Roman Gladiators: 17 AmazingFacts About Gladiators in Ancient Rome
17 Facts About Gladiators

17 Facts About Gladiators

Shaina Lucas - January 8, 2019

17 Facts About Gladiators
Union members were encouraged to only buy goods which bore this label, or similar labels issued by other unions, to demonstrate solidarity. Library of Congress

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.


17 Facts About Gladiators
Commodus gives a thumbs down in Gladiator. Youtube.

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 Facts About Gladiators
Whilst we know much about the history and culture of the Ancient Romans,

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:

Anderson, Dave. “Top 10 Cool Facts About Roman Gladiators.” ListLand.

Andrews, Evan. “10 Things You May Not Know About Roman Gladiators.”

Mandal, Dattatreya. “12 Things You Should Know About The Ancient Roman Gladiators.” Realm of History.