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[Lat.,=swordsmen], in ancient Rome, class of professional fighters, who performed for exhibition. Gladiatorial combats usually took place in amphitheaters. They probably were introduced from Etruria and originally were funeral games. Gladitorial combats, which took place in the ColosseumColosseum
or Coliseum
, Ital. Colosseo, common name of the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, near the southeast end of the Forum, between the Palatine and Esquiline hills. Begun by Vespasian, c.A.D. 75, and completed by his son Titus in A.D.
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 and in hundreds of other ampitheaters throughout the Roman world, reached their height in the 1st and 2d cent. A.D.

The gladiators were paired off to fight each other, usually to the number of about 100 couples, although in the imperial shows there were sometimes as many as 5,000 pairs. There were various types of gladiators, armed and armored differently. Thus a heavily armored man, a Mirmillo or Samnite, might be opposed to a Retiarius, who fought almost naked, with a net and a trident as his only weapons. He also might be pitted against a Thracian, who fought with a dagger and a small round shield. Often gladiators were made to fight wild beasts. A defeated gladiator was usually killed by the victor unless the people expressed their desire that he be spared.

At first, gladiators were invariably slaves or prisoners, including Christians. They normally underwent rigid training, and some gained immense popularity. Later, impoverished freedmen also sought a living as gladiators, and finally even members of the ruling classes took part in gladiatorial combats on an amateur basis. Some gladiators, led by SpartacusSpartacus
, d. 71 B.C., leader in an ancient Italian slave revolt, b. Thrace. He broke out (73 B.C.) of a gladiators' school at Capua and fled to Mt. Vesuvius, where many fugitives joined him.
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, took part in the third of the Servile WarsServile Wars,
name given in Roman history to three slave uprisings. The agricultural slaves were exploited by their owners, who had extreme powers and were never averse to using them. The first of the Servile Wars was fought in Sicily from 134 to 132 B.C. (or from 135 to 133 B.C.
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 (73 B.C.–71 B.C.). Constantine I forbade gladiatorial games, but they nonetheless continued until A.D. 405.


See studies by M. Grant (1968), E. Kohne, ed. (2000), A. Futrell (2001), and F. Meijer (2005).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in ancient Rome, slaves, prisoners of war, convicted criminals, and others specially trained for armed combat in amphitheaters, either between one another or with wild animals.

Gladiators were trained in special schools which had a severe regime (such as in Rome; in Capua, where Spartacus, the leader of the slave revolt of 74-71 B.C., was trained; and in Praeneste). The fights were official spectacles aimed at satisfying the demand of the mobs for “bread and circuses.” Gladiatorial contests were discontinued after the beginning of the fifth century.


Mishulin, A. V. Spartakovskoe vosstanie. … Moscow, 1936.
Friedländer, L. Kartiny iz bytovoi istorii Rima v epokhu ot Avgusta do kontsa dinastii Antoninov, part 1. St. Petersburg, 1914. (Translation.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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