Roman pantheon isn’t just rich in the case of ancient groups of deities. Ancient Roman famous gladiators were just big of a deal as the divine beings they worshipped. The word gladiator meant ‘swordsman’ in Latin which was based on the morpheme gladius, meaning ‘sword’. That being said, by definition, a gladiator battle was typically and expectedly bloody. In ancient Rome, gladiators were armed combatants who fought in large arenas to entertain the audience. Some participated willingly as a means to achieve wealth or fame, but most were usually criminals, captured enemies or slaves forced into combat. In a nutshell, they were athletic superstars in ancient Rome. A skilled and successful gladiator could enjoy lavish gifts, gained thousands of following and even be awarded freedom if they could impress the Emperor and tail up enough victories.
The first gladiator fights were held in 246 B.C by Marcus and Decimus Brutus who intended the battles to be a funeral gift for their deceased father. They sent their slaves in the arena and had them fight against each other to death. That being said, the very first gladiators were either prisoner of war or slaves. However, as this bloody sport kept getting more and more popular, soon free men volunteered to fight, mainly due to the lavish rewards that awaited the winners.
Despite the fact, those fighters typically came from the lowest classes in society, but being a good fighter came with its perks such as having the ability to build a following and even become famous. Thus, being a gladiator was considered as the glamorous profession in Ancient Rome. There were even special schools in which they attended self-defense class and underwent a selection process. The best fighters were treated to a hearty diet, if regimented, and given a leg up, and subjected to the best medical attention. Meanwhile, those who didn’t show any potential were trotted out to be executed by either the victors or wild animals, like lions.
It’s impossible to mention all of the Roman gladiators in one article and each has their own interesting factoid to tell. Thus, we’ve collected the 10 most famous gladiators in ancient Rome.
Despite being classified as one of the most popular gladiators in ancient Rome, almost nothing is known of Tetraites, which is quite a strange thing to say. It is because no contemporary record in the form of a document or some sorts exists. However, he was definitely well known throughout the Empire to have pictures of him fighting etched into the glass and displayed in mosaics in as disperse locations as Hungary and France. He fought in the murmillones style, wearing a helmet, a rectangle shield, arm guards and shin guards as well as wielding a sword. The one battle that was deemed worthy to be committed to memory for eternity in art was when he fought against Prudes.
Aside from the fact that he was known to be a spirited and victorious combatant, pretty much every aspect of Tetraites’ life is still a mystery until today. Nobody even knows in what period of time he lived. The only clue lying about is that a wall with a painting of this gladiator was unearthed in Pompeii in 1817. The graffiti itself is believed to have been done right before the disastrous eruption of the Vesuvius Mountain in 79 AD.
Spiculus didn’t come into the limelight until years later when Emperor Nero reigned in the mid-60s AD. The numerous artworks that survived to the modern day suggest he was greatly revered throughout Rome. He managed to win a number of fights and take down many skilled adversaries.
Not only was he admired by his fans, but the notorious Emperor Nero had also taken a particular liking to Spiculus and maintained a particularly close relationship with him. The supposedly evil Emperor showered him with gifts and awarded him a palace, slaves and other luxury things beyond imagination. When the Emperor was overthrown in 68 AD, he sought out the gladiator for he wanted to die at his hands. However, Spiculus was nowhere to be found, so Nero forced one of his closest servants to do it, unable to bring himself to end his own life.
The life of Hermes wasn’t documented much except for when he became one of the Roman gladiators. However, he gains profligate praise from Martial, a contemporary poet. He admires the warrior so much that he even dedicated an entire poem praising Hermes’ talents as a capable gladiator. Hermes was, in fact, an adept combatant who always took pleasure in having an overwhelming superiority over the other fighters. He was very versatile and very well trained. He took advantage of having access to using different weapons that gladiators used in the arena and used them to take down his opponents.
Generally, gladiators would choose a particular fighting style and train hard in order to become a master in this aspect. Hermes, on the other hand, wasn’t only well-versed in pretty much every fighting style, but he was also an expert in more than three different gladiator’s techniques. This knowledge obviously contributed a lot to his victories. It should come as no surprise that he was known to bring fear into an enemy and that he had the strength of three men.
Just like Tetraites, not much is revealed about Priscus and Verus. However, their final combat was very well documented. The battle between these two gladiators marked the first gladiator fight in the First Century AD that took place in Flavian Amphitheatre. The spirited battle dragged on for hours before the two combatants eventually conceded to each other simultaneously and put down their swords out of respect. The spectators roared in approval and Emperor Titus granted them both with the rudis, which was a small wooden sword awarded to gladiators upon retirement that also indicated freedom. They both walked out of the arena side by side as free men. That’s why they both are always mentioned together in every documentation or record about the ancient Roman gladiators.
Their battle was recorded by Martial in the form of a poem. It has come to pass that it is the only comprehensive description of gladiatorial combat which survives to the 21st century. Through this poem, we can learn that these gladiators were equally matched and the fact that they didn’t use shields but wooden swords were because the fight was intended more for a show. The only personal fact about Priscus that is known is that he was from the northern regions of what is today known as France and he was born a slave. Verus, on the other hand, was a captured soldier originated from outside of the Empire. He was then given the name Verus which meant ‘truth’ when he became a gladiator. Additionally, Verus was already a renowned fighter before he faced Priscus.
Marcus Attilius was a Roman citizen by birth and thus making him one of the non-slave people that volunteered himself to fight in the ring. He began to appear in the spotlight in the 60s AD. Not much is told about this man except for his time inside the Coliseum. Perhaps the reason he volunteered was that he needed money because after all, gladiators were afforded a stable lifestyle during their contracted time as combatants. Even so, gladiators would still be shunned outside the arena. It was believed he joined because he needed to pay the heavy debts he had accumulated over the years.
His very first fight shocked all who had come to see. He was pitted against a very skilled veteran named Hilarius, who happened to have won every battle he had been in twelve times consecutively. That’s why, Marcus Attilius’ victory astonished everyone, even Emperor Nero. Attilius then went on to face Raecius Felix, another gladiator who had won several consecutive battles and defeated him.
Most of the famous gladiators in this list were known for their hand-to-hand combat against other gladiators. Carpophorus was notorious for his time in the arena fighting against wild animals. He was known for singlehandedly defeating a lion, bear, and leopard in a single battle at the initiation of the Flavian Amphitheatre. On the same day but in a different battle, he also butchered a rhinoceros with a spear. It’s said that he took down twenty wild animals in total that day alone. This event led fans and other fellow gladiators to compare him to Hercules.
Because of his specialty in fighting the beasts, he was called famed bestiaries. Because the bestial shows were typically used as an intermission of sorts between the gladiators’ fights, this caused him to have a very brief-lived career. Aside from the fact the battled these wild animals himself, he was also responsible for training the animals that were set upon Christians and unarmed criminals.
His life wasn’t recorded until he became a prisoner at a gladiator school near Capua in the year 70 B.C. Crixus was most known for being Spartacus’ right-hand man, the number one entry on this thread. His real name was Gaulish, meaning ‘one with curly hair’. Though he enjoyed the fame that came with being undefeated in the ring, he resented his owner, Lanista, who also happened to own the school. He escaped from the gladiator school in later 73 B.C with the other 70 prisoners and headed to Spartacus’ training camp at Mount Vesuvius. The number soon grew with other men joining along the way and reaching to 30,000 soldiers.
However, Crixus split from Spartacus’ main group due to having different objectives. All Crixus wanted was to march with his men to ravage Southern Italy, while Spartacus was more interested in finding complete freedom on the Alps. Crixus and most of his men soon lost to the Roman legions after the split because of being confronted near Mount Garganus. Those who survived were either captured or fled and returned to join Spartacus’ army.
You probably recognize him from the 2000 film Gladiator, in which he’s famously portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. He was one of the few gladiators who entered the ring voluntarily and had a high rank in the society. He was an Emperor who loved battling. His ego was so swelled and he considered himself to be the greatest gladiator and the most important man in the universe. He even considered himself as Hercules, even going so far as to put on a leopard skin like the one that’s usually donned by the mythological hero. His constant victory in the arena was mainly due to unfair fights. He often fought against weak, injured animals or gladiators armed with wooden swords. That’s why, unlike most real gladiators, Commodus’ life was never really in danger.
This should go without saying but most Romans resented Commodus. Most of his time spent in the arena was intended for a cheap thrill for himself and many considered his antics as disrespectful. At one point, this narcissistic egomaniac even imprisoned disabled Roman citizens and slaughtered them in the ring. He then charged one million sesterces for every show, despite the fact he was never exactly invited by everyone. Many people believed his actions eventually encouraged his inner-circle to assassinate him in AD 192.
Flamma was revered for being the greatest gladiator of all time. He was of Syrian national and had been a soldier before he got captured and thrown into an arena. He participated in 34 battles in total as a gladiator. It’s an impressive number considering the likelihood of being killed is always high in any battle. In all of these 34 fights, he won 21 of them and only lost four. The rest of the battles ended in a draw. Politicians were so impressed with his skills that he was offered complete freedom on four different occasions. This freedom meant he would be freed of his shackles and allowed to live a normal life among the Roman citizens. However, he turned them down each time for he was already determined that this was what he lived for.
Flamma wasn’t actually his given name, but rather his stage name when he was in the ring. His career came to an end when he was in his thirty and in the Coliseum, as expected. In the course of his life, he had commanded unparalleled domination against numerous enemies in the Coliseum for 13 years, all of this armed with only a small sword, a shield and armour on one half of his body. The history of Flamma is recorded on his gravestone, which you can still see to this day in Sicily.
He is probably the only famous gladiator in ancient Rome that everyone can name off the top of their head, all thanks to Kirk Douglas for portraying him! However, his actual story is still a mystery to many. Spartacus started out as a soldier from Thrace, situated in present-day Bulgaria and includes small pieces of today Turkey and Greece. Different sources vary slightly but the first recorded date of his life goes back to 73 B.C, at which time Spartacus was already a slave. This means, at some point before that, he had been taken captive due to having lost in a battle against the Roman legions.
The one who had captured him owned a gladiatorial school near Capua and sent him there. He was considered as murmillo, a heavyweight fighter and even got to fight with the biggest swords which could typically be 18” long. His victory in the arena had, no doubt, gained him some localized notoriety. However, being a true soldier at heart who reversed his freedom, he became famous for plotting and executing a mass escape of as many as 70 slaves from the school in 73 B.C, most of whom were defeated, warriors. Crixus was one of the 70 escapees and soon became the right hand of Spartacus. They marched southward to Mount Vesuvius, adding to their numbers as they went and finally setting up a military encampment along with training regimens. The Roman Senate dispatched legion after legion to take down the revolutionaries but Spartacus was able to put them down during what later became known as the Third Servile War. That is until the Senate sent Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of Rome’s wealthiest men, who marched with approx. 40,000 soldiers. Spartacus finally met his end in 71 B.C due to Crassus’ soldiers being able to get behind Spartacus’ forces and boxing them in what’s now known as the village of Quaglietta.
Contrary to what Hollywood movies portray, ancient Roman gladiators didn’t always fight to the death. In reality, most battles were conducted under the supervision of a referee, who would typically stop the combat once any of the combatants were severely injured. All these famous gladiators were greatly worshipped by the masses and were seen as an important method of keeping the Roman citizens happy at the time. However, they didn’t always live a comfortable life for they had to train on their strictly assigned weapon throughout their gladiator career.
Tags : famous gladiators , famous roman gladiators, famous female gladiators, most famous roman gladiators, famous gladiators names, famous gladiators of Rome