|Did You Know?
Contrary to what popular movies would have you believe, gladiators did not always fight to death. In reality, most fights were done under the supervision of a referee, who would usually stop the fight once any of the participants were severely wounded.
While most fights ended this way, in rare cases, both the fighters were also permitted to leave the arena with awards and honor, if they managed to put up an exciting display for the audience. On the other hand, a long-drawn and boring match could also end in a stalemate. This happened because training and maintaining a good standard of fighters was an expensive business, and regular killing of such skilled fighters was not practical.
Origins of Roman Gladiators
The first gladiatorial games were held in 246 BC by Marcus and Decimus Brutus as a funeral gift for their dead father, where the slaves fought each other to death. The earliest gladiators were either slaves or prisoners of war, who fought other men or animals for the entertainment of spectators. With time even convicts were sentenced to death by fighting in the arena. With the increasing popularity of this blood sport, free men volunteered to fight in such matches, as the rewards for winners were very rich. Let us now look at the names of famous Roman gladiators, who were considered the best of their time.
Famous Ancient Roman Gladiators
Spartacus (109 BC - 71 BC) is considered to be the greatest gladiator in Roman history. He was a Thracian prisoner of war, who served in the Roman army, and eventually became a thief. He was then caught and sold to lanista Lentulus Batiatus, a trainer of a gladiatorial school. After training to be a gladiator, Spartacus started a massive rebellion against the Roman empire, after escaping with several other slave fighters, and creating an army with over 70,000 men. He is the only person in this list to have never actually fought in the arena.
The Roman emperor Commodus (117 - 192 AD) was one of the most famous Roman gladiators in the history of the sport. The emperor fought as a secutor, and he boasted of winning over a thousand matches. He had all the newspapers and public notices inscribed with the records of his appearances in the games. However, in reality, most of these matches were rigged, and he would usually fight opponents who were weak, or those who had poor weapons. He was thought to be a violent, cruel, and tactless person. Emperor Claudius was another ruler, who often fought in rigged matches. Other Roman emperors such as Titus, Hadrian, Geta, Caracalla, and Didius Julianus, were also known to have occasionally taken part in gladiatorial contests. The emperor Caligula was also known to force members of the audience to fight gladiators or animals in the arena.
Flamma was an exceedingly popular secutor, who was awarded with a rudis (small wooden sword) four times during his career, for his impressive fighting skills. Although he was initially a Syrian slave, this award enabled him to take early retirement and become a free man. However, he refused his freedom on all four occasions, and chose to continue fighting as a gladiator for the rest of his life. His gravestone states his record to be an impressive 21 wins from 34 matches, of which 9 were draws, and only four were defeats. Despite his awesome record, he was killed at a young age of 30, due to the risky nature of the sport.
Priscus and Verus
Not much is known about these two gladiators. However, records state that when these two gladiatorial rivals faced off against each other, they were so evenly matched, that their fight lasted for hours. Eventually, both of them conceded their defeat to each other. Seeing their amazing skill and spirit, the roman emperor Titus awarded them with the rudis, and these slave fighters walked out of the arena as free men.
Marcus Attilius was a regular Roman citizen, who sold himself to a gladiatorial school, to get money to pay his debts. He was known for defeating the champion gladiator of emperor Nero, called Hilarus, who had won 13 fights in a row previously. He also beat another champion named Raecius Felix, who had won 12 times in a row before being defeated by Marcus Attilius, after which Felix was granted freedom.
The gladiator Spiculus was on very good terms with emperor Nero, during his reign. In fact, he won himself vast amounts of land, slaves, and other prizes from the emperor, for his fighting skills. When the emperor was overthrown in 68 AD, he wanted Spiculus to take his life, but after being unable to find the gladiator, emperor Nero committed suicide.
The right-hand man of Spartacus, Crixus was a fearsome Gaulish warrior, who fought during the third Servile War. So great were his feats, that he was given the name 'The Undefeated Gaul', by his comrades, although he was eventually killed in 72 BC. Spartacus sacrificed 300 captives to honor Crixus' name.
Mevia was a famous female Roman gladiatrix. Records exist of her fighting as a beastiarii against animals such as wild boars and leopards, with a spear. However, unlike her male counterparts, her fights were seen only as a curiosity, by making her fight animal opponents topless. Amazon and Achillia were also female gladiatrices who gained a certain level of fame in the games. Even a few roman noblewoman have been known to take up the sport.
A very famous murmillo fighter of his time, Tetraites, was known all across the roman empire. He was known to fight with only a sword, shield, and basic armor. Archaeologists found graffiti depicting his victories in the ruins of Pompeii. They also discovered pottery showing his triumphs in regions as far as modern-day England and France.
One the best bestiarii in history, Carpophorus was known for fighting many wild animals at the same time. He is best known for defeating a leopard, bear, lion, and rhinoceros at the same time in one battle, and a total of 20 animals in the same day during the opening of the Flavian amphitheater, which led to him being compared to the Roman demigod Hercules.
Not a lot is known about this gladiator, except from what we can learn from a few poems written about him. These poems written by a poet named Martial state that Hermes was an exceptionally skilled fighter, who was adept at using all kinds of weapons. He was known to bring fear into any foe, and that he had the strength of three men.
Similar to superstars of today, gladiators were worshiped by the masses. They were considered as an important method of keeping the citizens of the kingdom happy, by most Roman emperors. However, the life of a gladiator was usually far from comfortable. They had to train on their assigned weapon throughout their career, and had to fight at least 35 battles or for a duration of 6 years, whichever came earlier. Few gladiators survived that long, due to the high risk of the game. This practice continued till these games were finally completely banned in the 5th century.