The History of Gladiators

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The idea of gladiatorial combat (munera) originated from fights at Etruscan burials in memory of a person who died. The Romans perfected it. They varied it to suit the blood thirst crowds of Rome and eventually the rest of the empire. It was still used to honour someone though. Often, especially in Rome, it was used to honour the emperor. However, in other parts of the vast empire, the person honoured was the sponsor. the person who held the event) The Coliseum was the pride of the Roman Empire, built by Titus, situated in Rome on the same land as Nero’s golden palace was once situated, the Coliseum held 45,000 people seated and 5,000 standing. The tiered seating left the upper class senators and the emperor seated closest to the arena, middle class me behind them, and then women and lower class people standing at the top. The arena was covered in fine sand (harena) that was imported from North Africa. The sand cleaned up the blood that was commonly spilt.

The emperor gave the people gladiatorial games free, in compensation for the people not being allowed to vote. The Emperor also had bread handed out to the people in between events to keep the people’s support. The gladiators were obviously the main attraction. However, in they did not enter the arena until the early afternoon. In the morning there were beast hunts where beasts hunted each other and man hunted beasts. At lunchtime there were public executions where convicts and in the latter Roman years, Christians were executed by any means possible.

Commonly animals such as lions were used to execute the prisoners in order to please the crowd. From lunch time to early evening the main attraction was shown- the Gladiatorial conflicts. Usually two different types of Gladiators fought. One might be laden with armour, armed with a curved sword (murmillo) and another might have weighted net, trident and light armour. This provided interesting fights and betting on the winner was common. Gladiators were so called after the Latin name for a sword-Gladius. Many were slaves or prisoners of war although some lower class people did volunteer.

This meant that they were usually the lowest of the low and treated very badly by citizens, even if they were given their freedom and handed the wooden sword (rudis) to signify that they no longer had to fight with real weapons. Here is a fictional story of a fight in the gladiatorial arena of the Coliseum; The sun certainly is out in full today. I am very glad of the awning that shades spectators from the sun. I have been told that over a thousand naval personnel are needed to run that complicated awning. The gladiators are entering the arena now from the doors in the marble wall in the side.

Looks like it will be a great fight between about five Retiarius and four Murmillos. This is a common combination but it still always captivates the spectators. What civilised people we Romans are to coordinate such fights between two humans for the benefit of the people. The games are about to commence. This is a reasonable small fight in Coliseum terms. Usually there are more fighting at once. These gladiators must be some of the best and will give us a good show. A Murmillo suddenly thrashes forward, just slicing the arm of a retiarius.

The crowd roar. The fighting all of a sudden begins and all are involved in their own individual conflicts. The band begins to play a familiar tune, making the atmosphere in the Coliseum friendly, for the spectators that it. We are safely perched up here watching violence occur down below. I wouldn’t say I’m that safe though. Spectators are crammed together in some of the most uncomfortable ways. At present a woman has her leg lodged in my back. The fights are worth it though. Leg lodged in my back-but it’s worth it!

All of a sudden an armour clad murmillo falls to the ground, blood pouring from his stomach, the only place that is left unprotected by armour. The crowd are ecstatic. After about ten minutes or so the fight is nearly ended. Only two remain. One of these is a Retiarius and the second is an injured Murmillo, who after a good fight has conceded. Now he calls upon the crowd who shall decide whether he shall live or die. It appears that this gladiator is lucky. The crowd call out ‘mitte’ (release him) and are waving the hem of their garment. He is allowed to go free this time after the emperor grants his departure.

The victorious gladiator then approaches the emperor and receives his prize of money and a palm branch. Obviously the emperor did not think too highly of the fighting though because the gladiator has not been awarded the laurel crown, which is awarded for an outstanding performance. The victor then started his victory run around the arena, the crowd began shouting, some cheering, some jeering. The smell in the arena now is disgusting. Not only do other people around me smell horrible, but the stench of blood is trapped under the awning and all the spectators have to endure it for a length of time.

The sprinklers begin to compensate for the smell. They begin spraying perfumed water out from above us, making the air smell sweet again. The water also makes the dust clouds disappear and also clears the dust from our throats. Bread is handed out freely! The fight has finished but the crowd remained seated. They await bread loaves to be thrown out to them. Sometimes the bread is thrown out at the beginning but usually it is thrown to the crowd at the end of the fight. The bread and the games are in theory free.

The emperor gives us citizens these amenities but has taken our ability to vote from us. In this way he believes the ‘mob’ of Romans will remain controlled but also he ensures that he can not be voted out. Now the bread has been given out from people in aisles and standing in the arena, the crowds file out of the mighty coliseum. There are about 80 exits in total, this means all of the crowd can leave in about ten minutes. The crowd leave thoroughly satisfied after the days performances, and they will probably return tomorrow.

At the end of the day, few Romans would not have enjoyed a day at the games. The Romans were fascinated by the games, maybe due to the fact that the Roman Empire had been built through fighting and combat in the arena allowed the citizens to enjoy what Romans strived at from the safety of the seats, above the wall of marble. The wall became a barrier in the arena, between barbarism in the arena and a crowd who believed they were very civilised. The Gladiators, because they were thought to be so barbaric were treated in the utmost disrespect once out of the arena.

Even if the gladiator was awarded the wooden sword by the emperor, signifying freedom and no more need to fight with real weapons, the gladiator was hated by citizens. Nowadays, such events would be thought to be barbaric, uncivilised and inhumane, but in Roman times, such an event was loved, the Romans loved the blood, the camaraderie and the free food. The games would also have been loved by the emperor, not only because they also liked the fighting and the blood but also because the games ensured popularity, and made an emperor loved or hated depending on what he showed and how often it was showed.

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