Gladiators: Who Were They?

By | January 29, 2019

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History Gladiators fighting against wild animals in ancient Rome. From Ward and Lock's Illustrated History of the World, published c.1882. Source: (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Who Were The Gladiators?

The definition of Gladiator is a swordsman, an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Empire in violent fights with other gladiators, wild animals, and criminals. But how did one become a gladiator? And why? Usually, gladiators were slaves who had been acquired in war. Sometimes they were convicted criminals who had no other option. Some of them were upper-class men who had squandered away their fortune and had no other means of earning money. Even emperors dabbled in playing gladiator. No matter how they ended up a gladiator, in the times of the Roman Empire, they were considered doomed men with no dignity.

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Gladiators in training. Source: (

Gladiator School

Training gladiators was serious business. They were training in special schools called 'ludi'. They practiced in coliseums, chariot racing stadiums, anywhere the ground was sandy. They practiced on the sandy ground so the sand would absorb the blood. Gladiators generally fought each other and rarely fought lions, as we have seen in movies. There were different categories of gladiators. Some fought on horseback, others in pairs. The types of weapons and armor would be another determining factor. Some were even named for the location they came from. The goal of the school was to get the trainees into top physical condition. They used fake weapons to practice with. They were also tattooed, so if they did try to leave, they could be easily identified.