and Britons. [ESSEDUM] They are frequently mentioned in inscriptions. (Orelli, 2566, 2584, &c.; cf. Petron. 45.) [p. 1.918]

Fiscales were those under the empire who were trained and supported from the fiscus. (Capitol. Gord. 33.)

Hoplomachi appear to have been those who fought in a complete suit of armour. (Suet. Cal. 35 ; Martial, 8.74; Orelli, 2566.) Lipsius considers them to have been the same with the Samnites, and that this name was disused under the emperors, and hoplomachi substituted for it.

Laquearii were those who used a noose to catch their adversaries. (Isid. 18.56.)

Meridiani were those who fought in the middle of the day, after combats with wild beasts had taken place in the morning. These gladiators were very lightly armed. (Senec. Epist. 7; Suet. Cl. 34; Orelli, 2587.)

Myrmillones are said to have been so called from their having the image of a fish (mormyr, μορμύρος) on their helmets. (Festus, s. v. Retiario.) Their arms were like those of the Gauls, and they did not differ much from the kind called Galli. They were usually matched with the retiarii or Thracians. (Cic. Phil. 3.12, 31, 7.6, 17; Juv. 8.200; Suet. Cal. 32, Dom. 10; Orelli, 2566, 2580.)

Ordinarii was the name applied to all the regular gladiators, who fought in pairs, in the ordinary way. (Senec. Epist. 7; Suet. Aug. 45, Cal. 26.)

Postulaticii were such as were demanded by the people from the editor, in addition to those who were exhibited. (Senec. l.c.

Provocatores fought with the Samnites (Cic. pro Sest. 64, 134), but we do not know anything respecting them except their name. They are mentioned in inscriptions. (Orelli, 2566.) The προβοκάτωρ mentioned by Artemidorus (2.32) appears to be the same as the provocator.

Retiarii carried only a three-pointed lance, called tridens or fuscina [FUSCINA], a dagger (V. Max. 1.7, 8), and a net (rete), which they endeavoured to throw over their adversaries, and then to attack them with the fuscina while they were entangled. The retiarius was dressed in a short tunic, and wore nothing on his head. If he missed his aim in throwing the net, he betook himself to flight, and endeavoured to prepare his net for a second cast, while his adversary followed him round the arena in order to kill him before he could make a second attempt. His adversary was usually a secutor or a myrmillo. (Juv. 2.143, 8.203; Suet. Cal. 30, Cland. 34; Orelli, 2578.) In the following

Myrmillo and Retiarius. (Winckelmann,
Monum. Ined.
pl. 197.)

woodcut a combat is represented between a retiarius and a myrmillo: the former has thrown his net over the head of the latter, and is proceeding to attack him with the fuscin<*>. The lanista stands behind the retiarius.

Samnites were so called because they were armed in the same way as that people, with a helmet with a high crest (Juv. 6.256), and were particularly distinguished by the oblong scutum. (Cf. Overbeck's Pompeii, p. 164; Liv. 9.40; Cic. pro Sest. 64, 154.)

Secutores are supposed by most writers to be so called because the secutor in his combat with the retiarius pursued the latter when he failed in securing him by his net. Other writers think that they were the same as the suppositicii, mentioned by Martial (5.24), who were gladiators substituted in the place of those who were wearied or were killed. (Suet. Cal. 30; Juv. 6.108, with the Schol., 8.210.) If the old reading in a letter of Cicero's (ad Att. 7.14) is correct, Julius Caesar had no less than 600 secutores in his ludus at Capua; but we probably ought to read scutorum instead of secutorum.

Suppositicii. See Secutores.

Thraces or Threces were armed, like the Thracians, with a round shield or buckler (Festus, s. v. Thraeces), and a short curved sword or dagger (sica, Suet. Cal. 32), which is called falx supina by Juvenal (8.201), and wore greaves on both legs. They were usually matched, as already stated, with the myrmillones. The annexed woodcut, taken from Winckelmann (l.c.),

Thracians. (Winckelmann.)

represents a combat between two Thracians, though here the swords are straight. A lanista stands behind each.

Velites had light spears (Ovid. Ib. 45; Cic. de Orat. 2.78, 316).

Paintings of gladiatorial combats, as well as of the other sports of the amphitheatre, were favourite subjects with the Roman artists. (Plin. Nat. 35.52; Capitol. Gord. 3; Vopisc. Carin. 18.) Several statues of gladiators have come down to us, which are highly admired as works of art: of these the most celebrated is the gladiator of the Borghese Collection, now in the Museum of the Louvre, and the Dying Gladiator, as it is called, in the Capitoline Museum. The latter is, however, more properly regarded now as a wounded Gaul or other barbarian. Gladiatorial combats are represented in the bas-reliefs on the tomb of Scaurus at Pompeii, and illustrate in many particulars the brief account which has been given in this article of the several classes of gladiators. These bas-reliefs are represented in the following woodcuts from Mazois (Pomp. i. pl. 32; Overbeck, Pompeii, p. 165). The figures are made of stucco, and appear to have been moulded separately, and attached to the plaster by pegs of bronze or iron. In various [p. 1.919]parts of the frieze are written the name of the person to whom the gladiators belonged, and also the names of the gladiators themselves, and the number of their victories. The first pair of gladiators on the left hand represents an equestrian combat. Both wear helmets with visors, which cover the whole face, and are armed with spears and round bucklers. In the second pair the gladiator on the left has been wounded; he has let fall his shield, and is imploring the mercy of the people by raising his hands towards them. His antagonist stands behind him waiting the signal of the people. Like all the other gladiators represented on the frieze, they wear the subligaculum or short apron fixed above the hips. The one on the left appears to be a myrmillo, and the one on the right, with an oblong shield (scutum), a Samuite. The third pair consists of a Thracian and a myrmillo, or Samnite, the latter of whom is defeated. The fourth group consists of four figures; two are secutores and two retiarii. The secutor on his knee appears

Gladiators. (From a tomb at Pompeii.)

to have been defeated by the retiarius behind him; but as the fuscina is not adapted for producing certain death, the other secutor is called upon to do it. The retiarius in the distance is probably destined to fight in his turn with the surviving secutor. The last group consists of a myrmillo and a Samnite; the latter is defeated.

In the second woodcut two combats are represented. In the first a Samnite has been conquered by a myrmillo; the former is holding up his hand to the people to implore mercy, while the latter apparently wishes to become his enemy's executioner before receiving the signal from the people; but the lanista holds him back. In the other combat a myrmillo is mortally wounded by a Samnite. It will be observed that the right arm of every figure is protected by rings of armour, which the left does not require on account of the shield. [VENATIO] (Lipsius, Saturnalia, and de Amphitheatro in Graev. Thesaur. vol. ix.; Friedländer, Sittengeschichte, vol. ii. ; Marquardt, Staatsverw., vol. iii.)

[W.S] [A.S.W]

hide References (52 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (52):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 2.8
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 2.1.3
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 2.1.9
    • Cicero, For Lucius Murena, 18
    • Cicero, For Sextus Roscius of Ameria, 40
    • Cicero, For Sextus Roscius of Ameria, 6
    • Cicero, Philippics, 3.12
    • Cicero, Against Vatinius, 15
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.2.9
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.25
    • Cicero, Philippics, 3.31
    • Cicero, Philippics, 7.17
    • Cicero, Philippics, 7.6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 40
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.519
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 45
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 27
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 32
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 35
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 54
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 34
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 10
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 26
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 39
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 7
    • Caesar, Civil War, 1.14
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.32
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.35
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.22
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.37
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.88
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.78
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 42
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 30
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 21
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 4
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 9
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.52
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 21
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 41, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 44, 31
    • Statius, Silvae, 1.6
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.29
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.7
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.24
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.74
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.1
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.18
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 1.7
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 1.8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: