Roman gladiators and the coliseum
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Roman Gladiators and the Coliseum. The Coliseum. Travertine marble from Tivoli via a special road 527 meters in circumference 188m X 156m Arena area: 3,500 square meters Height 57 meters Awnings Seating 45,000 with another 5,000 standing. Typical Schedule. Morning – beast hunts

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Roman Gladiators and the Coliseum

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Roman Gladiators and the Coliseum

The Coliseum

  • Travertine marble from Tivoli via a special road

  • 527 meters in circumference

  • 188m X 156m

  • Arena area: 3,500 square meters

  • Height 57 meters

  • Awnings

  • Seating 45,000 with another 5,000 standing

Typical Schedule

  • Morning – beast hunts

  • Lunch Time – executions

  • Afternoon – Gladiators

  • Usually about 10 days a year. Fans spent all day at the special event.

  • Individual gladiators only fought about 2-3 times a year.

How did the Displays get put on?

  • The Government regulated Gladiators:

    • Set up Gladiator schools

    • Procuring wild animals – the more exotic the better!

      • Hippos, rhinos, lions, tigers, bears, ostriches…

  • Competition – Entertainment was the Goal!

    • Gladiators

      • Did not fight animals – animal fighters called beastiaries

      • Gladiators usually evenly matched to ensure a dramatic fight

    • Animal Fights – could have different numbers of animals and men as well as unusual fighting combinations


  • Each “festival day” planned to be an impressive event to draw in massive crowds. – each bigger and better than the last.

  • Creative pairings of animals or evenly matched trained fighters were sure to spark interest and ensure impressive fighting.

Becoming a Gladiator

  • Usually recruited from slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war

  • Training a gladiator was expensive so the gladiator was considered the property of the trainer

  • Gladiator schools were called ludi


  • Worn to ward off small wounds

    • Don’t want a gladiator unable to fight due to something minor.

    • Large wounds would be fatal anyway

  • Regulations on kinds of armor worn to ensure a fair fight

  • Helmets made gladiators look sinister

    • Maybe made killing a long time training partner a bit easier – metal mesh covered the eye holes.


The Gladiatorial Combat Itself

  • Gladiator Banquet the night before: public allowed to view the fighters (made for lively betting the next day)

  • Day of Combat

    • Gladiator parade

    • Weapons examined

    • Music

    • Betting

Gladiator Specialties

  • Samite – carried a sword, rectangular shield, armor on right arm and left leg

  • Thracian – short sword (sica), and small round shield (parma)

  • Retiarius– no armor but had a net and a 3 pronged trident

Decisions, Decisions

  • Gladiators fought to render the other fighter helpless

  • Once one fighter was helpless, the victorious gladiator turned to the sponsor to decide if the loser should live or die

  • The crowd sometimes swayed the decision

  • Thumbs Up = kill him

  • Thumbs Down = spare him to fight another day

  • If thumbs up the loser extends his neck to be killed.

  • Losing gladiators sometimes spared if they fought bravely

  • Gladiators were low on social scale – usually began as prisoners or criminals

  • Gladiators could become heroes if successful fighters

  • If a gladiator survived 3-5 years they were often set free

Did Combat automatically end in death?

  • No, a very successful fighter might eventually earn his freedom

  • Most eventually died in battle

  • Inscriptions on graves gave info about age and number of fights

  • Average gladiator age was 18-22

Gladiator Games only one form of Public Entertainment

  • Theater and Plays

  • Chariot Races (really dedicated fans)

  • Gladiators

  • Religious Festivals

  • Readings and Speeches

  • Same people go to ALL of these types of events – people don’t tend to be as diverse today

Gladiatorial Fights

  • Huge increase in scale over time

  • First match held at a funeral celebration in 264 BCE with 3 pairs of gladiators (an Etruscan tradition before this)

  • 216 BCE = 22 pairs of fighters

  • 183 BCE = 60 pairs of fighters

  • Julius Caesar has an event in 65 BCE in honor of his father that has 160 pairs of fighters

  • 107 CE Emperor Trajan has a 123 day festival with 10,000 pairs of fighters

Roman Culture more Violent than Today

  • Gladiators

  • Beast Hunts

  • Public Executions

  • Naval Battles

  • Plays with Violence

  • Animal Sacrifices

  • There were no hospitals so people died at home

Gladiator Shows Mirror Basic Issues of Roman Life

  • Military Training

  • Military Domination of the World

  • Gladiators as lessons in life

    • Examples of courage

    • Public executions were reassurance that crime didn’t pay

Social Classes

  • The Coliseum brought together a variety of people but also defined them into groups

    • The watching and the watched

    • Social classes in the stands

      • Dress: Emperor wore a purple toga, senators a purple stripe on their toga, military displayed medals

      • Seating Area – high class was closer to the action

      • Entrances – separate upper class entrances to the arena

Contemporary Mosaic

Another Mosaic

Movie Trailer…


American Gladiator

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