Roman gladiators are one of the best known institute in ancient world. Through centuries they have been fascinating people’s mind and hundreds books have been written and movies made from them. Reason is not hard to find – I guess there have never been sportsmen like gladiators with same kind of courage. Every time when they entered arena they put their life on line. But they were fighters which have been trained to the top in their art – like nobody else. Every man was trained as a particular fighter type and thus the best who survived longer time, were really skillful with their weapons. Some people believe that gladiatorial combats where massacres. That was not the case, because fighters were trained hard and their owners wanted to make money with them. Not to kill then at once. I guess the important thing was the way they fought. If they tried hard with great courage spectators appreciated their effort. With good fight nobody needed to die – not even the one that lost the game. Of course bad injuries and deaths were impossible to avoid because the weapons were real. Still it is good to separate gladiatorial games from punishing of criminals in arena. Because there were no real police in the streets of Rome, the system needed to punish people who committed to crimes. This was done by eliminating these people in arena in front of public. Intention was really to show people that if you were not living well the consequences were hard. Usually criminal people were punished in beginning before actual gladiatorial combat took place.
In Roman history there where several type of gladiator fighters and all of them had special equipment – protective gears and weapons. Usually fights where one to one combats where idea was that fighters had even chances to win. Combat should always be interesting and amusing for spectators. Therefore both fighters should have same chance to survive and their courage should made the difference. Therefore certain type of fighters were put together to have even fights. Very typical were following pairs:
– Retiarius against Secutor
– Myrmillo against Thracian
– Provocator against Provocator
These pairs seemed to be the “main course” in every gladiatorial spectacle all over the Roman world. Behind these one also very often seen was Hoplomachus. His name was coming from Creek soldier “Hoplite”. As main weapon of hoplite was spear as also was Hoplite’s. He had also a smaller round shield and dagger. This type of gladiator had long greaves covered with metal plates and his right arm was protected with guilted manica. His helmet had a crest, brims and visor – very much alike Myrmillo and Thraex. Typically Hoplomachus fought against Myrmillo or sometimes also against Thraex.
Of course there were also some more rare types of gladiators. There were some gladiator types which appeared mainly in Eastern part of empire – especially in later times. Especially unfamiliar for many is Arbelas – or Scissors as an alternative name. This type of gladiator had a long protective chain mail jacket (or scale armour jacket) and short sword, dagger and arbelas. Arbelas was a kind of axe with long curve blade. This type appeared especially in East. Dimachaerus had a curved Sica and dagger with typical “Chieti G” type helmet. His protective gears were not too high level.
Usually when gladiatorial games started the first pair was Eques – two horse fighters who were kind of cavalry men. They had light equipment and a spear and round shield for protection. Of course on horse back fighting took place on high speed which made it different than other matches. Essedarius fighters were totally own kind of gladiators. Romans did not use chariots in wars but some of their opponent did. Gladiator fight with chariot were thus reminding people pf Celts, Egyptians and from some other enemies. Of course Essedarius fighters were seen only little bigger arenas because they needed lot of space.
Usually in the beginning of games there were also hunting plays, where specialized men fought against all kinds of animals. These gladiators were called Venators. Of course fight against lions and bears was extremely dangerous and Venators needed to be very brave and professional. They say that killing of animals was so popular that some spieces were even extincted from North Africa.