The truth about the Roman gladiator

Are you fascinated by gladiator, that killer-for-hire who entertained thousands back in ancient Rome’s heyday?

Mosaic at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid showing a retiarius named Kalendio (shown surrendering in the upper section) fighting a secutor named Astyanax.  Image credit*

Mosaic at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid showing gladiatorial combat. Image credit*

Whether you love them or loathe them, you’ll enjoy Pennsylvania State University historian Garrett Fagan‘s talk Myths and Realities about the Roman Gladiator (iTunes).

With his Irish brogue and mordant sense of humor, Fagan separates the historical facts from the fanciful fictions that surround the gladiator.

A few tidbits from the lecture:

  • Not all gladiators were slaves. Some patricians and even emperors took turns in the arena.
  • The thumbs-up, thumbs-down routine was a Hollywood invention. Sources tell us that the audience made some sign with their thumbs, but we don’t know what it was. Oh, and the final live-or-die decision was made by the sponsor who bankrolled the games.
  • Think the crowd was mostly idle riffraff? Think again. By law most of the seats were reserved for patricians, equestrians and the “clean free-born,” that is those citizens rich enough to have clean clothes.

If this talk leaves you wanting even more, you’ll want to check out Fagan’s other iTunes U lecture Roman Arenas and Crowd Dynamics (iTunes).

Related posts:

*Image credit: Wikipedia. Public domain.
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2 Responses to The truth about the Roman gladiator

  1. charleyjk4 says:

    The Roman gladiator had sex appeal.He was the equivalent
    of the modern rock star.There was an animal quality to his
    performance in the arena.Women used to mob gladiators
    and threw personal effects like flowers and under wears at
    them.
    They were models for young boys who idolized them.

    Society became scandalized by affairs that occurred
    between
    aristocrats and gladiators.The Empress,Faustina slept with
    one at a sea port in the empire.
    Nine months later,she delivered Commodus.
    I wonder what Marcus Aurelius said about the tryst?

  2. Great info here on this site. Here’s my contribution!

    The best school for Gladiators was to Lentulo Battiato, from which came the now world famous Gladiator Spartacus.

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