Dust rises as two combatants circle around each other, expertly skirting rapid deadly blows, almost intuitively. A spear is thrust with immense force as an extension of a ropey fore-arm, but is batted away with the arc of a shield wielding back-arm. The spear-wielder staggers and is stopped by the hilt of the other man’s short sword; he falls limp to the ground, his blood darkening the earthen floor. And the crowd goes crazy. Although pitting humans against each other for entertainment still happens today, it has never been, and hopefully never will be, as brutal as Gladiatorial Games. Here are some interesting facts about Gladiators.
It wasn’t a bloody free for all
Not that it wasn’t bloody, it was, and it was exceptionally brutal also, but the warriors pitted against each other were of similar skill and size, much like modern day fighters. Also, there were many different categories of gladiators each with their own unique set of defensive and offensive weaponry, and only combatants that could fight a fair fight with their arsenal of choice would be put up against each other. Some of the warriors would be heavily armoured demanding a slower more deliberate technique while others would be lightly armoured, which benefited a fast, quick moving style of fighting. The strangest of all gladiatorial classes though, was that of Retiarii who only had and armoured sleeve that extended to slightly over the chest, a loincloth, but no shield or even a helmet and were only armed with a net, a trident and a four bladed dagger. Yep, you read that right a four bladed dagger. They did occasionally wear a head-band though, because getting stinging sweat in your eyes is such a hassle when someone is trying to run you through like a shih kabob.
Not all of them were slave and convicts
Initially, slaves were the primary societal class that gladiators were taken from, but as the blood sport evolved so did the prizes and celebrity of these fighters. Eventually, free men (and women) started volunteering to become gladiators, by joining a gladiatorial school. Gladiators were generally considered a lower social class and most were even denied citizens’ rights, yet even senators and ex-soldiers forfeited their elite status for the glory and wealth to be found in the Gladiatorial Arena. Some did it for the simple reason of excitement and others to prove their prowess as a warrior. Eventually, not only did the profession of Gladiator receive star status, they were also regarded as sex symbols, with their fair share of fans clubs and conquests including women from Ancient Rome’s upper societal crust. Some women were said to wear hair clips and pendants dipped in the blood of their favourite gladiator and children played with gladiator action figures.
Body type and Diet
The ancient gladiators, or should I say the Ancient Romans, were fully aware of the benefit of supplements for athletes. The gladiators would drink (probably a hellishly tasting concoction of) either bone or plant ash that was rich in minerals, especially calcium, after the physical excursion from their training. Also, due to their diet of mainly beans and grains, which is deficient in minerals, the supplementation would be necessary for their bones to repair themselves and strengthen. Due to their diets being so carb rich, archaeologists speculate that most gladiators would have carried a bit of weight around their mid-sections and weren’t the muscled brutes that Hollywood depicts them as. This had a duel role of protecting the fighters vital organs, nerves and arteries which are located in the abdominal region, but also to offer a better spectacle, because a non-fatal wound would draw blood, but the fight could go on.
There were 30 different types
The stereotypical broad-brimmed, helmeted warrior with a bare-chest and a shield was just one variation of over 30 different categories or classes of gladiator. Some were heavily armoured with metal plates, others were completely unarmoured other than leather hand-wraps with metal studs on them. Most of the gladiators’ armaments intended to represent the armies of nations conquered by the Roman Empire. Some of the strangest weapons used by gladiators were a crescent shaped blade mounted on a gauntlet that would cover the combatants’ forearm and a four pointed dagger held by the Retiarii who only had a net and sword to protect them. Although the majority of gladiators fought on foot, some would actually start the bout on horseback or on a chariot and graduate to the Arena floor after a predestined amount of time.
There were hooligans too
As the brutal spectacle evolved, including the participants and the weapons used, so did the fans. Some factions followed favourite gladiator types and others were regional. Most of these rivalries ended in the same way sports team rivalries end today, in mayhem, chaos and serious injury. One of the most famous cases was when the Nuceria region visited Pompeii. The two teams started slinging insults at each other, which eventually lead to stones being thrown and the events finally culminated in a full out riot. Although most of the times Nero allowed the factions to fight and would only intervene if things got out of hand, this time he prohibited Pompeii from having Gladiatorial Games for ten years of punishment.
It wasn’t (always) a fight to the death
Although most people assume that gladiatorial matches ended in the death of one of the two participants, there were other outcomes. Because gladiators were considered ‘commodities’ much like a prize winning race horse or a show dog, and after their owners spent a lot of time and money on training and housing, death wasn’t the most popular outcome. Actually a tie could be called, a victory through a forfeiting opponent and the victory due to incapacitating injury of your opponent. If the combatants actually fought with exceeding honor, valor and impressed the audience, they could both walk away from the match. Finally, a gladiator could “tap-out” by raising a single finger in the air and then allowing the audience to choose his fate.
Are there any other interesting facts about gladiators that I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comment section below.