History | Fact

You Got It All Wrong About Ancient Roman Gladiators

Mayukh Bari19 June 2020 12:25PM IST
3 min read780

Gladiators are ruthless slave warriors who played deathmatch against each other - if this is what you think about them, you got it all wrong. Mostly they were like ancient MMA fighters with vicious weaponry. But of course, rules were there to limit the usage.

Gladiators were paid, had sponsors and got all the best amenities of the society. Although sometimes slave gladiators were killed in the arena - mostly for being worthless in fighting or you may say 'not entertaining at all'. Movies only portray this part of this game from which you got the idea of gladiators.

In movies, the spectators were shown bloodthirsty crowd who demanded a kill at the end of each game. In reality, they were nothing more than football fans. They had their icons and supported them in the game. They enjoyed if their hero won but never demanded a kill. But what about the King giving a thumbs down. That didn't happen either, he was too busy drinking and cheering.

Due to the huge following, gladiators had their own fanbase. They were the celebrities of ancient Rome. People used to sell dolls depicting the gladiators. Children used to play with them. Gladiators were brand ambassadors for businesses too. It was nothing but good life with a good reputation.

But the game was exhausting and there was a long line of matches. For a gladiator getting inside the arena was very tough if he was not popular enough. In average, a gladiator can fight in 40 games. After that, they retired and started a business or joined the royal council. Now let's know about these people who were an essential part of the game.


There was a referee in each match for enforcing rules. As gladiators were not supposed to blind, kill or sever genitals of the opponent - if something like these was about to happen, the referee intervened and stopped the match. Officially they were called 'Rudis'. They used to have a long wooden stick to separate gladiators or sometimes beat them up if they don't follow the rules.


The lanista was the owner or trainer of a troop of gladiators. If the gladiator was a slave then the lanista owned him too. He provided them with food, medication & training. He contacted an organiser and handed over his glad lads. They fought - Lanista got percentage - Gladiators (if not a slave) got payment. What do you think the lanista would be happy if one of his investment got killed?


The paegniarius were the entertainer who performed duels during the breaks. They had neither a helmet nor a shield but wore protective wrappings on his lower legs and head. They were entertainer for the crowd while the gladiators rested. Like a fair game this one also had a break and during this time gladiators used to drink a bit or made strategies to win the game.

Gladiators were the sportsmen of ancient Rome. The tradition started as a game of enjoyment. They were nothing less than celebrities and I bet if you were in Rome in 1st century BC, you might consider it as a career option.