Gladiatorial games and fights had to follow a strict procedure and ceremony. The Gladiators arrived at the Colosseum from the Ludus Magnus through an underground tunnel. From here they could access the arena through a pair of gates reserved to them only. Entering the arena they would parade around in a solemn manner by marching or even riding around in chariots and eventually stand in front of the Imperial podium and salute with a display of arms. Suetonius tells us they shouted “Ave Caesar, Morituri te Salutant!” “Hail Caesar, the dying salute you!”.
Suetonius records that emperor Claudius once retorted in jest rather than solemnity and that, in a fit of professional dignity, the offended gladiators threatened not to fight. This gives us a sense of the honour and pride the gladiators took in their jobs. For many the Gladiatorial games were more than just games. Especially for those who were presumably putting their own lives on display.
A prelude to the “proper” fight involved some relatively harmless sparring so that the individuals could warm up. This might involve wooden or blunt weapons and could also include more amusing combatants such as women “amazons” or even dwarfs.
A sounding of trumpets (“tubae“) announced an end to the jesting and a start for the proper violence. The Gladiators would be matched into pairs of more or less equal capability and strength. In some cases the pairs of fighters might be chained together or as an added diversion they could be forced to fight in groups. At the extreme whole battle scenes could be staged.
During the fights the crowd gladiator would be shouting things like “habet” or “hoc habet“! Now you’ve got him! The excited lanistas and their helpers who wielded poles or even hot rods would be shouting instructions to the fighters such as “Kill!” Iugula! Or Ure! “Burn him!”.
The lanista also acted as referee and was assisted by trumpeters could bring the joust to a halt when one of the combatants was severely wounded (equivalent to a knock out). By throwing his shield aside and with a sign of the finger of the left hand, the fallen gladiator could ask the organiser of the games called the “editor” seated in the box of honour, to have his life spared. The editor would seek for public response and the appropriate ending would be carried out.
In some cases it was the fallen man’s own opponent who would choose whether to kill or spare his life and it was not unknown for a Gladiator who had been spared to later kill the Gladiator who had spared him in the past.
But this wasn’t the end of the Gladiatorial fights….
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 |