Who were the GLADIATORS really?

could someone please clear up this gladiator business for me? in the ancient roman empire, the gladiators who fought to the death in the colisseum…

one tv show i saw said gladiators were for the most part volunteers who liked the glory, fame and pay and chose to go into that profession…another show said gladiators were convicted criminals who were given a chance to fight for their lives instead of just being executed…and another show said gladiators were pows, captured soldiers from lands the romans conquered…maybe it was a mix of all three? can anyone clear this up, thankyou:smack::smack::smack::smack:

It likely was a mix of all 3, but there were certainly professional gladiators. They went to gladiator school to learn the skills, competed at the local level, moved up to the regional levels and if they were good enough, they would end up in the Colosseum in front of the Emperor. Think of them as we do professional wrestlers, although it wasn’t fake and dying was always a possibility. Perhaps more like bull fighters who fought each other as well as wild animals. It was all for show, but they were fighting for their lives and for their living. I believe a top notch gladiator was well taken care of and didn’t have many cares in the world.

Well, beyond caring how much of a delight they were to the ladies, or what gods other gladiators worshiped.

as for the so called ladies, i saw on tv, so it must be true, that during gladiator matches patrons could buy meade, which is their booze, food and whores at the colosseum…apparently watching gladiators kill each other made guys horny…same thing happens to me when i watch the ufc

OK, a lot of wrong and half-wrong information above.

First, gladiatorial matches varied considerably in character across the Empire (although they were much more common in the western section of the Empire). Everything from the neighborhood to the quality of attendee, to the quality and permanence of facilities, to the type of shows varied over time and location according to public tastes, the whim of officials, and what happened to be available. You didn’t necessarily start out pleasing the provinces, either, as the better schools might not want to risk their best stock for the lesser fees and events.

That said, we can say a lot about the gladiators: with a few exceptions, they were in some fashion condemned men, either for a crime that might have otherwise been a death sentence or lead to a short life at hard labor, or were captured in war, or were otherwise enslaved. The last part is the key, because for the Roman, to be a gladiator was almost synonymous with being degraded to the lowest of the low. They came from every corner of the Empire and well beyond its borders solely to fight and died for the gratification of the crowd. But for the crowd, the individual was to be stripped away (perhaps one reason they so often fought in face-concealing helmets). The Roman would have been put out to have to face the literal consequence of its narcissistic bloodlust.

There were a few volunteers, though, and for a high enough fee former gladiators would sometimes join games that had been of poor quality. For all their low social status, gladiators had a certain cache’ and were often minor celebrities. If they did well, a long career with a retirement job training fighters or even outright freedom wasn’t unimaginable. Even while still performing, they might earn money and women not uncommonly threw themselves at the rock-stars of the arenas. For men with poor prospects, or who had a lot of confidence, a life under gladiatorial discipline was an option.

IIRC, fatalities in fights were relatively rare and while many Gladiators would die on the sands, many more survived to earn their freedom.

so did the gladiators get free whores then?

No. They might get groupies. But if they wanted whores, they had to pay, like anybody else. That’s pretty much how whoring works.

This is true of most things in history. When people think of Rome, they invariably think of the period surrounding Julius Caesar. There was actually a fair amount of variety and change over the centuries, so to say, “The Romans did X” without specifying a time and place is kind of misleading.

I suspect a good deal of faking went on, at least at some levels.

From I, Claudius, Livia addresses the gladiators (a dramatization, NOT a cite!):

Rome was a very militaristic society, so gladiator contests were also demostrations of fighting styles and even historical reenactments. Imagine professional wrestling combined with public executions and a little bit of the History channel for good measure.

So the Roman era equivalent of Ax Men?

TMI, amigo. TMI.

[hijack]I was going to riff on Taxman when I realized that with the ripping guitar work right after the word Taxman the song could have just as easily been titled “Ax man” (I’m the ax man…insert shredding guitar here).

Wasn’t fighting to the death a rarity?

the nature of how they usually got/recruited gladiators changed throughout time

Doubt it. This sounds like modern people trying not to believe that ancients (or anybody) could do such horrible things, like the liberal professor who told me that the Aztecs probably “really didn’t engage in cannibalism, when the gentry got the satchels of meat, they probably just took a nibble” Yeah right. They sacrifice someone and claim that eating him is good, but they don’t have the balls to follow through?
And that’s the issue with that mentality. For stuff like that, either cannibalism in Aztec times, or Roman Gladiatorial combat, or any absurd cruelty that people engaged in, there is no real half-doing it. If you’re going to be making people fight violently, and you accept it’s OK if they die sometimes, why wouldn’t it be OK everytime?

I’m sure more middle-class merchants who wanted to entertain guests would sometimes maybe only put on a boxing show, rather than waste the full cost of a slave, but the gentry who could afford whatever, and the government-paid-for games, most certainly could afford to buy slaves to kill them, and would put on the full show.

Volunteers were called auctorati; condemned men, prisoners of war and slaves were called damnati.

In Mary Beard’s works she says that fighting to the death was actually rarer than we think; of course some bouts would be fighting to the death and others wouldn’t, and most gladiators would fight in both types. Gladiators were expensive to train - they were showmen - so their owners didn’t just throw them away after one fight.

From the statistics she cited from the time of, I think, Nero, a Gladiator would have a 33% chance of surviving any individual bout, but they didn’t actuallly partake in that many bouts (maybe four a year) so they could actually survive long enough to win their freedom, sometimes.

The convicted criminals sent into the ring against lions and such like weren’t exactly gladiators; they hadn’t been trained to fight or anything, this was just their method of execution with the tiny prospect of staying alive and the larger prospect of their children keeping their property if they went into the fight, and an “honourable” end.

There were also showpieces demonstrating noteworthy battles and the participants were not that likely to die because they didn’t really need to. Get a bang on the armour, fall down, get pulled away at the end of the show and maybe have a few bruised ribs, but death wasn’t the likely result for most of the players.

It depends on the time period, and also on the nature of the fight in question. Some fights were basically executions done in a way to entertain the crowd. Some fights paired gladiators against exotic beasts. The main purpose of those fights was to showcase the Emperor’s power and control over the world by showing off the exotic beast. Sometimes the beast wasn’t even killed. Other times, well, you could have the example of when Emperor Comodus was showing off his abilities as Hercules reborn (as he called himself) and he slaughtered a hundred lions in one day.

In the early days, the fights were more likely to be lethal. As the popularity of arena fights grew, the demand outpaced the available number of gladiators. In later times, historians have found specific fights advertised as being to the death, indicating that fights that weren’t to the death were much more common by that era. Even then though I’m not sure that I would use the word “rarity”. It’s just that in an entire afternoon’s worth of fights, maybe only a few would be to the death.