Man Knowledge: The Men in the Arena–A Primer on Roman Gladiators

by Chris on October 11, 2011 · 50 comments

in Manly Knowledge

Roman gladiators occupy a special place in the minds and imaginations of modern men.  The imagery of the man in the arena spans millennia, reaching from Ancient Rome itself to the 20th century and beyond.  In his famous speech Citizenship in a Republic, Theodore Roosevelt spoke of that man…a man whose face was “marred by dust and sweat and blood” and who will never share his place with “those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  The image is striking.  But who were the gladiators of Rome, really?

The gladiator in ancient Rome was a paradox of sorts.  Most were criminals and slaves who could not even feed themselves, and yet, through talented swordplay and a knack for survival, they could attain great fame in the arena.  Indeed, even Rome herself was a paradox.  The city was the center of the world, the height of civilization, and yet Roman culture often manifested itself in quite a bloodthirsty and barbaric manner, gladiatorial combat being the prime example.  Let’s take a look at the men in the arena and see who they were and what their lives were like.

Origins of the Games

The gladiatorial games as we know them originated out of earlier Roman funeral customs.  Starting in the 3rd century BC, Roman warriors were believed to have been honored after their death through the sacrifice of prisoners of war. Eventually, the practice morphed from simply sacrificing prisoners of war to having them engage each other in mortal combat.  Over time, the practice took hold in society outside the military as well.  Gladiatorial matches to honor the dead became so common, in fact, that it was not unusual for wealthy men to set aside funding for the games that would commemorate their own passing.  Known as bustiarri (funeral men), these early gladiators not only entertained the crowds, but brought notoriety and honor to the families of the men at whose funerals they performed their deadly art.  As many an emperor would later realize, the Roman mob loved the thrill of combat, and the popularity an aspiring politician could obtain through sponsoring games made the gladiators worth their weight in gold.

As the popularity of these funeral games increased, this form of ritual in time grew into common entertainment.  By the 1st century BC, gladiatorial games had become big business across the Roman Empire.  At the peak of the gladiatorial era, even Emperors themselves sponsored matches featuring hundreds of gladiators competing in extravagant games lasting weeks at a time.

The Men Beneath the Armor

Gladiatorial ranks were filled mainly through the capture of prisoners of war, though many were also criminals from Rome itself.  All, save a fortunate few, were considered slaves.  There are documented cases of free men volunteering for the games, however.  Some were simply desperate men looking for direction, while others sought adventure.  All shared the common desire for wealth or freedom, and though the potential for great reward did exist for the gladiator, the only guarantee in such a lifestyle was bloodshed.

Whether the gladiators were slaves or volunteers, the men prepared for the games by undergoing grueling athletic and combat training in schools that were often run by successful retired gladiators. The owners of enslaved gladiators leased their fighters to the schools, criminals were condemned to enroll in one, and volunteers had to obtain permission from a magistrate to join their ranks.

As you can imagine, the more successful a gladiator was in the arena, the more popular he became among the masses. This, in turn, made the gladiator all the more valuable.  A proven fighter, particularly if returning from retirement, could earn a considerable sum of money from a single event.  Moreover, the most entertaining and courageous gladiators could even hope for rewards from the Emperor.  Spiculus, a gladiator under the rule of the Emperor Nero, was gifted with lands and riches equivalent to those given to generals returning triumphant from battle by Nero himself. For prisoners of war or condemned criminals, the most valuable reward was emancipation from their sentence.

Variations of Gladiators and Games

Modern perceptions of gladiatorial combat are often drastically oversimplified.  We imagine two men in the arena, bashing at each other with swords until one bests the other with a mortal blow.  The movie Gladiator likely expanded many people’s notions of gladiatorial combat to include staged group battles and other formats.  In reality, there were countless variations of gladiatorial combat.  Historical reenactments of great battles from Rome’s history were common, but these were typically carried out by lesser trained slaves who could not put on as good a show as the more highly skilled combatants.  Well-trained fighters often took on a character role, ironically similar to today’s entertainment wrestling organizations, and each role would play a critical part in the show.  Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent “roles.”

Retiarius – Considered an inferior class of gladiator, the retiarius was based on the look of a fisherman and was equipped with a net, a trident, and a knife.  Armored sparsely for mobility, they did not even wear a helmet and used their mobility and unimpeded vision to trap their opponent with their net and then spear them to death.

Myrmillonis – Known as the “fish men,” these gladiators were almost always matched up against the retiarius.   Their armor was often stylized with fish-like characteristics such as scales and fins, and they often carried a large shield and short sword.

Secutor – A pursuit fighter, these gladiators thrilled the mob as they chased their opponents around the arena.  The secutor was essentially a more respectable version of the myrmillonis, and also wore stylized armor symbolic of fish.  The Emperor Commodus (161-192AD), known for himself participating in the games, fought as a secutor.

Gallus – Heavily armed gladiators who relied on strong defenses and brute force as opposed to speed and agility.  These combatants took their name from the formidable warriors of Gaul, and often fought with the traditional gladiator’s sword (gladius) or possibly a lance.

Bestiarii – Technically not gladiators, these combatants fought against animals.  The forerunners of modern bullfighters, they would square up against leopards, lions, and other formidable opponents from Mother Nature’s starting lineup.

Gladiatorial games would often run for days on end, and would build momentum throughout the course of the event. Opening acts usually involved animals and would include games such as the venationes and the bestiarii.  The venationes was essentially a staged, canned hunt where a hunter would pursue wild game throughout the arena to entertain the mob.  Bestiarii involved man and beast engaging in mortal combat, and neither was guaranteed victory.  As often as not, the beast emerged triumphant from these matches, much to the pleasure of the crowd. Following these games, the attention would turn to the main events, where gladiators would engage in single combat.  It was also not unusual in larger venues to stage historical reenactments, placing trained warriors on the historically winning side against poorly armed and untrained criminals on the historically losing side.

The great bloodshed from these bouts was absorbed into the sand that was layered on the arena’s floor for this express purpose. And that is where we get the word “arena,” from “harena,” the Latin word for sand.

Pollice Verso

Although motivations were mixed when a man stepped into the arena as a gladiator, by the time swords clashed all men shared only one motivation…survival.  This decision rested not only on their grit, courage, and skill-at-arms, however, but also with the mob.  Should a gladiator be bested by his opponent and find himself about to receive a mortal blow, his fate was often decided pollice verso (with a turned thumb).   A victorious and reputation-conscious gladiator would often choose to involve the mob, looking to them for guidance on whether he should finish off his opponent.  With the turn of their thumbs, the Roman mob could seal the man’s fate.  The common perception is that it was thumbs up for life, thumbs down for a quick end.  There are some scholars who argue that the reverse of this was true, and that an upturned thumb towards the throat represented the desire to see the conquered opponent slain, but the truth may forever be lost to history.  Regardless, we do know for certain that the mob often held the fallen gladiator’s fate in their hands.  For a gladiator who had fought valiantly, the crowd was likely to vote for mercy.

If a gladiator’s life was spared, it was back to training and preparing himself to become once again…the man in the arena.

What is your take on gladiator games?  Will future generations look back on our varying forms of entertainment with a similar shock and fascination?  Let us know in the comments!


“Gladiators” by Michael Grant, Barnes and Noble Books, 1967

“The Gladiators – History’s Most Deadly Sport” by Fik Meijer, St Martin’s Griffin, 2007

“Gladiators” by Stephen Wisdom, Osprey publishing, 2001


{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric October 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Awesome article! Learned a lot, but had one quick correction pertaining to the direction of the thumbs. Though Gladiator popularized the notion of thumbs up as life and thumbs down for death, in actuality it was the other way around. Thumbs down meant to drop the sword, thumbs up meant to slit their throats. I learned this is Latin class before the movie came out, though it runs counter to modern uses.

2 effdogg October 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Well said Eric! I was literally scrolling down to write the exact same thing when I saw you post :-)


3 Josh October 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Eric is correct, thumbs down actually mean life. I read a slightly different explanation for the thumbs with thumbs up meaning send them to the heavens (by killing them) and thumbs down meaning let them stay on Earth.

4 Robert L. October 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Good observation, Eric. That’s often mistaken.

The gladiatorial games were wildly popular. In fact, I’m reminded of an anecdote during a rampant famine in the 300′s CE. In response to riots in the city, a senator asked the Emperor whether they should spend money on grain to feed the people, or sand to lay in the Colosseum. The Emperor replied quickly, “For the love of God, bring the sand!”

5 Max October 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm


6 Jack October 11, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Good article, though I knew most of it already from a multitude of books. Just one point, and I feel a little petty for pointing it out, the term ‘paradox’ is used incorrectly twice in the second paragraph. The idea that a criminal can be famous is not contradictory, and neither is the idea that the centre of civilization in ancient times had a bloodthirsty culture.

Anyway, well written, and a very nice read.

7 Bobby October 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm

From what i have learned from The History Channel and some other sources, The gladiator would ask the mob and then the final decision would be up to the Emperor, also i heard a thumbs up from the mob signified let him live while a thumb to the throat(not down) meant to finish him off.

8 Anthony Corps October 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Makes me wanna workout.

9 Antonios Michaelos October 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I agree with Anthony Corps they should do an article on a gladiator workout but an original one not one used somewere else

10 pbww October 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Do you think that the qualities of Manliness are timeless? Do the same fundamental pieces of manhood exist as a constant through time, or are they relative to the society? Certainly the circumstances change, but are virtues always the same?

11 Paul October 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm

The fact that we’re constantly referring, both on this site, and comments on this page, to virtue, coming from the Latin “vir” meaning man, says something. Virtue IS manliness (in public conduct). Not that women can’t be virtuous, but technically a woman would only be described as having virtue when performing an action deemed worthy of a man. Again, not being misogynistic, just going over the original definition of virtue.

12 Daren Redekopp October 11, 2011 at 11:22 pm

When I watch two men walk into a cage to face each other in an MMA match, I wonder about the mental adjustment required to do such a thing. But to face a man with your life hanging forfeit, well, that’s a different breed of man altogether.

13 Jethro October 11, 2011 at 11:57 pm

“Will future generations look back on our varying forms of entertainment with a similar shock and fascination?”

There are actually some of us who look on our varying forms of entertainment NOW with shock, fascination, and revulsion. From NHL hockey to Survivor, our media is plastered with conflict- and the conflict is the drawing card. Even on relatively innocuous ‘reality TV’ shows like Cake Boss and Kitchen Disasters, participants are encouraged (behind the scenes, of course) by the producers to increase the conflict- it makes the show ‘interesting’. Of course we have the ludicrous displays of peacockery like WWE and all the other ‘fight night’ bloodsports that are no more than staged spectacles. I personally believe that American society is quite ready and willing to accept real blood and serious injury on their television screens, and there’s not far to go before it’s just like Rome. The movie “The Running Man” was only inaccurate in how far away it estimated those attitudes to be.

14 Jake October 12, 2011 at 1:47 am

Wonderful article.

Another note is that many banished or retired soldiers from the Roman army tried their luck in the arena. However, a freed gladiator was nat allowed to join the ranks, they were thought of as unpredictable, a liability to the roman phalanx.

Also, the thumb signals are counter intuitive to modern culture. Thumbs down meant to stick your sword into the earth, the fight is over. Thumbs up meant to run your sword through your opponent.

15 Evan M October 12, 2011 at 2:12 am

“Some of you are thinking that you won’t fight. Others, that you can’t fight. They all say that, until they’re out there.”

16 Hal October 12, 2011 at 5:46 am

We have our own version of the gladiatorial games. Its called football.

17 Stephen October 12, 2011 at 5:51 am

They put on some epic shows too, including staging naval battles in the colosseum.

18 Ryan October 12, 2011 at 6:20 am

What sources were consulted to write this article? I’m a history major studying Rome, and thought it curious to refer to Rome as an empire during the first century BC since the majority of the century Rome remained a republic.

19 Mark October 12, 2011 at 6:35 am

Excellent article. As regards the thumbs up or down I was under the impression that the crowd signaled with the hand and we only guess that it was using the thumb as we know it today. Does any one know any more of this?

20 Kuur October 12, 2011 at 6:49 am

In the first episode of the documentary The Human Animal , it is said that when gladiators were granted with life the crowd showed their fists with their thumbs hidden. And when they wanted the gladiator to finish his oponent, they made a stabbing movement with their thumb towards the gladiator in question. And because the death match took place lower on the ground and the spectators were on the stands, the thumbs stabbed downwards. It is said that the thumb symbolized the sword.

Hmm.. which version of it to believe?

21 Jay Tormey October 12, 2011 at 9:54 am

Great article. The thumbs debate seems to be mired in urban legend. I wonder whether there is a reliable source back in history that can settle it, one that doesn’t cite some other source.
I was a bit taken aback by a remark or two about having learned some or much of this elsewhere and/or before. I hope that’s not considered a negative. It’s the nature of history after all. What’s great is that someone has taken the time to assemble it all for us to review and ponder.

22 Tom October 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

For the most part, I enjoy this website and many of it’s articles, but I find it perplexing that no one ever seems to challenge any of them with reference to manliness. I read most of the comments and not one did I see. Since I know nothing about Roman history and culture, I can’t comment on the accuracy of the story. I don’t really care. What this article does do though, is glorify violence and thuggery and equates it with manliness. It clearly states that most of these men were criminals and slaves yet we here choose to put them on some sort of pedestal. What’s worse is how these men were USED. They were disposable. Frankly, there is nothing manly about Gladiators. They weren’t even good breeding stock. Can we please have some interesting articles that actually make men look good that don’t equate violence and thuggery with manliness?

23 daniel October 12, 2011 at 11:03 am

Interesting read! In answer to your question, I know that much of the world already thinks of Americans as rather violent and bloodthirsty. It is so much a part of our culture, though, that we really don’t see it, just like most of the Romans wouldn’t feel guilty at all about their gladiatorial shows. We pat ourselves on the back because we don’t actually kill people in our movies, but we take great delight in watching them pretend to die in very realistic situations.

24 Dave October 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

I was taught it to be the reverse: Thumbs down meant put your sword down, or you would draw your other forefinger across an up-turned thumb to “cut it’s head off” (similar to how we symbolically draw a thumb across our throat for “kill”).

I have a family member who teaches Latin and history of classic civilizations at Haverford.

25 David Knapp October 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

“Well-trained fighters often took on a character role, ironically similar to today’s entertainment wrestling organizations…”

In the spring of 2000, when I went to see Gladiator, I remember thinking how the gladiators fighting in the arena was very similar to the WWE. Another similarity with wrestling is The Battle of Carthage in the movie was supposed to be choreographed, though Maximus changed the storyline.

I enjoyed the movie but I don’t think I would have enjoyed the real deal, especially as I get older violence seems like a desperate option.

I think future generation will always see the past as more violent. At least in sports it continues to get safer. No more 15 round boxing matches for example.

Great article!

26 AK-Adventurer October 12, 2011 at 11:49 am

“We have our own version of the gladiatorial games. Its called football.”

No, its called the Middle East.

27 Chris October 12, 2011 at 11:59 am

@Ryan –

The source materials for the article are listed at the bottom. Also, you are right that Rome was a Republic during much of the 1st Century BC (precisely, until 27 BC), but gladiatorial games continued to prosper as Rome transitioned from Republic to Empire after that date.

28 Rachel October 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Tom says: “It clearly states that most of these men were criminals and slaves yet we here choose to put them on some sort of pedestal.” We shouldn’t dismiss the idea slaves are also capable of noble action, as evident by many examples of African Americans in the 19th century United States. To view slaves as lower forms of humanity is a not equitable. And criminals in ancient Rome may not have been guilty of the same sort of crimes with which we now associate the word “criminal.” I am sure that many of these gladiators, if given a choice, would rather have not risked their lives for the amusement of the spectators, but they were not given a choice. There is no modern parallel to the gladiatorial games since athletes are not compelled to fight in any sport matches, nor are any of them fighting for their lives, nor would murder of a losing opponent be permitted. It’s a mistake to equate modern, voluntary sport in which we strive to preserve life and limb, with ancient, compulsary combat in which murder is not only permitted, but expected. It’s like equating MMA fights with being assaulted in a dark alley. One is sport, the other is a life-threatening situation. However the combative methods of ancient Rome are fascinating, and this is presented as “man knowledge” and not “manly attributes” – I didn’t get the sense that the author is promoting violence, merely reporting on an ancient and barbaric practice.

29 Andrew#2 October 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Is it any wonder the Roman world was eventually trampled underfoot? Likewise, will any culture with that kind of disrespect for human life last long?

30 Harry October 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Actually gladiatorial combat was in major decline or already banned (depending on which sources you read) when Rome was destroyed. The little that was left at that time was mainly animal fights. Gladiatorial combat between people went into decline during the later part of the empire’s life, mainly under the Christian emperors. Its also worth saying that very few fights were to the death, the gladiators cost too much to train to make it worth it, most fights were ended at first blood, which really makes gladiatorial combat very similar to most modern combat sports (after all, how many times have you seen someone bleeding in the UFC) except for the fact that gladiators were armed.

31 Albert K October 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I was disappointed that the post did not recount how the Christians were fed to the beasts. Or was that practice not part of these same gladiator games?

32 Fritz October 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Great article that made for a very interesting read. I agree with Antonios, I would love to see a gladiator workout posted.

33 Daniel J Foley Jr October 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I compare the Gladitorial games of Rome to pretty much any professional sport today that is more concerned for business and entertainment than it is for pure competition. Perhaps the epitome of this would be the NFL in my opinion.

In either case, Gladiators or footballers, the objective of the few in power is “bread and circus” for the masses. Keep them occupied, engaged in meaningless activity, and keep them spending their money. This goes back to some of what was discussed in the “Spectatoritis” article.

34 Joe October 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I really enjoyed this article and like the posts of many above, I learned a great deal in this article.

Not being up on the newer films and tv series that are out today, most of the knowledge (I thought) I possessed came from watching those really, really, really, really bad old Italian flicks from the 50s and 60s!

35 Ari October 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm

The greatest Roman Emperor, and the greatest philosopher ever to have lived (in my opinion) was Marcus Aurelius. And he was able to raise himself above the populist brutality of the games. Every man should have a copy of his “Meditations” on their bookshelf. Aurelius’ achievements in statesmanship, military command and philosophy measure his worth as a man. He sought to lift men and women up to a higher plane of reason and duty rather than pander to their base desires in an effort to be popular.

We live in an era where state funds are used to pay for sports arenas (which is equal to corporate welfare) fiddling while Rome burns.

“His (Aurelius’) reign is well described by F. W. Farrar (Seekers after God): “He regarded himself as being, in fact, the servant of all. The registry of the citizens, the suppression of litigation, the elevation of public morals, the care of minors, the retrenchment of public expenses, the limitation of gladiatorial games and shows, the care of roads, the restoration of senatorial privileges, the appointment of none but worthy magistrates, even the regulation of street traffic, these and numberless other duties so completely absorbed his attention that, in spite of indifferent health, they often kept him at severe labor from early morning till long after midnight. His position, indeed, often necessitated his presence at games and shows, but on these occasions he occupied himself either in reading, in being read to, or in writing notes. He was one of those who held that nothing should be done hastily, and that few crimes were worse than the waste of time.” The comprehensiveness of his legal and judicial reforms is very striking. Slaves, heirs, women and children, were benefited, and he made serious attempts to deal with the steady fall in the birthrate of legitimate children.”

36 William October 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Another common misconception is the mortality rate. It was very rare for a gladiator to die in the arena, and when they did, it was usually by accident or it was meant to be an execution. This was, after all, a business, and since the vast majority of gladiators were slaves, their owners were loath to let them die. In fact, as with WWE today, a number of fights were rigged by the owners to ensure a good show, profit, and protection of their property (gladiators.)

37 marik October 13, 2011 at 3:08 am

Well said Eric! I was literally scrolling down to write the exact same thing when I saw you post :-)

Chris, what exactly is your citation for the thumbs up/thumbs down thing? Wikipedia? Every HS latin students knowns thumbs up = kill the guy, thumbs down = let him live.

38 Dan P October 13, 2011 at 9:43 am

@ Albert K

Looks like the focus of the article was pre-Christianity, as the latest date mentioned was the first century BC.

Anyway, was a good read. :)

39 Brucifer October 13, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Brett, are we supposed to imagine those who thrill the roob couch-potato spectators in the arena, be they gladiators or sports jocks, as being *somehow* manly? Bah! They fought for neither freedom, family or country. Instead they either fought to avoid their own slaughter or to gain fame and fortune. How many is that?

Bread and circuses to lull the masses back then. Bread and circuses to lull the masses now! Rome burned then, western civilization burns now …. and we great unwashed masses just sit back and idolize our “heros” …then and now, … who *still* run around arenas in funny-lookin outfits.

But yeah, a Gladiator Workout would be a good post. The way things are goin, some of us are gonna need/want those skills,

40 Ryan October 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

@ Chris
Thanks, can’t believe I didn’t see the sources. Looked up and down for them.

41 Rutger October 14, 2011 at 3:42 am

This was wonderful and informative article and many of the responses were just as great, but I am going to have to agree with Rachel that the author was not trying to promote the violence of the gladiatorial games and the more often than not criminal backgrounds of the gladiators as being “manly.” I think the point of the article was just to be what I said in my first sentence: wonderful and informative. Like it or not, we have romanticized much of history, especially that pertaining to the development of western civilization, and in so doing we’ve even glorified what today would be considered barbaric. I am not going to equate modern TV shows or sporting events to the gladiatorial games because that just seems silly. Yes, some television programs are just mind-numbingly ridiculous with how conflict based they are, but I don’t think we, as a people, would ever want to see someone escalate the conflict to the point of taking another person’s life. With sports, the heavy contact sports draw a crowd, but I don’t know anyone who would be legitimately happy if they saw a player injured during play. I was an athlete for most of my life and we did not rejoice if a player on the other team was hurt. We stopped the play and were respectfully quite while they were taken care of.
In short, the article was to shed some light on what many have romanticized as an example of a manly archetype in history and give facts based on research and not opinions. If you want articles in the vein of the idea of manliness, check out the archetypal articles like the 3 Archetypes of American Manliness series or The Four Archetypes of the Mature Masculine series. They are really good articles.

42 Patrick October 14, 2011 at 8:12 am

It is impossible to compare historical figures to standards of today. We may be considered to be barbarians to men in the future for eating meat or watching rap videos. It should be considered that Roman gladiators were staged entertainment for the masses and not the will of Roman leadership.

43 Ramrok22 October 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Life is like being a gladiator. Day in and day out. If your not training your losing, not studying- failing, not praying-sinning, not growing and learning- dying. Life itself- is a battle for survival whether to fight against complacency and laziness or die for negligence and apathy for yourself and for others. The sad part I see good men throw in the towel and give up. I see them fall into the trap that life is sucks and that its it nothing they could no do. But what would you if you were hungry to stay alive and fight and claw your way to the top. from average to outstanding. We have to fight no matter the cost. Whether is to maintain a steady paycheck, a grade point average, or a burning love affair, it all comes at price. So i dont know bout you but i will be in the trenches training and training with my brothers so that i can have piece of success and share it with everyone!!!!

44 jeff October 15, 2011 at 11:17 am

The problem with Gladiators, as with most of the ancient cultural icons, is that there is little information other than anecdotal forms that where written long after the events. I like what one archeologist said about the Gladiators; that they should be viewed as part professional wrestling and part public execution manipulated by the elite to pacify the rabble. The killing was not as common as some depictions, since replacing a trained gladiator would be like replacing any highly skilled worker and would make little economic sense.

45 Dave Tindell October 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

For those of you looking for a “gladiator”-style workout, check out Men’s Health and its Spartacus workouts. They are killer workouts but they do the job. For those interested in learning more about the life of the gladiator, check out the 1st season of “Spartacus”, the Starz series starring the late Andy Whitfield. It’s sometimes a little over-the-top with blood and skin, but from what studies I’ve done on the period in college and later, the depiction of life in the “ludus”, the training hall, is pretty accurate. Also accurately portrayed are the business and political aspects of the games. Whitfield’s portrayal of Spartacus, a POW from Thrace, was very inspiring and certainly he embodied manly virtues like honor, loyalty to his wife and his best friend, and resistance to oppression and exploitation. If you want to see one of the greatest gladiatorial combats ever presented on film, check out the climactic episode of the “prequel” series, “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena”. Finally, I would recommend martial arts training for the closest modern-day combat training a man can get outside of the military. When you step into the ring for the first time in a full-contact taekwondo bout, you will find out a lot about yourself, and you will find it out fast.

46 TubbyMike October 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm

As already said by Messers Foley and Brucifer, “Bread and Circuses”. Keep the Proles entertained and distracted and enough bread for a full stomach and they’ll acquiesce to your wishes. Hence the proliferation of sports, reality TV and the cult of celebrity. Bread and Circuses is what allows financiers and politician to continue to get away with the “business as usual” economic plans, when ordinary people all over the world are looking for real change from their leaders.

Your very interesting article has shown again; plus ça change…

47 Brian October 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

FROM THE ARTICLE: “For a gladiator who had fought valiantly, the crowd was likely to vote for mercy.”


Terry Jones (of Monty Python) did a documentary where he claimed that a gladiator’s life was spared as an act of clemency, not mercy. Apparently, the Romans thought that clemency was something earned by the strong while mercy was something dispensed to the weak and the Romans didn’t care too much for the weak.

48 C.J. REBEL October 24, 2011 at 4:21 am


I agree with your assertion. For example, we’re showing assassinated/dead dictators or whatnot on television right now. It’s OK if it’s a perceived enemy.

I believe that we need to strive to be more CIVILIZED. The marks of a true man to me is his maturity, responsibility to others – his environment, etc., humility, the ability to reasonably debate, and civility. I believe that we should always strive to be more civil to our fellow man, and lead by this example, even when it’s unpopular with pop culture to do so.

49 Gareth October 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

Another theory is that the thumb would be clenched INSIDE the first for mercy because it would imply sheathing the sword.

50 Dennis October 31, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I know looking at it from two thousand years later, the arena seems colorful and fascinating. But don’t forget, this was the brutal torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of humans and animals for the sole purpose of entertaining crowds for money. They not only watched this inhumanity, they enjoyed it! There is absolutely nothing romantic about the arena, to me. It was a holocaust.

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