Crowds flocked from miles around to watch them. They were quite a spectacle with their mad skills and flashy Roman armor. They gave an empire heroes to believe in and became the pride of the people. Indeed Roman gladiators were one of the most defining forces of ancient Rome. More than just men in Roman armor, these guys inspired many as they exemplified honor and bravery by risking their lives. While this is the basic essence of Roman gladiators, here are some interesting tidbits to give you a more complete picture.
For starters, not all gladiators were slaves. Granted, a decent portion of these men were prisoners or captives of conquests. These men were bought, sold, and traded. In addition to the slave class, however, free men also had a desire to hop on the bandwagon, as the prospect of fame and fortune was simply too enticing to resist. After all, gladiators that had a winning streak in arena matches became household names and statues of them in their Roman armor were likely to spring up. The free men who joined the gladiator ranks were comprised of all social statuses and included knights, ex-soldiers, civilians, etc. These men signed contracts with gladiator schools and were thus commissioned as fighters.
In terms of slaves who were gladiators, their lives weren’t necessarily easy; but they didn’t have it as bad as one would assume. Because good health and strength were essential, they were given adequate food and lodging. They also received training, Roman armor, and weapons. A successful slave fighter could earn his freedom if he survived enough matches. A typical gladiator career consisted of two to three fights per year for three to five years. In summary, this meant that a slave would have to make it through six to fifteen fights before he was free. Unfortunately, most slaves didn’t last this duration due to the dangerous nature of arena combat.
As for the arena matches themselves, it should be stated that rarely was a fight “to the death”. Sorry to burst your bubble of cinema excitement, but historians show that only one in five or one in ten matches culminated with death.The main goal in a gladiator match was to wound the opponent, not to kill them. Gladiators were trained accordingly wit this in mind. Arena matches would often end once a gladiator was severely injured and the unharmed fighter would be declared the winner. If the men were lucky, a fight could wrap with no injuries inflicted, given that there had been enough excitement and thrills to please the masses. And on rare occasion, a bout would come to a stalemate if the audience got bored. Seeing as how a gladiator match was considered a game, there were strict rules to follow and a referee supervised the event. In addition, combat was typically between two men and while animal fights occurred, this was not the norm.
Gladiators were a sought after commodity in ancient Rome and much value was attributed to the men behind the Roman armor. They were a loved and cherished people whose legacy has not been forgotten.