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List of Roman gladiator types



A retiarius ("net fighter") with a trident and cast net, fighting a secutor (79 AD mosaic) - List of Roman gladiator types
A retiarius ("net fighter") with a trident and cast net, fighting a secutor (79 AD mosaic)

There were many different types of gladiators in ancient Rome. Some of the first gladiators had been prisoners-of-war, and so some of the earliest types of gladiators were also very good at fighting, Gauls, Samnites, and Thraeces (Thracians) used their native weapons and armor. Different gladiators specialized in different weapons, and it was usual to pair off combatants with widely different, but more or less equivalent, equipment. As a rule gladiators only fought others from within the same school or Ludus ,but sometimes specific gladiators could be requested to fight one from another Ludus.

Forensic studies[1][2] have shown that as a rule gladiators fought to strict rules and barefooted.[3]

Elite gladiators wore specially made armour for the pre-game parade (Pompa). Julius Caesar's gladiators wore solid silver armour, Domitian's wore solid gold and Nero's wore armour decorated with carved amber. Peacock feathers were used for plumes while tunics and loincloths had patterns in gold thread. The gladiators changed into their combat armour for the actual fights although even the simplest were elaborately decorated. Reliefs and mosaics often show gladiators with various numbers of tassles hanging from one arm or leg. The reason for their use is unknown and historians speculate that they may have served as a "scorecard", indicating the number of fights a gladiator had won.[4]

During combat, musicians performed accompaniment that altered tempo to match that of the combat. Typical instruments were a long straight trumpet (tuba), a large curved brass instrument called the lituus, and a water organ (organum). During the Imperial period, the games might be preceded by the form of musical-comedy variety show known as mimus, with the performers sometimes costumed as animals. An image from Pompeii shows two figures labeled "flute playing bear" (Ursus tibicen) and "horn-blowing chicken" (Pullus cornicen), who may have been part of such a mimus.[5]


Gladiator types

The following list includes gladiators as typed by fighting style and equipment, general terms for gladiators, fighters associated with gladiatorial spectacles who were not strictly gladiators, and personnel associated with training or presentation.


The andabatae fought wearing a helmet with one eye-hole, herded towards the fight for the amusement of the crowd, and not part of the true gladiatorial contest.[6][7] Cicero makes a joking reference to the andabata in a letter he wrote to his friend Trebatius Testa, who was stationed in Gaul. The passage associates the andabata loosely with essedarii, chariot fighters.[8] The Oxford Latin Dictionary regards the word as of dubious origin. Some have argued that it is a Latin borrowing from Gaulish.[9]


The arbelas is mentioned in only one source, a list of gladiators of the lanista C. Salvius Capito in the 1st century BC. The name arbelas comes from the arbelai, a crescent shaped knife that shoemakers used to cut leather. There are six known images that show a crescent shaped knife and they are only fighting against retiarii or against each other.[10] It may be the same as the scissor.


The bestiarius was a beast-fighter, so most of the time they would fight lions or bears (leo/ursi) See also Damnatio ad bestias.


Detail from the Gladiator Mosaic (ca. 320 AD): the Ø symbol marks a gladiator killed in combat - List of Roman gladiator types
Detail from the Gladiator Mosaic (ca. 320 AD): the Ø symbol marks a gladiator killed in combat

The bustuarius was literally a "tomb fighter," from bustum, "tomb". The term points toward the association of gladiatorial combat with funeral games (munera), rather than a particular fighting style. Servius notes that it had once been "the custom to put captives to death at the graves of strong men, which later seemed a bit cruel, so it was decided to have gladiators fight at the tombs."[11]


The cestus was a fist-fighter or boxer who wore the cestus, a brutal forerunner of the boxing glove, but otherwise had no armour.[12]


The Roman historian Tacitus describes "crupellarii" as a Gaulish contingent of trainee, slave gladiators equipped "after the national fashion" of Gallia Lugdunensis under Julius Sacrovir, during the Aeduian revolt of AD 21 against Rome. Tacitus has them "encased in the continuous shell of iron usual in the country", labouring under its weight, unable to fight effectively, rapidly tiring and soon dispatched by regular Roman troops. Tacitus' source could refer to a heavily armoured Roman "Gallus" type, which by Tacitus' own time had been developed and renamed as the Murmillo.[13]


The dimachaerus (Greek διμάχαιρος, "bearing two knives") used a sword in each hand.[14]


Eques, plural equites, was the regular Latin word for a horseman or cavalryman. In early depictions, these lightly-armed gladiators wore scale armour, a medium-sized round cavalry shield (parma equestris), and a brimmed helmet without a crest, but with two decorative feathers.

In Imperial times, they sported a manica on their right arm and sleeveless, belted tunics, in contrast to other gladiators who usually fought bare-chested without greaves. At the time of Isidore of Seville, the equites rode white horses and opened a day's program of fights (Origines 18.53ff.).

In Roman times horses were no larger than today's ponies and as Romans did not use stirrups fighting on horseback was impractical. Equites fought in the style of Roman cavalry: after they had thrown their lance (hasta), they dismounted and continued to fight on foot with their short sword (gladius). Generally, equites fought only other equites.[15]


The essedarius (from the Latin word for a Celtic war-chariot, essedum) was likely first brought to Rome from Britain by Julius Caesar. Essedarii appear as arena-fighters in many inscriptions after the 1st century AD. No pictorial representations exist.[14] The Essedarius fought from a chariot.


The Hoplomachus (Greek "armed fighter") wore quilted, trouser-like leg wrappings, loincloth, a belt, a pair of long shin-guards or greaves, an arm guard (manica) on the sword-arm, and a brimmed helmet that could be adorned with a plume of feathers on top and a single feather on each side. He was equipped with a gladius and a very small, round shield. He also carried a spear, which the gladiator would have to cast before closing for hand-to-hand combat. The hoplomachi were paired against the Myrmillones or Thraeces. They may have developed out of the earlier '"Samnite" type after it became impolitic to use the names of now-allied peoples.[14]


Main article: Gladiatrix

A female gladiator of any type. Also had to fight lions and bears by themselves.


The laquearius was a kind of retiarius who tried to catch his adversaries with a lasso (laqueus) instead of a net. He was equipped also with a dagger for use once he snared his opponent.[14]

From left, a disarmed and surrendering retiarius and his secutor opponent, a thraex and murmillo, a hoplhus and murmillo (who is signalling his surrender), and the referee (Zliten mosaic, 200 AD) - List of Roman gladiator types
From left, a disarmed and surrendering retiarius and his secutor opponent, a thraex and murmillo, a hoplhus and murmillo (who is signalling his surrender), and the referee (Zliten mosaic, 200 AD)


The murmillo (plural murmillones) or myrmillo wore a helmet with a stylised fish on the crest (the mormylos or sea fish), as well as an arm guard (manica), a loincloth and belt, a gaiter on his right leg, thick wrappings covering the tops of his feet, and a very short greave with an indentation for the padding at the top of the feet. They are heavily armoured gladiators: the murmillo carried a gladius (64–81 cm long) and a tall, oblong shield in the legionary style. Murmillones were typically paired with Thracian, but occasionally with the similar hoplomachus,[16] or a rather different Retarius.[17]


Parmularii were not a single type of gladiator but were any gladiators who carried a parmula (small shield). A hoplomachus or a thraex would be a parmularius. Due to having only a small shield parmularii tended to wear two long ocreae (shin armour) unlike scutarii.


In the late Republican and early Imperial era, the armament of a provocator ("challenger") mirrored legionary armature. In the later Imperial period, their armament ceased to reflect its military origins, and changes in armament followed changes in arena fashion only. Provocatores have been shown wearing a loincloth, a belt, a long greave on the left leg, a manica on the lower right arm, and a visored helmet without brim or crest, but with a feather on each side. They were the only gladiators protected by a breastplate (cardiophylax) which is usually rectangular, later often crescent-shaped. They fought with a tall, rectangular shield and the gladius. They were paired only against other provocatores.[18]


The retiarius ("net fighter") developed in the early Augustan period. He carried a trident and a net. The retiarius wore a loincloth held in place by a wide belt and a larger arm guard (manica) extending to the shoulder and left side of the chest. He fought without the protection of a helmet. Occasionally a metal shoulder shield (galerus) was added to protect the neck and lower face. A tombstone found in Romania shows a retiarius holding a dagger with four spikes (each at the corner of a square guard) instead of the usual bladed dagger. This was previously thought to be an artistic invention or perhaps a ceremonial weapon, but a recent discovery of a gladiator graveyard found that several of the remains had four odd-looking marks that form the outline of a square on their bones which is consistent with the use of such a weapon.[citation needed] A variation to the normal combat was a retiarius facing two secutores at the same time. The retiarus stood on a bridge or raised platform with stairs and had a pile of fist-sized stones to throw at his adversaries. While the retarius tried to keep them at bay, the secutores tried to scale the structure to attack him. The platform, called a pons (bridge), may have been constructed over water.[19] Retiarii usually fought Secutores but sometimes fought Myrmillones.[20] There was an effeminate class of gladiator who fought as a retiarius tunicatus. They wore tunics to distinguish them from the usual retiarius, and were looked on as a social class even lower than infamia.[21][22]


A gladiator who had earned his freedom received a wooden sword (a rudis) or perhaps a wooden rod (a rudem, which was a "slender stick" used as a practice staff/sword). A wooden sword is widely assumed, however, Cicero in a letter speaks of a gladiator being awarded a rod in a context that suggests the latter: Tam bonus gladiator, rudem tam cito accepisti? (Being so good a gladiator, have you so quickly accepted the rod?) If he chose to remain a gladiator, he was called a rudiarius. These were very popular with the public as they were experienced. Not all rudiarii continued to fight; there was a hierarchy of rudiarii that included trainers, helpers, referees, and fighters.[23][24]


The sagittarius was a mounted archer, armed with a reflex bow capable of propelling an arrow a great distance.


The Samnite was an early type of heavily armed fighter that disappeared in the early imperial period. The Samnites were a powerful league of Italic tribes in Campania with whom the Romans fought three major wars between 326 and 291 BC. A "Samnite" gladiator was armed with a long rectangular shield (scutum), a plumed helmet, a short sword, and probably a greave on his left leg. It was frequently said that Samnites were the lucky ones since they got large shields and good swords and could kill the prince.[25]


The scissor (plural scissores) used a special short sword with two blades that looked like a pair of open scissors without a hinge. It is speculated[by whom?] that they attempted to trap their opponents' weapons between the twin blades in order to disarm them.[citation needed] German historian and experimental archeologist Marcus Junkelmann has propagated an idea, based on an unlabeled, unclear image that he decided might be a scissor, that this type of gladiator fought using a weapon consisting of a hardened steel tube that encased the gladiator's entire forearm, with the hand end capped off and a semicircular blade attached to it.[26]


Scutarii were not a single type of gladiator but were any gladiator using a large shield like a scutum. A murmillo or a secutor would be a scutarius. Due to having a large shield to protect their left side a scutarius would typically only wear one short ocrea (shin armour) on the right leg unlike parmularii who had a small shield and wore two larger ocreae.


The secutor ("pursuer") developed to fight the retiarius. As a variant of the murmillo, he wore the same armour and weapons, including the tall rectangular shield and the gladius. The helmet of the secutor, however, covered the entire face with the exception of two small eye-holes in order to protect his face from the thin prongs of the trident of his opponent. The helmet was also round and smooth so that the retiarius net could not get a grip on it.[27]


In some games three men were matched against each other. The first two would fight, with the winner then fighting the third man, called the tertiarius ("third man"). Tertiarii would also act as substitutes if an advertised gladiator was unable to fight.[citation needed]


The Thraex (plural Thraeces, "Thracians") wore the same protective armour as the hoplomachi with a broad rimmed helmet that enclosed the entire head, distinguished by a stylized griffin on the protome or front of the crest (the griffin was the companion of the avenging goddess Nemesis), a small round or square-shaped shield (parmula), and two thigh-length greaves. His weapon was the Thracian curved sword (sica or falx, c. 34 cm or 13 in long). They were introduced as replacements for the Gauls after Gaul made peace with Rome. They commonly fought Myrmillones or Hoplomachi.[28]

Two venatores fighting a tiger (5th century CE mosaic in the Great Palace of Constantinople) - List of Roman gladiator types
Two venatores fighting a tiger (5th century CE mosaic in the Great Palace of Constantinople)


See also: Velites

The velites ("skirmishers") fought on foot, each holding a spear with an attached thong for throwing. Named for the early and similarly armed Republican army units of the same name.[citation needed]

Personnel associated with gladiators


The sponsor who financed gladiatorial spectacles was the editor, "producer."[29]


The lanista was an owner-trainer of a troop of gladiators. He traded in slave gladiators, and rented those he owned out to a producer (editor) who was organizing games. The profession was often remunerative, but socially the lanista was on a par with a pimp (leno) as a "vendor of human flesh."[30]


The lorarius (from lorum, "leather thong, whip,") was an attendant who whipped reluctant combatants or animals into fighting.[31]


The paegniarius did not engage in serious combat with lethal weapons, but was rather an entertainer who performed "duels" during the breaks. He was an entertainer for the crowd while the gladiators rested. He had neither a helmet nor a shield, but wore protective wrappings on his lower legs and head.[32] He might enjoy a long life: an epitaph for a paegniarius named Secundus boasted that he had lived 99 years, 8 months, and 18 days.[33]


An arena referee or his assistants, named after the wooden staff (rudis) used to direct or separate combatants. A senior referee or trainer was known as a summa (high) rudis.[citation needed]


Main article: Venatio

The venator "("hunter") specialized in wild animal hunts instead of fighting them as the bestiarii did. As well as hunting they also performed tricks with animals such as putting an arm in a lion's mouth, riding a camel while leading lions on a leash, and making an elephant walk a tightrope.[34] Technically they were not gladiators.


Das Spiel mit dem Tod. So kämpften Roms Gladiatoren.
Marcus Junkelmann (2000)
English summary: Gladiatorial combat, only comparable in its allure to today's football matches, was placed firmly in the centre of Roman social life. Gladiators were moribund, they were ostracised outsiders on the one hand, but on the other hand, they were also beloved by the audience, sex symbols, or admirable role models in bravery and defiance.Junkelmann invites us to a look behind the scenes by looking at the practical problems of these Roman warriors. What did the armour and weapons of the separate genres of gladiators really look like? What did a gladiator feel when facing his opponent? Junkelmann has tried out all this - equipment and fighting techniques were reconstructed along the lines of Ancient textual sources, images, and precious original armour parts, and were then put to the test in experiments.Exciting and vivid images and a thrilling text describe origins and development of gladiatorial combat - both light and darkness of Roman spectacula. German description: Aufrecht und unbesiegbar musst Du sterben. (Seneca, Epistulae 37,2)Vergleichbar in der Anziehungskraft mit dem heutigen Fussballsport standen die Gladiatorenkampfe im Zentrum romischen Gesellschaftslebens. Gladiatoren waren Todgeweihte, geachtete Aussenseiter einerseits und Publikumslieblinge, Sexsymbole oder bewundertes Vorbild an Tapferkeit und Todesverachtung andererseits.Junkelmann lasst den Leser einen Blick hinter die Kulissen werfen, indem er sich den praktischen Problemen dieser romischen Berufskampfer zuwendet. Wie sahen die Rustungen und Waffen der einzelnen Kampfgattungen wirklich aus' Wie fuhlte sich ein Gladiator, der seinem Feind gegenuberstand' Junkelmann hat es ausprobiert. Ausrustung und Kampftechnik wurden entlang antiker Textquellen, vielschichtiger Bildwerke und kostbarer Originalrustungen schlussig rekonstruiert und experimentell erprobt.In aufregend lebendigen Bildern und spannenden Texten schildert dieser Band Ursprung und Entwicklung der Gladiatur, Licht und Schattenseiten romischer spectacula.
  1. ^ Gladiators fought by the book New Scientist February 23, 2006
  2. ^ Head injuries of Roman gladiators Forensic Science International Volume 160, Issue 2, Pages 207-216 July 13, 2006
  3. ^ Roman gladiators were fat vegetarians ABC Science April 5, 2004
  4. ^ Stephen Wisdom Gladiators 100 BC-AD 200 Osprey Publishing, 2001 Pg 28–29 ISBN 978-1-84176-299-9
  5. ^ Stephen Wisdom, Angus McBride, Gladiators: 100 BC - AD 200, Oxford, United Kingdom, Osprey. Author's sketch and note, p. 18.
  6. ^ "Types of Gladiators and Their Weapons". ancientworlds.net. 
  7. ^ André Piganiol, “La trinci gauloises,” in Recherches sur les jeux romains: Notes d’archéologie et d’histoire religieuse; Publications de la faculté des lettres de l’université de Strasbourg 13 (1923).
  8. ^ Cicero, Ad familiares 7.10.2 (=95), as cited by Piganiol, “Les trinci gauloises."
  9. ^ Xavier Delamarre, entry on andabata, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), p. 46.
  10. ^ Types of Gladiators Imperatorivs Lvdvs Gladiatore, a living history group
  11. ^ Alison Futrell, Blood in the Arena: The Spectacle of Roman Power (University of Texas Press, 1997), p. 34.
  12. ^ "Roman Helmets". google.ca. 
  13. ^ Book III, 43, 46 in The Annals of Tacitus, Loeb, 1931 For possible misidentification, see note 8: "Since the Gauls despised body-armour, the phrase must refer only to the conventional equipment of the "Gallus" (murmillo)"
  14. ^ a b c Marcus Junkelmann, 'Familia Gladiatoria: "The Heroes of the Amphitheatre"' in The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome: Gladiators and Caesars, ed. by Eckart Köhne and Cornelia Ewigleben (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2000), p. 63
  15. ^ Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 47-48
  16. ^ Junkelmann 2000, pp. 48-51
  17. ^ "The Supersizers Eat... - Ancient Rome". youtube.com. 
  18. ^ Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 57-59
  19. ^ Junkelmann 60–61.
  20. ^ Junkelmann 2000, pp. 59-61
  21. ^ F. R. D. Goodyear The Classical Papers of A. E. Housman:, Volume 2; Volumes 1897-1914 Cambridge University Press 2004 ISBN 9780521606967 Pg 621 - 622
  22. ^ "The Retiarius Tunicatus of Suetonius, Juvenal, and Petronius" (1989) by Steven M. Cerutti and L. Richardson, Jr. The American Journal of Philology, 110, P589-594
  23. ^ James Rouse The beauties and antiquities of the county of Sussex, 149 lithogr. views accompanied by historical and explanatory notices Oxford University 1825 Pg 284 - 285
  24. ^ "Gladiators - The Language of the Arena - Archaeology Magazine Archive". archaeology.org. 
  25. ^ Junkelmann 2000, p. 37
  26. ^ * Marcus Junkelmann, Das Spiel mit dem Tod. So kämpften Roms Gladiatoren. Mainz am Rhein, 2000, ISBN 3-8053-2563-0.
  27. ^ Junkelmann 2000, pp. 40-41 and 61-63
  28. ^ Junkelmann 2000, pp. 51-57
  29. ^ Luciana Jacobelli, Gladiators at Pompeii (Getty Publications, 2003), p. 19.
  30. ^ Jacobelli, Gladiators at Pompeii, p. 19.
  31. ^ Lawrence Keppie, "A Centurion of Legio Martia at Padova?" Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies 2 (1991), as reprinted in Legions and Veterans: Roman Army Papers 1971–2000 (Steiner, 2000), p. 68.
  32. ^ Marcus Junkelmann, "Familia Gladiatoria: The Heroes of the Amphitheatre," in Gladiators and Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome (University of California Press, 2000), p. 63.
  33. ^ Thomas E. J. Wiedemann, Emperors and Gladiators (Routledge, 1992, 1995), p. 121.
  34. ^ Seneca, Ep. 85.41.
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