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The common image of a Roman gladiator may summon images of bronzed men fighting off wild beasts for the amusement of the masses. However, there are many misconceptions that have resulted from embellished contemporary representations. From the parties involved to the battles themselves, much of the information presented in media today is misleading.



While some gladiator films pit man against beast, this was rarely the case in Ancient Rome. Other fighters, known as “venatores” and “bestiarii,” were known to battle animals, but this was typically an opening act for the main event. At times, animals were trained to fight one another for entertainment. They were also used as a means of execution.



Though many gladiators were slaves and criminals, some volunteered to take part in the combat. Initially, almost all participants were unwilling, but the glory of battle enticed many individuals to take part. Until 200 A.D., women were also permitted to participate in the arena. Women participated in animal hunts, as well.



Contrary to popular belief, gladiator battles were not always fights to the death. This was a common outcome, but the losing gladiator’s fate could be decided by his opponent or by the overseeing emperor.


The life of a gladiator was dangerous, violent, and ultimately fatal. However, those who fought willingly did so because the arena promised glory, honor, and renown.


Jorge J. Perez is an attorney in South Florida. He is a self-professed history buff. Visit often to learn more.