The origins of the Gladiators go back to the early days of Rome which inherited the tradition from the Etruscans. Captive men, usually captives of war, would be made to fight to the death as part of the burial ceremonies and celebrations of important Etruscan and Roman leaders. The burial ceremony, called “munus” (offering), involved burning the body of the deceased on a huge funeral pyre which in Rome was situated where the Montecitorio building now stands, by the Column of Antoninus in Piazza Colonna.
Whilst the corpse burnt, the valour of the deceased was commemorated through real combats to death. This was developed further by wealthy private citizens who organised fights in front of the tombs of their deceased in order to placate the Grim Reaper’s thirst for blood and hence ward off further deaths in the family.
The first shows with Gladiators trained specifically for the job were organised by M. and D. Brutus to celebrate the death of their father in 245BC, during the Consulship of Appius Claudius (builder of the first aqueduct and consular road, both named after him). The Roman writer Ausonius tells us that the event organised by the Brutus bro’s included three pairs of fighters only. I would guess that giving them half an hour a fight would have made the gladiatorial show no longer than half a day at the most including breaks.
The Romans developed such a delight for these fights that by 264BC they developed them into a more regular event not necessarily linked to specific burial ceremony. These early organised shows were held in the Forum or Circus Maximus
. The shows were such a success that even the priesthood organised events which Suetonius and Pliny called “Ludi Pontificales
” or “Ludi Sacerdotales
“, reflecting the original religious significance of the fights. The very presence of the king-cum-religious leader and of the sacred Vestal Virgins gave the bloody events a further religious character.
Gladiators: |Rise and Fall of the Gladiators | The Gladiatorial shows |Ancient Roman Gladiators | Training | Gladiator fights | After the Gladiatorial fights | Types of Gladiator | More types and Classes of Gladiator | Commodus | Julius Caesar and the Gladiators | Christian martyrs and the Colosseum | Gladiators, Christians and Fish | Christians against the Circus and Colosseum | End of the Gladiators |