The first gladiators were not from Rome
The Romans did not invent the idea of gladiators. The first mention of gladiators comes from Campania, the area of Italy south of Rome that was inhabited by Greek settlers. The custom may have reached Rome by way of Etruria, as the Romans themselves believed.
The first Roman gladiators fought in 264bc
The earliest known gladiatorial combat in Rome took place in 264BC. Six slaves were set to fight each other with swords, but without wearing any armour. The fights did not last long before one of the slaves in each pair was killed.
The first gladiator fight was part of a funeral
The first gladiatorial fights in Rome were always part of a funeral. The name for a gladiatorial show, a munus, means a duty owed to the dead. The first fights were held at the funeral of the wealthy politician and nobleman Brutus Pera who ordered the games in his will.
In the early funeral games, food was more important than gladiators
The Romans used funerals to show off how wealthy and important their families were. Free food and drink was laid out at the funeral for any Roman citizen who wanted to come along. Gifts of money, jewellery and clothing were handed out to invited guests. The family of the person being buried would wear their finest clothes. The first gladiator fights were just one part of the whole funeral.
Gladiators were named after their weapons
The word ‘gladiator’ means ‘a man who uses a gladius’. The gladius was a type of short, stabbing sword that originally came from Spain but which was later used by Roman soldiers. It was about 40cm long and had a very sharp point. It was generally used for stabbing, not for cutting. Not all gladiators used the gladius, but the name was used for all fighters in the arena.
This is an extract from 100 Things You Need to Know About Gladiators, by Rupert Matthews. To learn more and order your copy at a discount CLICK HERE.