There were a small number of classes of Gladiator according to their level of skill, type and time in which they exhibited as well as the source of their upkeep. These included:
- Gladiatores Ordinarii were the most “basic” kind. These were presented and fought in the ordinary manner.
- Gladiatores Meridiani were those which fought in the afternoon.
- Gladiatores Fiscales were maintained by the private treasury of the emperor
- Gladiatores Postulatitii, were Gladiators of great skill, maintained by state treasury
- Gladiatores Catervarii, who fought in groups rather than in pairs
Gladiators could take on various types of armour and weaponry of which the principal ones were the Gladius sword and shield used by the common soldier, or knives or a net and trident of the “retiarius“. There were some 20 different types of role and relevant kit that a Gladiator could take. Amongst the principal types of Gladiator we have the Retiarii, Secutor, Myrmillones, Hoplomachi, Crupellarii, Thracians, Samnites, Gauls, Britons, Pinnirapi, Essedarii and the Andabatae. Of these the Samnites, the Thracians, the Myrmillo (or Secutor) and
the Retiarius were the four most common.
Unfortunately different Roman authors used more than one name to refer to the same type of Gladiator so that it is not always easy to understand whether we are talking of the same type or a distinct one. Suetonius refers to the “Hoplomachi” although possibly this was intended to mean the Samnites or Myrmillones because both of these wore armour.
Based on archaeological findings the most common type of Gladiator was probably the Samnite warrior who was heavily armed and recalled the memory of the fearsome Italic tribe the Romans had overcome during the days of the Republic. The Samnite Gladiator wore an imposing helmet with crest and visor, they had a short Gladius sword or a spear and a rectangular shield called “scutum
” similar to those of Roman legionaries but possibly tapered towards the bottom to render it more agile. Besides the helmet the Samnite Gladiator also wore armoured protection over his right arm and left leg.
The Samnite Gladiators were often pitched against the Pinnirati, so called because they would lift the Samnite helmet’s “pinnae” (flaps or flippers) in victory, rather like a bullfighter waves the bull’s ears.
Having spoken of the Samnite class of Gladiator we cannot fail to mention the other great types such as the Retiarii. In fact there were several more classes of Gladiator…More types and Classes of Gladiator