Three pairs of slaves who were selected from among 22 prisoners of war, were chosen to fight at the funeral. The first gladiator fight took place in the Forum Boarium, a cattle market in Rome. As this was the funeral of a prominent aristocrat and held in a public area, the event was likely to have drawn a large crowd. This first gladiatorial fight was a clever idea as it also brought political prestige to their family¹s name. So the beginning of gladiator history and combat started with a funeral.
Gladiator History - The Roman Funeral
Why did Gladiator History and gladiatorial combat relate to the Roman funeral, what was the connection? The religion of the Romans revolved around the worship of various pagan gods and their belief in the afterlife. Romans believed that human sacrifice at the dead person's funeral would appease the Roman gods and ensure a satisfactory entrance into the afterlife. Earlier customs of sacrificing prisoners on the graves of warriors were adopted by the Romans. Ceremonies connected with funerals lasted for nine days at the end of which a sacrifice was made. The Romans believed that "souls of the dead were propitiated by human blood..." Gladiator history moved on as the preparation for their funeral rites involved enemy captives or slaves being bought, trained to kill and then sacrificed during the funeral rites. This sacrificial ceremony, was called a munus. A munus was a duty paid to a dead ancestor by his descendants, with the intention of keeping alive his memory.
Gladiator History - The God Charon
At these ceremonies slaves or servants attended the funeral dressed as Charon, a Roman god of the dead. In Roman religion the god Charon ferried the dead across the Styx and an attendant, playing the role of Charon, symbolically carried away the bodies of the dead gladiators during the religious ceremonies. This symbolism was later transferred to the Roman Colosseum and other arenas when dead gladiators were escorted by a figure depicting Charon from the arena.
Gladiator History - The Rise of the Gladiator Games
The first gladiator fight was so successful that other Roman aristocrats soon copied the idea. The events grew bigger and more elaborate and at the funeral of P. Licinius Crassus, who had been Pontifex Maximus 120 gladiators fought and funeral games were celebrated for three days; at the end of which time a public banquet was given in the forum. Gladiator history then moved on when prominent Roman patrician families competed against each other to produce the best games. What had started with Decimus Junius Brutus Scaeva organising just three matches as funeral games transformed into public performances, sponsored by politicians.
Gladiator History - From Religious to Political Events
Gladiator History had started with the provision of Gladiatorial Games at funerals. History then moved on and the gladiatorial games were seen as a method to appease the Roman gods and avert Rome from disaster. The Ancient Romans who were responsible for staging such events grew in popularity, so the 'games' became political events by which prominent Romans could gain popularity with the mob. By the first century A.D. providing gladiatorial games even became a requirement of some public offices.
Gladiator History - The Wooden Arenas and the Colosseum
Gladiator history and the building of the massive Roman Colosseum grew from the custom of funeral games and were organised as public events by wealthy Roman aristocrats and Patricians because the games were so popular with the 'mob'. At first gladiator fights were held in small wooden arenas. The word “arena” means sand, a reference to the thick layer of sand on the floor for the purpose of soaking up the blood of the dead and wounded gladiators and animals.
Gladiator History - Gladiatorial Schools and Troupes of Gladiators
Gladiators became big business. Large sums of money could be won by gambling on the outcome of gladiatorial combat. Political careers could be launched on the back of spectacular games. Gladiators were formed into troupes (famila) which were under the overall control of a manager (lanista) who made the decisions of where and when a famila fought and he could even hire out the gladiators. Schools for gladiators emerged providing excellent training in weapons and combat techniques. Gladiators were recruited to the schools from slaves, criminals and prisoners of war. Wealthy Romans invested in the troupes of gladiators. Elite Romans then personally owned troupes of gladiators.
Gladiator History - Spartacus
There were many Famous Gladiators but this Gladiator history must include the most famous gladiator of all times - Spartacus. Spartacus was the man who was taken as a prisoner of war, sold as a slave and selected to train as a gladiator. He was sent to one of the best, and strictest, training schools. The gladiatorial school (ludus) was located near Capua and belonged to a lanista called Lentulus Batiatus. Spartacus led a revolt of the gladiators were were in training. The gladiators escaped and fled to Mount Vesuvius, where many other slaves joined him. Spartacus created an army of gladiators who defeated several Roman forces, devastating Southern Italy and terrifying the Romans. The army of gladiators fought through a cordon which Marcus Licinius Crassus stretched across the "toe" of Italy. Spartacus was killed in a battle with Crassus in Lucania. Prisoners were taken from the army of gladiators but instead of being sold they were executed. 6,000 men endured the terrible punishment of Crucifixion crucified along the Appian Way. The rebellion had been squashed and Gladiator history moved relentlessly on.
Gladiator History - The State takes over the Games
The games organised by Julius Caesar, on the death of his daughter Julia, featured 320 paired gladiator matches. The sheer number of gladiators under the control of eminent citizens was getting out of hand.
They could be used as a private army. At the end of the Roman Republic the Senate assumed control over the gladiators and the munera (games). Roman courts were given the authority to sentence criminals to gladiatorial schools. The Roman Republic was finished a new era - the Roman Empire, ruled by the Emperors, had begun.
Gladiator History - The Amphitheatres
As the popularity of the games grew large amphitheatres, made of stone, were built to house the games. The amphitheatres were round or oval in shape and their design was taken from joining two half circle wooden theatres together (the word "amphi" means 'both sides'). The first stone built amphitheatre in Ancient Rome which was called the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus. It was built in 29 BC, on the Campus Martius. It was followed by the massive Roman Colosseum which was opened in 80AD and built by the Flavian family of Emperors - Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.
Gladiator History - The Roman Emperors
The popularity of the gladiatorial games was such that even Roman Emperors wanted to join in the combats. The Emperor Commodus actually fought as a gladiator in the Colosseum and ordered his fights to be inscribed in the public records - ensuring his place in gladiator history.
Gladiator History - The Free Gladiators
The 'games' had become increasingly more important to the Romans. Gladiator history had begun with slaves, criminals and prisoners of war being forced into the roles of gladiators. By the period of the Roman Empire all this changed. Free men started to enrol as gladiators. Some were ex- soldiers, some wanted the adulation and the glory and some needed money to pay their debts. Gladiators were allowed to keep any prizes or gifts they were given during gladiatorial games. These free gladiators were called Auctorati who sold themselves to gladiator schools for money, swearing of a legal agreement agreeing to submit to beating, burning, and death by the sword if they did not perform as required. Even Female Gladiators (some noble and wealthy) appeared in the arena. Free gladiators played a surprising role in Gladiator history.
Gladiator History - Different Types of Gladiators
Documented and graphic descriptions of gladiatorial combat illustrates Gladiator History and in particular the many different types of gladiators who entertained spectators in the bloody arenas of Ancient Rome. Gladiators were divided into different classes according to their weapons and fighting styles. These are all fully detailed via the following links to more gladiator history:
Gladiator History - Different types of Gladiators
Gladiator History - The End of the Gladiatorial Games
The Gladiatorial games and Gladiator history ended during the reign of the Emperor Honorius. A victory over the Goths was being celebrated at the Roman Colosseum but was interrupted by an Egyptian monk named Telemachus, pleading for the games to stop. He was killed but his plea was the catalyst which ended the gladiatorial games. The Emperor Honorius, decreed the end of gladiatorial contests in 399 AD. The last known gladiator fight in the city of Rome occurred on January 1, 404 AD which finished gladiator history in Rome.
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