Did Roman Gladiatorial Contests Always End in Death?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but Hollywood’s depiction of history is not always accurate. For example, movie scenes involving gladiators battling in the Roman Colosseum, fighting to the death, have been re-created for dramatic effect. In reality, ancient Roman gladiators were highly trained professionals who earned their living fighting, not dying. To keep the Roman aristocracy entertained, a large team of skilled gladiators had to be maintained and be ready to put on a good show. The most successful warriors became stars in the Roman world.

The first fighting game:

  • That’s not to say that gladiators weren’t injured, and some certainly did die in the arena. Sometimes they suffered debilitating injuries and had to retire from the sport. Some went on to become trainers of up-and-coming gladiators.

  • Not all gladiators entered the arena in chains. Early combatants were slaves, or criminals, but by the 1st century A.D., free men signed up with gladiator schools in search of fame and significant prize money.

  • Most historians think the fights got their start as a macabre rite staged at the funerals of wealthy nobles. When aristocrats died, their families held graveside bouts as a twisted sort of eulogy.

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