40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome

D.G. Hewitt - April 24, 2019

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Fallen gladiators would be dragged from the arena if they had not died with dignity. Pinterest.

8. The lowest class of gladiators stood no chance in the arena, and were treated with no dignity after death

The archaeological evidence suggests that, the lower the status of the gladiator, the more likely it was that they would be treated badly in death. The Noxii class of gladiators, the lowest of the low, made up of criminals, would be bashed with the big mallet before being dragged out of the arena. Even if they had died with dignity, a noxii gladiator would still be denied a proper burial. Most likely, their bodies would simply be tossed into a nearby river or taken outside of the town or city and left to the wild beasts and birds.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Some gladiators died in the arena even after being offered their freedom. IMDb.

7. Not all gladiators wanted to be free – the legendary Flamma fought 34 times, and refused his freedom on 4 separate occasions

Not all gladiators wanted to be free. Some seemingly became addicted to the life. In one notable example of this ‘addiction to the arena’, the celebrated fighter Flamma was offered his freedom on four separate occasions. Each time, he declined to accept the rudis of wooden sword symbolizing freedom. Instead, he preferred to carry on, eventually dying in an arena in Sicily. He died at the age of 30, in the arena of course. In his career, he fought an amazing 34 times, winning 21 of his contests and drawing in 9 of them.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Most gladiators only fought a handful of fights each year. Reid’s Italy.

6. Most gladiators only fought a few times a year, and the best might even have had year-long breaks between bouts in the arena

If a gladiator made it out of the arena alive, he would return to his barracks or training camp to recover until the next fight. According to some estimates, based on the number of victories credited to some of the most celebrated fighters, the typical gladiator is likely to have fought 4 or 5 times a year – giving them plenty of time to train and recuperate. Some major names, who were real celebrities of the age, may only have stepped into the arena juts once a year, and some only came out of retirement very rarely – and only for a sizable fee, of course.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Gladiators might have to survive 15 fights in order to earn their freedom. Croatia News.

5. A gladiator usually needed to fight 15 times to win his freedom – so lots of them never escaped their violent slavery

Unless he had performed exceptionally well in the arena, a gladiator was unlikely to be made a freeman after just one victory. He would be allowed to return to his training camp and rest before getting back to work. In most cases, a gladiator needed to fight 15 times in order to be freed from slavery. Since they fought 3 times a year, this was a long time. What’s more, since as many as one-fifth of all fights ended in one of the combatants dying, the odds of making it to freedom were not so great.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Gladiators pictured after the fight, getting ready to return to their camps to recuperate. Wikipedia.

4. Gladiators drank water mixed with ashes to get their strength back after a fight

According to the ancient writer and historian Pliny the Elder, gladiators had a unique way of getting back into peak fitness after a grueling fight. In his Natural History, he advised that a cup of water mixed with ashes was the perfect remedy for “abdominal cramps and bruises”. He continued “one can see how gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.” Notably, archaeologists have found evidence of high levels of calcium in their bones – proof, perhaps, that they really did drink foul-tasting ash drinks after a fight.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Nero ended up taking his own life when his favorite gladiator couldn’t help him to died. Daily Telegraph.

3. Emperor Nero was a massive gladiator fan – and even requested his favorite fighter give him a swift death when he was overthrown

When the notorious Emperor Nero was overthrown in 68 AD he had one last request. He wished to be killed by his favorite gladiator, Spiculus. As Emperor, Nero had watched his Spiculus in the arena on many occasions. The gladiator was known for his speed and his skill with a sword. He also became famous for his courage, always taking on the hardest opponents. After Spiculus was made a freeman, Nero lavished him with riches, including several palaces. In the end, however, Nero couldn’t get the gladiator to him in time, so ended up taking his own life.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and outlawed gladiators. Ancient Pages.

2. Rome’s first Christian Emperor brought the age of gladiators to an end in the year 325 – though gladiators remained slaves

Gladiatorial games were finally brought to an end in the year 325 by Emperor Constantine. He was the ruler who adopted Christianity as the sole religion of the Empire. Officially, Constantine ruled that such bloody games were unnecessary at a “time of civil and domestic peace”. However, most historians agree that, since Rome was fighting fewer wars by this point, there was no longer a regular supply of victims to play the role of combatants. Far from being set free, slaves who were destined for the arena were simply made to work in the Empire’s mines.

40 Facts about the Gladiators of Ancient Rome
Fights between men and animals continued well after the last gladiator bouts. Pinterest.

1. Organized fights between men and beasts carried on for hundreds of years after gladiators were outlawed

Even after Emperor Constantine outlawed gladiatorial fights in the year 325, gory entertainment continued for another 300 years. Above all, crowds still paid to watch humans fight beasts in so-called venationes until well into the middle of the 6th century. And, of course, gladiators continue to live on in the popular imagination. Spartacus, the most famous gladiator of all, went on to inspire everyone from German Communist revolutionaries to Soviet-era soccer clubs, not to mention artists, writers and movie directors.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“What Kinds of Weapons and Armor Did Gladiators Use?”, N.S. Gill, ThoughtCo, October 30, 2019

“How Did Gladiator Fights End?”, By N.S. Gill, ThoughtCo, October 23, 2019

“Did Female Gladiators Exist?”, BBC Culture, Natalie Haynes, 24th November 2015

“History of Telemachus: the Monk Who Ended the Roman Gladiatorial Games — January 1, A.D. 404”, Bill Petro, Medium, Jan 1, 2020

“Reign of Nero ended in assisted suicide.” Daily Telegraph Australia, June 2018.

“Gladiators, Roman Sports.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.

“11 facts you may not have known about gladiators.” Oxford University Press Blog, September 2016.

“Gladiators in Ancient Rome: how did they live and die?” History Extra Magazine.

“10 places (beside Rome) where gladiators once fought.” Fodors, July 2017.

“In the footsteps of Rome’s gladiators.” The Guardian, October 2010.

Murderous Games: Gladiatorial Contests in Ancient Rome.” History Today.

“Forget the Colosseum – families in Rome should go to gladiator school.” Daily Telegraph, September 2018.

“What Hollywood Got Wrong About The Gladiators Of Ancient Rome”, Verena Greb, DW, 16.09.2020