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Episode
319

Bloody Celebrities | Gladiators in Ancient Rome

Nov 29, 2022
History
-
26
minutes

In Rome's Colosseum, 50,000 people would watch men fight each other to the death.

In this episode, we look at what the life of a gladiator involved, why fights didn't always end in death, and discover why this bloodthirsty sport was finally stopped for good.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part three of our mini-series on Ancient Rome.

[00:00:28] In part one we looked at the politics of Ancient Rome and in part two we told the story of Rome’s dark underbelly, slavery.

[00:00:37] Today, in part three, we are going to talk about gladiators.

[00:00:41] A gladiator could go from being the lowest of the low, a slave, a criminal, or in extreme poverty, to being a well-loved celebrity, idolised by men and adored by women.

[00:00:54] Children had toys of their favourite gladiators and women would even buy their sweat, believing it to be a sort of love potion.

[00:01:03] But for most gladiators, their lives were far from glamorous. 

[00:01:08] And in today’s episode we will tell their story, the training, the diets, the fights, and how some, just some, might fight well enough to never have to fight again.

[00:01:21] OK, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:23] And to start our story, we are actually going to begin at the end, with the fight which ended the tradition of gladiators in ancient Rome.

[00:01:33] It does involve a death, not of a gladiator, but of a monk, of a holy man.

[00:01:41] And this fight wasn’t between a monk and a gladiator or a monk and another monk, it was between a monk and the audience.

[00:01:50] The monk’s name was Telemachus.

[00:01:52] He had travelled to Rome in 404 AD from the East and found his way into the Colosseum only to be horrified by what he saw.

[00:02:04] Furious fighting with weapons clashing and blood gushing met with delighted cheers from a roaring crowd of thousands of people who were thrilled by the brutal spectacle.

[00:02:16] Telemachus could not believe the horror of the combat nor the audience’s excitement over it and in a bid to stop the violence, he ran into the arena. 

[00:02:28] The gladiators were more likely shocked and confused by the boldness of the monk and, despite him being unarmed, and no challenge to them, it was not at their hands that Telemachus met his end.

[00:02:43] As Telemachus refused to get out of the way, the audience started screaming at him. 

[00:02:49] "Move out! Get out of the way!" 

[00:02:52] But Telemachus would not move, determined to put an end to the horrors before him.

[00:02:59] The audience grew more and more frustrated and soon began throwing rocks at the monk, in a bid to get him to move.

[00:03:08] If Telemachus wasn’t going to move and let the gladiators get on with the show, well he would become the main event.

[00:03:18] The rocks rained down, and Telemachus, this holy man, was stoned to death by a furious and blood thirsty crowd.

[00:03:28] Upon hearing of the murder of the monk, the emperor at the time, Honorius was deeply disturbed and so, he declared the monk to be a martyr and banned the gladiatorial games forever, there was never another event again.

[00:03:44] It is a grim ending but appropriately reflects the gladiators’ gruesome lives of bloodshed, captivity, combat, as well as their undeniable popularity throughout ancient Rome. 

[00:03:57] The Roman public loved these events so much that they were willing to kill for them.

[00:04:03] So, who were these gladiators, and how did this tradition start?

[00:04:09] It is believed that the gladiators were first introduced in 264 BC, when the sons of a Roman general called Junius Brutus honoured their dead father by having slaves fight to the death at his funeral, in an act of brutal human sacrifice.

[00:04:27] This was an example of a Roman practice called Munera, in which war leaders and individuals of high status were expected to be honoured with displays of courage.

[00:04:40] Junius Brutus’s funeral started a trend among Rome’s wealthy and these types of events became much more common at funerals, and soon the lower classes were invited to join the events as spectators.

[00:04:55] As they grew in popularity, the commemorative, or celebratory, fights moved from private property to public stages so there could be larger audiences. 

[00:05:07] They also began to incorporate exciting narratives, as fighters would dress up as different Roman enemies such as the Gauls or Thracians.

[00:05:18] Over time, the religious element of the events faded away and they were transformed into commercialised performances for a new market of Romans who were willing to pay for this form of entertainment.

[00:05:32] Eventually, though, admission to the fights would become free as emperors paid all the expenses for their citizens, allowing all Roman citizens, rich and poor, to flock to fighting arenas and enjoy the violence for absolutely no cost at all.

[00:05:49] Seems like a rather strange thing for a leader to invest in, perhaps.

[00:05:54] Well, it wasn’t without reason, as the events became key ways for leaders to gain popularity among their people.

[00:06:02] So, who were these individuals that were willing to walk into an arena to engage in brutal fighting and even face death?

[00:06:12] Well to begin with, it was slaves belonging to the rich who would be expected to engage in the fighting. 

[00:06:20] As time passed, though, ordinary men began to sign up to become gladiators, attracted by the fame, glory, and paychecks of the fighters, as gladiators were paid each time they fought, and it could pay quite well.

[00:06:35] Towards the end of the second century AD, each fight could have won a gladiator between 12 and 75 sesterces, depending on their status, or fame, and how popular the event would be amongst the public.

[00:06:50] For context, a loaf of bread or bottle of wine - two essentials of course - would have cost around half a sesterce, so a popular gladiator could earn the equivalent of about 150 bottles of wine. 

[00:07:05] But how could these fighters go from unskilled slaves and normal citizens to powerful and impressive gladiators victorious in the arena? 

[00:07:16] You may not be surprised to learn that to become a gladiator there were intense training regimes

[00:07:23] There were over 100 gladiator schools throughout the Roman empire and the most famous, the most prestigious one, was called the Ludus Magnus, which was right next to the Colosseum.

[00:07:35] Well, we say schools but really, this is quite a nice term for what they really were. 

[00:07:42] As you might expect, the training at these schools was extremely strict and intense, and despite the fact that gladiators were so celebrated throughout the empire, they lived very tough lives in facilities that were more like prisons than anything else.

[00:08:00] Gladiators would be kept in chains and they would remain in their tiny cells unless they were released for training or for mealtimes, during which they were not allowed to talk.

[00:08:13] Hollywood would have you believe that gladiators ate platters of meat to get the protein they needed to grow muscle but it has actually been found that gladiators were predominantly vegetarian. 

[00:08:26] Clearly, this wasn’t out of any sympathy for the welfare of animals or a concern for the environment. It was in an effort to cut costs.

[00:08:36] They had 3 meals a day that were mainly barley and beans, which provided them with the energy they needed and earned them the nickname of ‘barley eaters’.

[00:08:48] They even had energy drinks which were made from plant ashes and were used to aid healing after physical activity.

[00:08:57] As well as being cost efficient, the diet was intended to ensure the gladiators would have enough strength and fat on their bodies to protect them during battles, so that they could receive gory injuries to delight the crowd without actually harming important organs.

[00:09:16] In other words, this diet would mean they would have enough fat on them for them to bleed a lot but not die.

[00:09:24] Gladiators, after all, became investments for many slave owners and they did not want them to die during fights.

[00:09:33] And despite the common belief that gladiators would always fight to the death, modern scholars believe that around 80-85% of defeated gladiators would survive each fight, they wouldn’t be killed.

[00:09:48] And in terms of how many fights a gladiator would take part in throughout his career, this varied greatly depending on their popularity and skill level. 

[00:09:59] Of course, if you were a bad fighter, you would probably not last long enough to have many fights.

[00:10:06] But if you were strong, and you continued to beat your opponents, fame and glory followed. 

[00:10:13] There is an account of one gladiator during the early second century AD who fought for nine days in a row, which was so rare and impressive he was actually released and given freedom after his ninth fight. 

[00:10:28] He was clearly an exception though. Most modern estimates believe that gladiators usually fought between 2 and 4 times a year, which allowed them time to heal after suffering any injuries. 

[00:10:42] In order to speed up their recovery, gladiators received some of the best medical care available. 

[00:10:49] For example, the Roman physician Claudius Galenus, who famously discovered the function of kidneys and arteries became a surgeon to the gladiators. 

[00:10:59] But a gladiator’s medical care did little to lessen the pains of their life of physical training in which every single day was dedicated to developing the skills necessary to give a good fight.

[00:11:13] Initial training would usually last around four months and was focused on getting a gladiator to their peak of fitness. 

[00:11:22] This would be achieved through callisthenics, strength training, in which gladiators would do exercises like push ups and sit ups.

[00:11:30] To learn how to fight, gladiators would use wooden weapons, with the type of weapon depending on which category of gladiator they were being trained as. 

[00:11:40] The four main types of gladiator were Samnites, also known as Secutors, Thraces, Murmillo and Retiarius.

[00:11:49] Samnites were originally named after defeated enemies of the early Republic and are the most heavily armed of all the gladiators with a large shield, a helmet and a short sword. 

[00:12:02] This type of gladiator was an impressive sight, relying on his giant shield for protection from enemy attacks while his short sword ensured his own attacks were swift and agile so he was usually able to gain the most strikes in a fight.

[00:12:18] The next class was the Thraces, named after another Roman enemy. These gladiators often fought in pairs and they usually had a curved dagger and a shield, though sometimes this dagger would be swapped for a spear for some more long range action.

[00:12:36] The infamous Spartacus was a Thraex fighter. 

[00:12:40] In the fighting ring, Thraces were most often up against the Samnites for a furious frenzy of sword stabbing and shield clashing, as similar to the Samnites, the Thraces were quick and agile fighters. 

[00:12:55] Speed was their selling point and paired with the Samnites, they delivered some of the most exciting fights which became the most popular throughout the Empire. 

[00:13:06] Our third class of gladiator, the Murmillo, is the most general class but most iconic. When you picture a gladiator, it's probably the Murmillo type of gladiator that you are thinking about. 

[00:13:19] This type of gladiator had a long Greek style straight sword and a large helmet which protected their face from attacks. These helmets would have only added to the atmosphere of a fight, hiding the fighter’s face and leaving him to the fantasy of his fans in the audience.

[00:13:38] A murmillo fighter would also often have a large Roman shield and, in order to carry the weight of his weapons, this class of fighter would normally include some of the largest and strongest gladiators. 

[00:13:51] Their strength and heavy weaponry made them a bit slower than other types of gladiators but their large shield allowed them to block incoming attacks while their long sword could reach out for a counter-strike. 

[00:14:05] They may not have provided the fastest of fights, but their size and strength was a popular spectacle on its own.

[00:14:13] The final class of gladiator was the Retiarius, who were, arguably, the strangest of the different types of gladiator. These fighters were not modelled on any former enemy or inspired by a strong soldier, no, a Retiarius was modelled on a fisherman. 

[00:14:31] The Retiarius had no helmet, no shield, no sword. What they did have was a heavy metal fishing net and a trident, a spear with three prongs on the end. 

[00:14:46] This was perhaps the most theatrical of all the fighting styles, as they would run around the ring attempting to catch their opponent in their net. 

[00:14:56] If they were quick enough and managed to catch them, then they would then stab them with the trident while they were trapped under the metal net. 

[00:15:05] As you can see, the gladiator fights were not just a furied frenzy of attacks, they had special rules and certain expectations from an audience. In the gladiator schools the fighters would have to learn how to fulfil their specific role and how to do it well. 

[00:15:22] After all, their life did depend on it.

[00:15:25] Now, in order to learn how to fight in these particular styles, the gladiators would learn how to properly use their weapons. 

[00:15:33] They would usually train using a wooden pole as a target and they would strike with their wooden weapons that were made to be exactly the same weight as the real thing in order to train the correct muscles.

[00:15:46] And this is what life would be like for the gladiators for at least five years, which would be the minimum they would be bound to their trainer or manager and during which time they were not allowed to leave. 

[00:16:00] And of course, this was only five years if they survived in the arena.

[00:16:05] So, to the fights themselves, what actually happened when a gladiator swapped his wooden training sword for his steel one, and the time came to step into the arena?

[00:16:17] Well, these fights were set within massive events that continued over a number of days much like the Olympic games.

[00:16:26] At the Colosseum, 50,000 Romans would gather to watch the brutal spectacles

[00:16:32] The fights were a popular event for Romans from all walks of life, all areas of society, from Emperors to street sellers.

[00:16:42] In the weeks leading up to the event there would be posters advertising the fight as well as other attractions such as public executions or music.

[00:16:51] They would also advertise luxuries like food and drink, shelter from the sun, and even prizes for audience members.

[00:17:00] The event would begin with a large ceremony that featured music and prayers to the gods. 

[00:17:06] There would then be fights between animals, using all sorts of exotic creatures that had been hunted during wars, such as lions, elephants, zebras, crocodiles and countless others.

[00:17:19] Sometimes, however, it would not only be animals fighting each other, as criminals who were condemned to death were often left in the area with an angry lion or tiger.

[00:17:31] But such horrific scenes were not enough, the Romans had come for the main event, the gladiator fights.

[00:17:39] The typical arrangement was a duel between two fighters, they could be of the same or different types of gladiator.

[00:17:47] The most important factor was that the gladiators would be of a similar skill level, leading to a good fight. 

[00:17:55] You didn’t want a quick death after all.

[00:17:58] During the match, there were strict rules to follow and a referee, who was usually a retired gladiator, and would monitor the action. 

[00:18:07] They could pause the fight to allow the gladiators to rest and get refreshments, and if a gladiator was not giving a good enough fight, they would be whipped or burnt to force them to fight with more enthusiasm.

[00:18:22] A standard fight would last between 15 to 20 minutes and would be accompanied by music that would only add to the suspense

[00:18:31] The gladiators would be expected to display great showmanship, playing a character with confidence and attitude, all while displaying their weapons skills.

[00:18:42] So, how did a gladiator “win” a fight?

[00:18:46] Well, the easy answer is, of course, by killing their opponent, but it might surprise you to find out that some of Rome’s most celebrated gladiators often barely caused any severe injuries to their opponents.

[00:19:00] A gladiator would win if their opponent surrendered, if they were too badly injured or in a position in which they could easily be killed. 

[00:19:09] To surrender, the loser would raise a single finger and the referee would end the fight.

[00:19:16] So, what would “ending the fight” actually mean in practical terms?

[00:19:22] Well, for the “winning gladiator”, it would mean a cash reward.

[00:19:27] As you heard earlier, this could have been anything between 12 and 75 sesterces, depending on their popularity.

[00:19:36] But aside from this payment, winning sometimes also meant freedom.

[00:19:41] If they had fought for at least 3 years, a winning gladiator could be awarded the ‘rudis’, a wooden sword that symbolised that they were now free from being a gladiator.

[00:19:54] A notorious gladiator called Flamma rejected the rudis four times, choosing to remain a gladiator for thirteen years until he was killed in battle.

[00:20:05] But for the losing gladiator, clearly his fate was more precarious.

[00:20:12] Popular perception, what most people think, typically involves a powerful emperor or politician holding out his thumb, while the audience wait with bated breath to see whether the defeated gladiator was going to be granted mercy, or whether he would be killed for the enjoyment of the crowd.

[00:20:32] The reality was often a little different.

[00:20:35] While the emperor could have a say on the outcome if he actually attended a match, given how many fights there were throughout the empire, the emperor simply couldn’t go to every one.

[00:20:47] Instead, the decision on whether the defeated gladiator would be condemned to death was often left to the referee, who would often look to the audience to judge the mood.

[00:20:58] People in the audience would make it clear what they wanted, sometimes mercy, sometimes death.

[00:21:06] These commands were accompanied with various hand gestures although historians are undecided on what exactly these would be.

[00:21:15] The most common belief is that a closed fist would mean mercy while sticking out your thumb would mean they wanted the loser to be killed. The audience would usually expect mercy to be given to a fighter who had given a good show or demonstrated impressive skills.

[00:21:33] However, if a gladiator hadn’t given a good fight, if he hadn’t tried his best or had been cowardly, the audience would cry out for him to be killed, and even in his dying moments a gladiator had to live up to the rules of the fight.

[00:21:50] The losing gladiator was expected to die honourably by grabbing the thigh of his opponent who would then hold his head and push his sword into his neck. 

[00:22:02] After he died, his body was removed from the arena by two men dressed as Charon, the god of death, and Hermes, the messenger god.

[00:22:12] One gladiator who was never killed in the ring, however, was a man called Commodus.

[00:22:18] And this was because he wasn’t really a gladiator, he was the Emperor Commodus.

[00:22:25] Despite being the most powerful person in the Roman Empire, he appeared in over 700 fights at the Colosseum, much to the shock of his government who considered it disgraceful and irresponsible

[00:22:37] Even many of his Roman citizens thought it was inappropriate for an emperor to be performing in the arena instead of fighting Rome’s real enemies.

[00:22:48] When gladiators had to fight the emperor, they did not dare put him in any real harm and always surrendered to him.

[00:22:56] His opponents, however, weren’t always so lucky.

[00:23:00] As Hercules had famously fought giants with a club in Greek mythology, Commodus had Roman citizens who were missing limbs or feet be tied together to pretend they were giants, and he would then beat them to death with a club.

[00:23:16] On another occasion, he disgusted his people when he reportedly slaughtered 100 lions in a single day.

[00:23:24] Eventually his shocking behaviour led to his assassination, when he was strangled in the bath by a wrestler in 192 AD.

[00:23:34] By the way, if you have seen the Ridley Scott film “Gladiator”, the nasty emperor who is killed by Maximus is based on this emperor.

[00:23:44] Even after Commodus’ death, gladiatorial games continued for another 200 years, despite being banned by the first Christian emperor, Constantine in 325 AD.

[00:23:56] Then, in 404AD, Telemachhus, the monk, arrived in Rome, and–as you heard at the start of the episode–his gruesome end did cause this gruesome activity to be stopped for good.

[00:24:10] Historians are divided over exactly how many men died in the arenas during the almost 1000 years the gladiator fights took place.

[00:24:19] Some estimates have it as up to 400,000, the population of a medium-sized city, whose blood was spilled at the Colosseum alone, all for the enjoyment of the bloodthirsty, baying crowds.

[00:24:35] Ok then, that is it for today’s episode on Roman gladiators, and with it comes the end of this three-part mini-series on Ancient Rome.

[00:24:46] We have gone from the mythical founding of Rome’s monarchy, the rise and fall of the Republic, its treacherous transition to the Empire and even beyond, following the stories of slavery and gladiators. 

[00:24:59] As always I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:25:05] Do you think gladiators deserve the title of ancient celebrities?

[00:25:09] How does Rome’s obsession with gladiators and its dependency on slaves change your perception of its value as a civilisation?

[00:25:19] Or was it simply too long ago for us to judge it in the way we would do a modern society?

[00:25:25] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:29] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part three of our mini-series on Ancient Rome.

[00:00:28] In part one we looked at the politics of Ancient Rome and in part two we told the story of Rome’s dark underbelly, slavery.

[00:00:37] Today, in part three, we are going to talk about gladiators.

[00:00:41] A gladiator could go from being the lowest of the low, a slave, a criminal, or in extreme poverty, to being a well-loved celebrity, idolised by men and adored by women.

[00:00:54] Children had toys of their favourite gladiators and women would even buy their sweat, believing it to be a sort of love potion.

[00:01:03] But for most gladiators, their lives were far from glamorous. 

[00:01:08] And in today’s episode we will tell their story, the training, the diets, the fights, and how some, just some, might fight well enough to never have to fight again.

[00:01:21] OK, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:23] And to start our story, we are actually going to begin at the end, with the fight which ended the tradition of gladiators in ancient Rome.

[00:01:33] It does involve a death, not of a gladiator, but of a monk, of a holy man.

[00:01:41] And this fight wasn’t between a monk and a gladiator or a monk and another monk, it was between a monk and the audience.

[00:01:50] The monk’s name was Telemachus.

[00:01:52] He had travelled to Rome in 404 AD from the East and found his way into the Colosseum only to be horrified by what he saw.

[00:02:04] Furious fighting with weapons clashing and blood gushing met with delighted cheers from a roaring crowd of thousands of people who were thrilled by the brutal spectacle.

[00:02:16] Telemachus could not believe the horror of the combat nor the audience’s excitement over it and in a bid to stop the violence, he ran into the arena. 

[00:02:28] The gladiators were more likely shocked and confused by the boldness of the monk and, despite him being unarmed, and no challenge to them, it was not at their hands that Telemachus met his end.

[00:02:43] As Telemachus refused to get out of the way, the audience started screaming at him. 

[00:02:49] "Move out! Get out of the way!" 

[00:02:52] But Telemachus would not move, determined to put an end to the horrors before him.

[00:02:59] The audience grew more and more frustrated and soon began throwing rocks at the monk, in a bid to get him to move.

[00:03:08] If Telemachus wasn’t going to move and let the gladiators get on with the show, well he would become the main event.

[00:03:18] The rocks rained down, and Telemachus, this holy man, was stoned to death by a furious and blood thirsty crowd.

[00:03:28] Upon hearing of the murder of the monk, the emperor at the time, Honorius was deeply disturbed and so, he declared the monk to be a martyr and banned the gladiatorial games forever, there was never another event again.

[00:03:44] It is a grim ending but appropriately reflects the gladiators’ gruesome lives of bloodshed, captivity, combat, as well as their undeniable popularity throughout ancient Rome. 

[00:03:57] The Roman public loved these events so much that they were willing to kill for them.

[00:04:03] So, who were these gladiators, and how did this tradition start?

[00:04:09] It is believed that the gladiators were first introduced in 264 BC, when the sons of a Roman general called Junius Brutus honoured their dead father by having slaves fight to the death at his funeral, in an act of brutal human sacrifice.

[00:04:27] This was an example of a Roman practice called Munera, in which war leaders and individuals of high status were expected to be honoured with displays of courage.

[00:04:40] Junius Brutus’s funeral started a trend among Rome’s wealthy and these types of events became much more common at funerals, and soon the lower classes were invited to join the events as spectators.

[00:04:55] As they grew in popularity, the commemorative, or celebratory, fights moved from private property to public stages so there could be larger audiences. 

[00:05:07] They also began to incorporate exciting narratives, as fighters would dress up as different Roman enemies such as the Gauls or Thracians.

[00:05:18] Over time, the religious element of the events faded away and they were transformed into commercialised performances for a new market of Romans who were willing to pay for this form of entertainment.

[00:05:32] Eventually, though, admission to the fights would become free as emperors paid all the expenses for their citizens, allowing all Roman citizens, rich and poor, to flock to fighting arenas and enjoy the violence for absolutely no cost at all.

[00:05:49] Seems like a rather strange thing for a leader to invest in, perhaps.

[00:05:54] Well, it wasn’t without reason, as the events became key ways for leaders to gain popularity among their people.

[00:06:02] So, who were these individuals that were willing to walk into an arena to engage in brutal fighting and even face death?

[00:06:12] Well to begin with, it was slaves belonging to the rich who would be expected to engage in the fighting. 

[00:06:20] As time passed, though, ordinary men began to sign up to become gladiators, attracted by the fame, glory, and paychecks of the fighters, as gladiators were paid each time they fought, and it could pay quite well.

[00:06:35] Towards the end of the second century AD, each fight could have won a gladiator between 12 and 75 sesterces, depending on their status, or fame, and how popular the event would be amongst the public.

[00:06:50] For context, a loaf of bread or bottle of wine - two essentials of course - would have cost around half a sesterce, so a popular gladiator could earn the equivalent of about 150 bottles of wine. 

[00:07:05] But how could these fighters go from unskilled slaves and normal citizens to powerful and impressive gladiators victorious in the arena? 

[00:07:16] You may not be surprised to learn that to become a gladiator there were intense training regimes

[00:07:23] There were over 100 gladiator schools throughout the Roman empire and the most famous, the most prestigious one, was called the Ludus Magnus, which was right next to the Colosseum.

[00:07:35] Well, we say schools but really, this is quite a nice term for what they really were. 

[00:07:42] As you might expect, the training at these schools was extremely strict and intense, and despite the fact that gladiators were so celebrated throughout the empire, they lived very tough lives in facilities that were more like prisons than anything else.

[00:08:00] Gladiators would be kept in chains and they would remain in their tiny cells unless they were released for training or for mealtimes, during which they were not allowed to talk.

[00:08:13] Hollywood would have you believe that gladiators ate platters of meat to get the protein they needed to grow muscle but it has actually been found that gladiators were predominantly vegetarian. 

[00:08:26] Clearly, this wasn’t out of any sympathy for the welfare of animals or a concern for the environment. It was in an effort to cut costs.

[00:08:36] They had 3 meals a day that were mainly barley and beans, which provided them with the energy they needed and earned them the nickname of ‘barley eaters’.

[00:08:48] They even had energy drinks which were made from plant ashes and were used to aid healing after physical activity.

[00:08:57] As well as being cost efficient, the diet was intended to ensure the gladiators would have enough strength and fat on their bodies to protect them during battles, so that they could receive gory injuries to delight the crowd without actually harming important organs.

[00:09:16] In other words, this diet would mean they would have enough fat on them for them to bleed a lot but not die.

[00:09:24] Gladiators, after all, became investments for many slave owners and they did not want them to die during fights.

[00:09:33] And despite the common belief that gladiators would always fight to the death, modern scholars believe that around 80-85% of defeated gladiators would survive each fight, they wouldn’t be killed.

[00:09:48] And in terms of how many fights a gladiator would take part in throughout his career, this varied greatly depending on their popularity and skill level. 

[00:09:59] Of course, if you were a bad fighter, you would probably not last long enough to have many fights.

[00:10:06] But if you were strong, and you continued to beat your opponents, fame and glory followed. 

[00:10:13] There is an account of one gladiator during the early second century AD who fought for nine days in a row, which was so rare and impressive he was actually released and given freedom after his ninth fight. 

[00:10:28] He was clearly an exception though. Most modern estimates believe that gladiators usually fought between 2 and 4 times a year, which allowed them time to heal after suffering any injuries. 

[00:10:42] In order to speed up their recovery, gladiators received some of the best medical care available. 

[00:10:49] For example, the Roman physician Claudius Galenus, who famously discovered the function of kidneys and arteries became a surgeon to the gladiators. 

[00:10:59] But a gladiator’s medical care did little to lessen the pains of their life of physical training in which every single day was dedicated to developing the skills necessary to give a good fight.

[00:11:13] Initial training would usually last around four months and was focused on getting a gladiator to their peak of fitness. 

[00:11:22] This would be achieved through callisthenics, strength training, in which gladiators would do exercises like push ups and sit ups.

[00:11:30] To learn how to fight, gladiators would use wooden weapons, with the type of weapon depending on which category of gladiator they were being trained as. 

[00:11:40] The four main types of gladiator were Samnites, also known as Secutors, Thraces, Murmillo and Retiarius.

[00:11:49] Samnites were originally named after defeated enemies of the early Republic and are the most heavily armed of all the gladiators with a large shield, a helmet and a short sword. 

[00:12:02] This type of gladiator was an impressive sight, relying on his giant shield for protection from enemy attacks while his short sword ensured his own attacks were swift and agile so he was usually able to gain the most strikes in a fight.

[00:12:18] The next class was the Thraces, named after another Roman enemy. These gladiators often fought in pairs and they usually had a curved dagger and a shield, though sometimes this dagger would be swapped for a spear for some more long range action.

[00:12:36] The infamous Spartacus was a Thraex fighter. 

[00:12:40] In the fighting ring, Thraces were most often up against the Samnites for a furious frenzy of sword stabbing and shield clashing, as similar to the Samnites, the Thraces were quick and agile fighters. 

[00:12:55] Speed was their selling point and paired with the Samnites, they delivered some of the most exciting fights which became the most popular throughout the Empire. 

[00:13:06] Our third class of gladiator, the Murmillo, is the most general class but most iconic. When you picture a gladiator, it's probably the Murmillo type of gladiator that you are thinking about. 

[00:13:19] This type of gladiator had a long Greek style straight sword and a large helmet which protected their face from attacks. These helmets would have only added to the atmosphere of a fight, hiding the fighter’s face and leaving him to the fantasy of his fans in the audience.

[00:13:38] A murmillo fighter would also often have a large Roman shield and, in order to carry the weight of his weapons, this class of fighter would normally include some of the largest and strongest gladiators. 

[00:13:51] Their strength and heavy weaponry made them a bit slower than other types of gladiators but their large shield allowed them to block incoming attacks while their long sword could reach out for a counter-strike. 

[00:14:05] They may not have provided the fastest of fights, but their size and strength was a popular spectacle on its own.

[00:14:13] The final class of gladiator was the Retiarius, who were, arguably, the strangest of the different types of gladiator. These fighters were not modelled on any former enemy or inspired by a strong soldier, no, a Retiarius was modelled on a fisherman. 

[00:14:31] The Retiarius had no helmet, no shield, no sword. What they did have was a heavy metal fishing net and a trident, a spear with three prongs on the end. 

[00:14:46] This was perhaps the most theatrical of all the fighting styles, as they would run around the ring attempting to catch their opponent in their net. 

[00:14:56] If they were quick enough and managed to catch them, then they would then stab them with the trident while they were trapped under the metal net. 

[00:15:05] As you can see, the gladiator fights were not just a furied frenzy of attacks, they had special rules and certain expectations from an audience. In the gladiator schools the fighters would have to learn how to fulfil their specific role and how to do it well. 

[00:15:22] After all, their life did depend on it.

[00:15:25] Now, in order to learn how to fight in these particular styles, the gladiators would learn how to properly use their weapons. 

[00:15:33] They would usually train using a wooden pole as a target and they would strike with their wooden weapons that were made to be exactly the same weight as the real thing in order to train the correct muscles.

[00:15:46] And this is what life would be like for the gladiators for at least five years, which would be the minimum they would be bound to their trainer or manager and during which time they were not allowed to leave. 

[00:16:00] And of course, this was only five years if they survived in the arena.

[00:16:05] So, to the fights themselves, what actually happened when a gladiator swapped his wooden training sword for his steel one, and the time came to step into the arena?

[00:16:17] Well, these fights were set within massive events that continued over a number of days much like the Olympic games.

[00:16:26] At the Colosseum, 50,000 Romans would gather to watch the brutal spectacles

[00:16:32] The fights were a popular event for Romans from all walks of life, all areas of society, from Emperors to street sellers.

[00:16:42] In the weeks leading up to the event there would be posters advertising the fight as well as other attractions such as public executions or music.

[00:16:51] They would also advertise luxuries like food and drink, shelter from the sun, and even prizes for audience members.

[00:17:00] The event would begin with a large ceremony that featured music and prayers to the gods. 

[00:17:06] There would then be fights between animals, using all sorts of exotic creatures that had been hunted during wars, such as lions, elephants, zebras, crocodiles and countless others.

[00:17:19] Sometimes, however, it would not only be animals fighting each other, as criminals who were condemned to death were often left in the area with an angry lion or tiger.

[00:17:31] But such horrific scenes were not enough, the Romans had come for the main event, the gladiator fights.

[00:17:39] The typical arrangement was a duel between two fighters, they could be of the same or different types of gladiator.

[00:17:47] The most important factor was that the gladiators would be of a similar skill level, leading to a good fight. 

[00:17:55] You didn’t want a quick death after all.

[00:17:58] During the match, there were strict rules to follow and a referee, who was usually a retired gladiator, and would monitor the action. 

[00:18:07] They could pause the fight to allow the gladiators to rest and get refreshments, and if a gladiator was not giving a good enough fight, they would be whipped or burnt to force them to fight with more enthusiasm.

[00:18:22] A standard fight would last between 15 to 20 minutes and would be accompanied by music that would only add to the suspense

[00:18:31] The gladiators would be expected to display great showmanship, playing a character with confidence and attitude, all while displaying their weapons skills.

[00:18:42] So, how did a gladiator “win” a fight?

[00:18:46] Well, the easy answer is, of course, by killing their opponent, but it might surprise you to find out that some of Rome’s most celebrated gladiators often barely caused any severe injuries to their opponents.

[00:19:00] A gladiator would win if their opponent surrendered, if they were too badly injured or in a position in which they could easily be killed. 

[00:19:09] To surrender, the loser would raise a single finger and the referee would end the fight.

[00:19:16] So, what would “ending the fight” actually mean in practical terms?

[00:19:22] Well, for the “winning gladiator”, it would mean a cash reward.

[00:19:27] As you heard earlier, this could have been anything between 12 and 75 sesterces, depending on their popularity.

[00:19:36] But aside from this payment, winning sometimes also meant freedom.

[00:19:41] If they had fought for at least 3 years, a winning gladiator could be awarded the ‘rudis’, a wooden sword that symbolised that they were now free from being a gladiator.

[00:19:54] A notorious gladiator called Flamma rejected the rudis four times, choosing to remain a gladiator for thirteen years until he was killed in battle.

[00:20:05] But for the losing gladiator, clearly his fate was more precarious.

[00:20:12] Popular perception, what most people think, typically involves a powerful emperor or politician holding out his thumb, while the audience wait with bated breath to see whether the defeated gladiator was going to be granted mercy, or whether he would be killed for the enjoyment of the crowd.

[00:20:32] The reality was often a little different.

[00:20:35] While the emperor could have a say on the outcome if he actually attended a match, given how many fights there were throughout the empire, the emperor simply couldn’t go to every one.

[00:20:47] Instead, the decision on whether the defeated gladiator would be condemned to death was often left to the referee, who would often look to the audience to judge the mood.

[00:20:58] People in the audience would make it clear what they wanted, sometimes mercy, sometimes death.

[00:21:06] These commands were accompanied with various hand gestures although historians are undecided on what exactly these would be.

[00:21:15] The most common belief is that a closed fist would mean mercy while sticking out your thumb would mean they wanted the loser to be killed. The audience would usually expect mercy to be given to a fighter who had given a good show or demonstrated impressive skills.

[00:21:33] However, if a gladiator hadn’t given a good fight, if he hadn’t tried his best or had been cowardly, the audience would cry out for him to be killed, and even in his dying moments a gladiator had to live up to the rules of the fight.

[00:21:50] The losing gladiator was expected to die honourably by grabbing the thigh of his opponent who would then hold his head and push his sword into his neck. 

[00:22:02] After he died, his body was removed from the arena by two men dressed as Charon, the god of death, and Hermes, the messenger god.

[00:22:12] One gladiator who was never killed in the ring, however, was a man called Commodus.

[00:22:18] And this was because he wasn’t really a gladiator, he was the Emperor Commodus.

[00:22:25] Despite being the most powerful person in the Roman Empire, he appeared in over 700 fights at the Colosseum, much to the shock of his government who considered it disgraceful and irresponsible

[00:22:37] Even many of his Roman citizens thought it was inappropriate for an emperor to be performing in the arena instead of fighting Rome’s real enemies.

[00:22:48] When gladiators had to fight the emperor, they did not dare put him in any real harm and always surrendered to him.

[00:22:56] His opponents, however, weren’t always so lucky.

[00:23:00] As Hercules had famously fought giants with a club in Greek mythology, Commodus had Roman citizens who were missing limbs or feet be tied together to pretend they were giants, and he would then beat them to death with a club.

[00:23:16] On another occasion, he disgusted his people when he reportedly slaughtered 100 lions in a single day.

[00:23:24] Eventually his shocking behaviour led to his assassination, when he was strangled in the bath by a wrestler in 192 AD.

[00:23:34] By the way, if you have seen the Ridley Scott film “Gladiator”, the nasty emperor who is killed by Maximus is based on this emperor.

[00:23:44] Even after Commodus’ death, gladiatorial games continued for another 200 years, despite being banned by the first Christian emperor, Constantine in 325 AD.

[00:23:56] Then, in 404AD, Telemachhus, the monk, arrived in Rome, and–as you heard at the start of the episode–his gruesome end did cause this gruesome activity to be stopped for good.

[00:24:10] Historians are divided over exactly how many men died in the arenas during the almost 1000 years the gladiator fights took place.

[00:24:19] Some estimates have it as up to 400,000, the population of a medium-sized city, whose blood was spilled at the Colosseum alone, all for the enjoyment of the bloodthirsty, baying crowds.

[00:24:35] Ok then, that is it for today’s episode on Roman gladiators, and with it comes the end of this three-part mini-series on Ancient Rome.

[00:24:46] We have gone from the mythical founding of Rome’s monarchy, the rise and fall of the Republic, its treacherous transition to the Empire and even beyond, following the stories of slavery and gladiators. 

[00:24:59] As always I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:25:05] Do you think gladiators deserve the title of ancient celebrities?

[00:25:09] How does Rome’s obsession with gladiators and its dependency on slaves change your perception of its value as a civilisation?

[00:25:19] Or was it simply too long ago for us to judge it in the way we would do a modern society?

[00:25:25] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:29] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part three of our mini-series on Ancient Rome.

[00:00:28] In part one we looked at the politics of Ancient Rome and in part two we told the story of Rome’s dark underbelly, slavery.

[00:00:37] Today, in part three, we are going to talk about gladiators.

[00:00:41] A gladiator could go from being the lowest of the low, a slave, a criminal, or in extreme poverty, to being a well-loved celebrity, idolised by men and adored by women.

[00:00:54] Children had toys of their favourite gladiators and women would even buy their sweat, believing it to be a sort of love potion.

[00:01:03] But for most gladiators, their lives were far from glamorous. 

[00:01:08] And in today’s episode we will tell their story, the training, the diets, the fights, and how some, just some, might fight well enough to never have to fight again.

[00:01:21] OK, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:23] And to start our story, we are actually going to begin at the end, with the fight which ended the tradition of gladiators in ancient Rome.

[00:01:33] It does involve a death, not of a gladiator, but of a monk, of a holy man.

[00:01:41] And this fight wasn’t between a monk and a gladiator or a monk and another monk, it was between a monk and the audience.

[00:01:50] The monk’s name was Telemachus.

[00:01:52] He had travelled to Rome in 404 AD from the East and found his way into the Colosseum only to be horrified by what he saw.

[00:02:04] Furious fighting with weapons clashing and blood gushing met with delighted cheers from a roaring crowd of thousands of people who were thrilled by the brutal spectacle.

[00:02:16] Telemachus could not believe the horror of the combat nor the audience’s excitement over it and in a bid to stop the violence, he ran into the arena. 

[00:02:28] The gladiators were more likely shocked and confused by the boldness of the monk and, despite him being unarmed, and no challenge to them, it was not at their hands that Telemachus met his end.

[00:02:43] As Telemachus refused to get out of the way, the audience started screaming at him. 

[00:02:49] "Move out! Get out of the way!" 

[00:02:52] But Telemachus would not move, determined to put an end to the horrors before him.

[00:02:59] The audience grew more and more frustrated and soon began throwing rocks at the monk, in a bid to get him to move.

[00:03:08] If Telemachus wasn’t going to move and let the gladiators get on with the show, well he would become the main event.

[00:03:18] The rocks rained down, and Telemachus, this holy man, was stoned to death by a furious and blood thirsty crowd.

[00:03:28] Upon hearing of the murder of the monk, the emperor at the time, Honorius was deeply disturbed and so, he declared the monk to be a martyr and banned the gladiatorial games forever, there was never another event again.

[00:03:44] It is a grim ending but appropriately reflects the gladiators’ gruesome lives of bloodshed, captivity, combat, as well as their undeniable popularity throughout ancient Rome. 

[00:03:57] The Roman public loved these events so much that they were willing to kill for them.

[00:04:03] So, who were these gladiators, and how did this tradition start?

[00:04:09] It is believed that the gladiators were first introduced in 264 BC, when the sons of a Roman general called Junius Brutus honoured their dead father by having slaves fight to the death at his funeral, in an act of brutal human sacrifice.

[00:04:27] This was an example of a Roman practice called Munera, in which war leaders and individuals of high status were expected to be honoured with displays of courage.

[00:04:40] Junius Brutus’s funeral started a trend among Rome’s wealthy and these types of events became much more common at funerals, and soon the lower classes were invited to join the events as spectators.

[00:04:55] As they grew in popularity, the commemorative, or celebratory, fights moved from private property to public stages so there could be larger audiences. 

[00:05:07] They also began to incorporate exciting narratives, as fighters would dress up as different Roman enemies such as the Gauls or Thracians.

[00:05:18] Over time, the religious element of the events faded away and they were transformed into commercialised performances for a new market of Romans who were willing to pay for this form of entertainment.

[00:05:32] Eventually, though, admission to the fights would become free as emperors paid all the expenses for their citizens, allowing all Roman citizens, rich and poor, to flock to fighting arenas and enjoy the violence for absolutely no cost at all.

[00:05:49] Seems like a rather strange thing for a leader to invest in, perhaps.

[00:05:54] Well, it wasn’t without reason, as the events became key ways for leaders to gain popularity among their people.

[00:06:02] So, who were these individuals that were willing to walk into an arena to engage in brutal fighting and even face death?

[00:06:12] Well to begin with, it was slaves belonging to the rich who would be expected to engage in the fighting. 

[00:06:20] As time passed, though, ordinary men began to sign up to become gladiators, attracted by the fame, glory, and paychecks of the fighters, as gladiators were paid each time they fought, and it could pay quite well.

[00:06:35] Towards the end of the second century AD, each fight could have won a gladiator between 12 and 75 sesterces, depending on their status, or fame, and how popular the event would be amongst the public.

[00:06:50] For context, a loaf of bread or bottle of wine - two essentials of course - would have cost around half a sesterce, so a popular gladiator could earn the equivalent of about 150 bottles of wine. 

[00:07:05] But how could these fighters go from unskilled slaves and normal citizens to powerful and impressive gladiators victorious in the arena? 

[00:07:16] You may not be surprised to learn that to become a gladiator there were intense training regimes

[00:07:23] There were over 100 gladiator schools throughout the Roman empire and the most famous, the most prestigious one, was called the Ludus Magnus, which was right next to the Colosseum.

[00:07:35] Well, we say schools but really, this is quite a nice term for what they really were. 

[00:07:42] As you might expect, the training at these schools was extremely strict and intense, and despite the fact that gladiators were so celebrated throughout the empire, they lived very tough lives in facilities that were more like prisons than anything else.

[00:08:00] Gladiators would be kept in chains and they would remain in their tiny cells unless they were released for training or for mealtimes, during which they were not allowed to talk.

[00:08:13] Hollywood would have you believe that gladiators ate platters of meat to get the protein they needed to grow muscle but it has actually been found that gladiators were predominantly vegetarian. 

[00:08:26] Clearly, this wasn’t out of any sympathy for the welfare of animals or a concern for the environment. It was in an effort to cut costs.

[00:08:36] They had 3 meals a day that were mainly barley and beans, which provided them with the energy they needed and earned them the nickname of ‘barley eaters’.

[00:08:48] They even had energy drinks which were made from plant ashes and were used to aid healing after physical activity.

[00:08:57] As well as being cost efficient, the diet was intended to ensure the gladiators would have enough strength and fat on their bodies to protect them during battles, so that they could receive gory injuries to delight the crowd without actually harming important organs.

[00:09:16] In other words, this diet would mean they would have enough fat on them for them to bleed a lot but not die.

[00:09:24] Gladiators, after all, became investments for many slave owners and they did not want them to die during fights.

[00:09:33] And despite the common belief that gladiators would always fight to the death, modern scholars believe that around 80-85% of defeated gladiators would survive each fight, they wouldn’t be killed.

[00:09:48] And in terms of how many fights a gladiator would take part in throughout his career, this varied greatly depending on their popularity and skill level. 

[00:09:59] Of course, if you were a bad fighter, you would probably not last long enough to have many fights.

[00:10:06] But if you were strong, and you continued to beat your opponents, fame and glory followed. 

[00:10:13] There is an account of one gladiator during the early second century AD who fought for nine days in a row, which was so rare and impressive he was actually released and given freedom after his ninth fight. 

[00:10:28] He was clearly an exception though. Most modern estimates believe that gladiators usually fought between 2 and 4 times a year, which allowed them time to heal after suffering any injuries. 

[00:10:42] In order to speed up their recovery, gladiators received some of the best medical care available. 

[00:10:49] For example, the Roman physician Claudius Galenus, who famously discovered the function of kidneys and arteries became a surgeon to the gladiators. 

[00:10:59] But a gladiator’s medical care did little to lessen the pains of their life of physical training in which every single day was dedicated to developing the skills necessary to give a good fight.

[00:11:13] Initial training would usually last around four months and was focused on getting a gladiator to their peak of fitness. 

[00:11:22] This would be achieved through callisthenics, strength training, in which gladiators would do exercises like push ups and sit ups.

[00:11:30] To learn how to fight, gladiators would use wooden weapons, with the type of weapon depending on which category of gladiator they were being trained as. 

[00:11:40] The four main types of gladiator were Samnites, also known as Secutors, Thraces, Murmillo and Retiarius.

[00:11:49] Samnites were originally named after defeated enemies of the early Republic and are the most heavily armed of all the gladiators with a large shield, a helmet and a short sword. 

[00:12:02] This type of gladiator was an impressive sight, relying on his giant shield for protection from enemy attacks while his short sword ensured his own attacks were swift and agile so he was usually able to gain the most strikes in a fight.

[00:12:18] The next class was the Thraces, named after another Roman enemy. These gladiators often fought in pairs and they usually had a curved dagger and a shield, though sometimes this dagger would be swapped for a spear for some more long range action.

[00:12:36] The infamous Spartacus was a Thraex fighter. 

[00:12:40] In the fighting ring, Thraces were most often up against the Samnites for a furious frenzy of sword stabbing and shield clashing, as similar to the Samnites, the Thraces were quick and agile fighters. 

[00:12:55] Speed was their selling point and paired with the Samnites, they delivered some of the most exciting fights which became the most popular throughout the Empire. 

[00:13:06] Our third class of gladiator, the Murmillo, is the most general class but most iconic. When you picture a gladiator, it's probably the Murmillo type of gladiator that you are thinking about. 

[00:13:19] This type of gladiator had a long Greek style straight sword and a large helmet which protected their face from attacks. These helmets would have only added to the atmosphere of a fight, hiding the fighter’s face and leaving him to the fantasy of his fans in the audience.

[00:13:38] A murmillo fighter would also often have a large Roman shield and, in order to carry the weight of his weapons, this class of fighter would normally include some of the largest and strongest gladiators. 

[00:13:51] Their strength and heavy weaponry made them a bit slower than other types of gladiators but their large shield allowed them to block incoming attacks while their long sword could reach out for a counter-strike. 

[00:14:05] They may not have provided the fastest of fights, but their size and strength was a popular spectacle on its own.

[00:14:13] The final class of gladiator was the Retiarius, who were, arguably, the strangest of the different types of gladiator. These fighters were not modelled on any former enemy or inspired by a strong soldier, no, a Retiarius was modelled on a fisherman. 

[00:14:31] The Retiarius had no helmet, no shield, no sword. What they did have was a heavy metal fishing net and a trident, a spear with three prongs on the end. 

[00:14:46] This was perhaps the most theatrical of all the fighting styles, as they would run around the ring attempting to catch their opponent in their net. 

[00:14:56] If they were quick enough and managed to catch them, then they would then stab them with the trident while they were trapped under the metal net. 

[00:15:05] As you can see, the gladiator fights were not just a furied frenzy of attacks, they had special rules and certain expectations from an audience. In the gladiator schools the fighters would have to learn how to fulfil their specific role and how to do it well. 

[00:15:22] After all, their life did depend on it.

[00:15:25] Now, in order to learn how to fight in these particular styles, the gladiators would learn how to properly use their weapons. 

[00:15:33] They would usually train using a wooden pole as a target and they would strike with their wooden weapons that were made to be exactly the same weight as the real thing in order to train the correct muscles.

[00:15:46] And this is what life would be like for the gladiators for at least five years, which would be the minimum they would be bound to their trainer or manager and during which time they were not allowed to leave. 

[00:16:00] And of course, this was only five years if they survived in the arena.

[00:16:05] So, to the fights themselves, what actually happened when a gladiator swapped his wooden training sword for his steel one, and the time came to step into the arena?

[00:16:17] Well, these fights were set within massive events that continued over a number of days much like the Olympic games.

[00:16:26] At the Colosseum, 50,000 Romans would gather to watch the brutal spectacles

[00:16:32] The fights were a popular event for Romans from all walks of life, all areas of society, from Emperors to street sellers.

[00:16:42] In the weeks leading up to the event there would be posters advertising the fight as well as other attractions such as public executions or music.

[00:16:51] They would also advertise luxuries like food and drink, shelter from the sun, and even prizes for audience members.

[00:17:00] The event would begin with a large ceremony that featured music and prayers to the gods. 

[00:17:06] There would then be fights between animals, using all sorts of exotic creatures that had been hunted during wars, such as lions, elephants, zebras, crocodiles and countless others.

[00:17:19] Sometimes, however, it would not only be animals fighting each other, as criminals who were condemned to death were often left in the area with an angry lion or tiger.

[00:17:31] But such horrific scenes were not enough, the Romans had come for the main event, the gladiator fights.

[00:17:39] The typical arrangement was a duel between two fighters, they could be of the same or different types of gladiator.

[00:17:47] The most important factor was that the gladiators would be of a similar skill level, leading to a good fight. 

[00:17:55] You didn’t want a quick death after all.

[00:17:58] During the match, there were strict rules to follow and a referee, who was usually a retired gladiator, and would monitor the action. 

[00:18:07] They could pause the fight to allow the gladiators to rest and get refreshments, and if a gladiator was not giving a good enough fight, they would be whipped or burnt to force them to fight with more enthusiasm.

[00:18:22] A standard fight would last between 15 to 20 minutes and would be accompanied by music that would only add to the suspense

[00:18:31] The gladiators would be expected to display great showmanship, playing a character with confidence and attitude, all while displaying their weapons skills.

[00:18:42] So, how did a gladiator “win” a fight?

[00:18:46] Well, the easy answer is, of course, by killing their opponent, but it might surprise you to find out that some of Rome’s most celebrated gladiators often barely caused any severe injuries to their opponents.

[00:19:00] A gladiator would win if their opponent surrendered, if they were too badly injured or in a position in which they could easily be killed. 

[00:19:09] To surrender, the loser would raise a single finger and the referee would end the fight.

[00:19:16] So, what would “ending the fight” actually mean in practical terms?

[00:19:22] Well, for the “winning gladiator”, it would mean a cash reward.

[00:19:27] As you heard earlier, this could have been anything between 12 and 75 sesterces, depending on their popularity.

[00:19:36] But aside from this payment, winning sometimes also meant freedom.

[00:19:41] If they had fought for at least 3 years, a winning gladiator could be awarded the ‘rudis’, a wooden sword that symbolised that they were now free from being a gladiator.

[00:19:54] A notorious gladiator called Flamma rejected the rudis four times, choosing to remain a gladiator for thirteen years until he was killed in battle.

[00:20:05] But for the losing gladiator, clearly his fate was more precarious.

[00:20:12] Popular perception, what most people think, typically involves a powerful emperor or politician holding out his thumb, while the audience wait with bated breath to see whether the defeated gladiator was going to be granted mercy, or whether he would be killed for the enjoyment of the crowd.

[00:20:32] The reality was often a little different.

[00:20:35] While the emperor could have a say on the outcome if he actually attended a match, given how many fights there were throughout the empire, the emperor simply couldn’t go to every one.

[00:20:47] Instead, the decision on whether the defeated gladiator would be condemned to death was often left to the referee, who would often look to the audience to judge the mood.

[00:20:58] People in the audience would make it clear what they wanted, sometimes mercy, sometimes death.

[00:21:06] These commands were accompanied with various hand gestures although historians are undecided on what exactly these would be.

[00:21:15] The most common belief is that a closed fist would mean mercy while sticking out your thumb would mean they wanted the loser to be killed. The audience would usually expect mercy to be given to a fighter who had given a good show or demonstrated impressive skills.

[00:21:33] However, if a gladiator hadn’t given a good fight, if he hadn’t tried his best or had been cowardly, the audience would cry out for him to be killed, and even in his dying moments a gladiator had to live up to the rules of the fight.

[00:21:50] The losing gladiator was expected to die honourably by grabbing the thigh of his opponent who would then hold his head and push his sword into his neck. 

[00:22:02] After he died, his body was removed from the arena by two men dressed as Charon, the god of death, and Hermes, the messenger god.

[00:22:12] One gladiator who was never killed in the ring, however, was a man called Commodus.

[00:22:18] And this was because he wasn’t really a gladiator, he was the Emperor Commodus.

[00:22:25] Despite being the most powerful person in the Roman Empire, he appeared in over 700 fights at the Colosseum, much to the shock of his government who considered it disgraceful and irresponsible

[00:22:37] Even many of his Roman citizens thought it was inappropriate for an emperor to be performing in the arena instead of fighting Rome’s real enemies.

[00:22:48] When gladiators had to fight the emperor, they did not dare put him in any real harm and always surrendered to him.

[00:22:56] His opponents, however, weren’t always so lucky.

[00:23:00] As Hercules had famously fought giants with a club in Greek mythology, Commodus had Roman citizens who were missing limbs or feet be tied together to pretend they were giants, and he would then beat them to death with a club.

[00:23:16] On another occasion, he disgusted his people when he reportedly slaughtered 100 lions in a single day.

[00:23:24] Eventually his shocking behaviour led to his assassination, when he was strangled in the bath by a wrestler in 192 AD.

[00:23:34] By the way, if you have seen the Ridley Scott film “Gladiator”, the nasty emperor who is killed by Maximus is based on this emperor.

[00:23:44] Even after Commodus’ death, gladiatorial games continued for another 200 years, despite being banned by the first Christian emperor, Constantine in 325 AD.

[00:23:56] Then, in 404AD, Telemachhus, the monk, arrived in Rome, and–as you heard at the start of the episode–his gruesome end did cause this gruesome activity to be stopped for good.

[00:24:10] Historians are divided over exactly how many men died in the arenas during the almost 1000 years the gladiator fights took place.

[00:24:19] Some estimates have it as up to 400,000, the population of a medium-sized city, whose blood was spilled at the Colosseum alone, all for the enjoyment of the bloodthirsty, baying crowds.

[00:24:35] Ok then, that is it for today’s episode on Roman gladiators, and with it comes the end of this three-part mini-series on Ancient Rome.

[00:24:46] We have gone from the mythical founding of Rome’s monarchy, the rise and fall of the Republic, its treacherous transition to the Empire and even beyond, following the stories of slavery and gladiators. 

[00:24:59] As always I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:25:05] Do you think gladiators deserve the title of ancient celebrities?

[00:25:09] How does Rome’s obsession with gladiators and its dependency on slaves change your perception of its value as a civilisation?

[00:25:19] Or was it simply too long ago for us to judge it in the way we would do a modern society?

[00:25:25] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:29] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]