13. They Didn’t Just Fight People, They Fought Animals Too
Now we come to the famed depictions of gladiators fighting lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my.) But why did they fight exotic animals instead of humans sometimes? They were fresh, unusual, exciting, and allowed spectators to see the vast nature and riches the Roman Empire had to offer. Animals were expensive so organizers only used them when they pulled out all the stops. There was even a special name for a gladiator who specialized in animals called a bestarius.
Not all of the animals were sentenced to die in the arena. Some were trained a circus exhibits but the bloodlust for death and entertainment often caused the animals to be transported to their deaths. The animals were used in the ring in a variety of ways. They would combat with the bestarii or used to kill undesirables such as Christians, torn to bits in front of a large crowd. The use of animals led to high trade and almost caused extinction. The hippo disappeared from the Nile and the European Wild Horse and Eurasian Lynx became extinct.
14. Gladiators Were Ranked Based On Performance And Fighting Method
There wasn’t just one type of Roman gladiator. The most well-known of these fighters were the retarius, murmillo, and the secutor. The retarius was armed with a trident and a net but had very little armor, he was fast but very vulnerable.The retarius usually fought a secutor since they were more heavily armored with a helmet and shield in addition to their swords.Murmillos were even more heavily armored than the secutors. Provocators fought each other with a sword and shield wearing full body armor and a helmet with a visor.
Other popular types included the hoplomachus, eques, Dimacherius, and the Saggitarius. The hoplomachus were armed with a lance, dagger, and a small shield. The eques fought on horseback and then moved to the ground but the essedarius rode chariots and were armed with lances and swords. The Dimacherius were armed with only two daggers and the Saggitarius only a bow. The most bizarre gladiator was the andabatus which fought on horseback and carried a lance. Their faces were completely covered by their helmets so they were unable to see their opponents.
15. Gladiators Had Their Own Labor Unions, Like The Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa
One would never think a gladiator would be part of a trade union, but they were. They called these unions the collegia. In return for consistent payments, the collegia would make sure the fallen gladiator would be buried properly with a decent funeral and a grave marker. The collegia would also see that the gladiator’s wife and children would receive a small amount of compensation. Sometimes if a gladiator didn’t have a subscription, his colleagues would band together and pay for it.
If a gladiator didn’t have a subscription or his friends couldn’t afford to chip in, he would receive no burial at all. If the body wasn’t thrown into the river, it would be carved up for animal trainers. The trainers would feed the meat to their animals for training. The animal would get used to the smell of human flesh and be more prone to attack in the arena. The collegia were democratic with elected leaders and had their own gods they would pray to.
16. Thumbs Down Did Not Mean A Gladiator Was To Die
The signal of a “thumbs down” has a negative connotation in our society. The thumbs down had to come from somewhere, but it wasn’t the Romans like we think. The thumbs-down gesture to signal death is a misconception. We know that the final death call was not up to the victor, but to the editor. The editor would listen to the calls of the crowd and then make his final decision. The editor was the senior official in attendance, usually a Governor, a Senator, or occasionally the Emperor himself.
The writings of Juvenal state that if the thumb is pointed up, towards the heart, the fallen should be put to death. If the thumb was pointed down towards the ground, that meant the victor should lay down his sword. So how did we get it messed up? The painting from Léon Gérôme in 1873 famously mixed up the Latin translation and he painted the thumb down instead of up. The famous painting has now changed Roman meaning that thumbs up means good, and thumbs down mean bad when it was the other way around.
17. Gladiator Games Were Part of Roman Life for 700 Years
When we look through history, some customs last a mere few years and some last centuries. Unlike American culture where fashion trends died quickly and other cultural norms, Roman culture didn’t change much. Gladiator games lasted from 300 BC to 400 AD. The Romans thought the concept came from the Etruscans but the Campanians were recorded having games in 310 BC to celebrate an important military victory. A few years later in 246 BS two brothers, Marcus and Decimus Brutus, held a small funeral game consisting of three fights and a cattle market to honor their father.
Other families saw the games as political prestige as it played into Roman belief that the souls of the departed needed human blood. As more and more families started to put on games lanistas or gladiator trainers started to cash in on the trend by training gladiators for combat. Julius Caesar saw a good thing going and ordered 320 games to commemorate the death of his daughter Julia. He also realized that gladiators could be used in place of a private army.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: