Episode 35 – Gladiators!

The Doctors return with an examination of historical gladiators in ancient Rome.

In this episode, Drs. R. and G. consider:

  • the history of gladiatorial combat;
  • the transformation of gladiator fighting from private to public;
  • as well as the way in which gladiators became connected with the principate.

The gladiators hold a complicated position as both a vehicle for symbolism and social outsiders. In this episode we explore both these concerns.

A Brief History

The gladiator comes with a long history and evolution over time. Gladiatorial fights were initially part of Etruscan custom at funerals as a means of honouring the person who had died. At some point the practice is picked up by the Romans. The first gladiators in Rome are recorded by Valerius Maximus 2.4.7 as appearing at the burial of Brutus Pera in 264 BCE.

By 42 BCE gladiatorial games had progressed from funerary practice to electoral entertainment to events held as part of official games run by certain magistrates. As the practice outgrew its origins it became something entirely different.

The expansion of gladiatorial displays led to an expanded market for bodies that could be trained and traded for violent performance. It is in this atmosphere that we see prisoners of war, criminals, slaves, and even some volunteers, train and serve as gladiators. By the time we reach the completion of the Flavian amphitheatre (better known as the Colosseum) we are at the height of the connection between gladiatorial games and imperial largess.

We explore the structures in place around this practice including the ludus gladiatorius and take you on a journey into the arena!

Click on the link to listen or download:

Episode 35 – Gladiators
A retiarius attacks his downed opponent, a secutor, with a dagger in this scene from a mosaic from the Villa Borghese. c. 320 CE. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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