List of Roman gladiator types
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There were many different types of gladiator in ancient Rome. Some of the first gladiators had been prisoners-of-war, and so some of the earliest types of gladiators, 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 troupe but sometimes specific gladiators could be requested to fight one from another troupe.
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.
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.
Gladiator types and associated personnel
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 gladiatores, and personnel associated with training or presentation.
The andabatae fought blind and with his arms tied up, as he wore a helmet that deprived him of vision. 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. The Oxford Latin Dictionary regards the word as of dubious origin. Some have argued that it is a Latin borrowing from Gaulish.
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. It may be the same as the scissor.
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."
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. The description is problematic. Most Roman sources assert that "national fashion" in Gaul held body-armour in contempt. Tacitus' source could refer to a heavily armoured Roman "Gallus" type, which by Tacitus' own time had been developed and renamed as the Murmillo.
The sponsor who financed gladiatorial spectacles was the editor, "producer."
Eques, plural equites, was the regular Latin word for a horseman or cavalryman. In early depictions, these lightly-armed gladiators wear 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 sport a manica on their right arm and sleeveless, belted tunics, in contrast to other gladiators who usually fought bare-chested, and no greaves. At the time of Isidore of Seville, the equites rode white horses and opened a day's program of fights (Origines 18.53ff.). They started on horseback, but after they had thrown their lance (hasta), they dismounted and continued to fight on foot with their short sword (gladius). Generally, equites only fought other equites.
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.
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.
A female gladiator of any type.
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."
The laquearius seems to have been 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.
The lorarius (from lorum, "leather thong, whip,") was an attendant who whipped reluctant combatants or animals into fighting.
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 Thraecis, but occasionally with the similar hoplomachi.
The paegniarius did not engage in serious combat with lethal weapons, but was rather an entertainer who performed "burlesque duels" during breaks. He had neither a helmet nor a shield, but wore protective wrappings on his lower legs and head. He might thus enjoy a long life: an epitaph for a paegniarius named Secundus boasted that he had lived 99 years, 8 months, and 18 days.
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.
The retiarius ("net fighter") developed in the early Augustan period. He carried a trident, a dagger, 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. 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. Retiarii usually fought Secutores but sometimes fought Myrmillones. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
The secutor ("pursuer") developed to fight the retiarius. As a variant of the myrmillo, 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.
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.
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.
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. Technically they were not gladiators.
- Gladiators fought by the book New Scientist February 23, 2006
- Head injuries of Roman gladiators Forensic Science International Volume 160, Issue 2, Pages 207-216 July 13, 2006
- Roman gladiators were fat vegetarians ABC Science April 5, 2004
- Stephen Wisdom Gladiators 100 BC-AD 200 Osprey Publishing, 2001 Pg 28 - 29 ISBN 978-1-84176-299-9
- Stephen Wisdom, Angus McBride, Gladiators: 100 BC - AD 200, Oxford, United Kingdom, Osprey. Author's sketch and note, p. 18.
- 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).
- Cicero, Ad familiares 7.10.2 (=95), as cited by Piganiol, “Les trinci gauloises."
- Xavier Delamarre, entry on andabata, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), p. 46.
- Types of Gladiators Imperatorivs Lvdvs Gladiatore, a living history group
- Alison Futrell, Blood in the Arena: The Spectacle of Roman Power (University of Texas Press, 1997), p. 34.
- 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)"
- 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
- Luciana Jacobelli, Gladiators at Pompeii (Getty Publications, 2003), p. 19.
- Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 47-48
- Jacobelli, Gladiators at Pompeii, p. 19.
- 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.
- Junkelmann 2000, pp. 48-51
- 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.
- Thomas E. J. Wiedemann, Emperors and Gladiators (Routledge, 1992, 1995), p. 121.
- Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 57-59
- Junkelmann 60–61.
- Junkelmann 2000, pp. 59-61
- 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
- "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
- 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
- The Language of the Arena Archaeological Institute of America
- Junkelmann 2000, p. 37
- * Marcus Junkelmann, Das Spiel mit dem Tod. So kämpften Roms Gladiatoren. Mainz am Rhein, 2000, ISBN 3-8053-2563-0.
- Junkelmann 2000, pp. 40-41 and 61-63
- Junkelmann 2000, pp. 51-57
- Seneca, Ep. 85.41.