A gladiator was an armed warrior who entertained large audiences in the Roman Empire in violent battles with other gladiators, wild animals and criminals.
Most gladiators were treated as slaves, schooled under frightful conditions, socially ignored, and discriminated even in death. Irrespective of where they came from, gladiators offered the audience an example of Rome’s martial principles and in their battles as well as death, they could inspire admiration and popularity.
Gladiator games provided their owners and sponsors with expensive but effective opportunities to promote themselves while offering cheap and exciting entertainment. Gladiators became a huge business for trainers and owners as well as politicians who wanted to reach the top.
A politically ambitious person would often organize shows which would in return drum up votes, thus helping that person rise in power. Ownership of gladiators or a gladiator school gave muscle and flair to Roman politics.
Some of the most celebrated gladiator games were held at the great Roman Colosseum built in Rome. Capable of seating approximately 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum hosted gladiator contests as well as public spectacles such as animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on classical mythology.
Some of the Roman Emperors gave awards of huge sums of money to some of the gladiators. This included property and residence “equal to those of men who had celebrated triumph.” Mark Antony often, even promoted gladiators to his personal guard.
By the 3rd century, the gladiators’ popularity was no longer at its peak as they had created a huge gap in the economy because of the expenses involved in buying, owning and selling. There was a huge disparity between the rich and the poor.
Gladiators were finally banned at the turn of the 5th century, after Christianity was adopted as the state religion. Gladiatorial games had been replaced by theatrical shows and chariot races, the latter remaining extremely popular through the 6th century.
Those who were condemned to become gladiators for their involvement in crimes were given jobs at mines. They could now pay for their crimes by working, without it having to involve their blood.
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