The Social Aspect of Gladiators

Originally gladiatorial games, called munera, were used as sacrifices to offer blood to the spirits of a dead aristocrat. Eventually the munera morphed into a political affair where the wealthy would show off to each other by sponsoring their own gladiators and to gain favor in the eyes of the public. It got to the point where it no longer contained any more religious significance and was viewed as purely entertainment. You might think that since most gladiators were slaves that they would be cheap entertainment, but that is very wrong. A wealthy person could either own their gladiators or they could rent a gladiator from a trainer. I’m sure that most of the wealthy would cheer for their gladiator to survive because they would end up paying 100 times more for a killed gladiator than one that survived. So the wealthy had to pay a lot to gain the favor of the public. The same is true today; some of the rich who aren’t trying to gain the favor of the public are able to display their wealthy by owning fancy cars or very large houses. The modern parallel of the wealthy trying to gain the support of the public is political campaigns. In 2011 and 2012 when Obama was running for re-election he spent something like 450 million dollars on his campaign. The purpose of campaigns is solely to seek the favor of the public in return for a vote in the presidential election. So you can see how similar they are to investing in a gladiator because in both cases wealthy people spend enormous amounts of money to gain support of the people. The unfortunate thing about living in our time is that we get annoying phone calls and TV commercials trying to gain our support rather than something exciting such as gladiators.


Athletes in our times are held to the highest regard. Players such as LeBron James and Tom Brady are the heroes of little kids who dream to be like them when they grow up. Gladiators on the other hand had a much more complex social standing. Those that survived would become instant celebrities and amass a decent sized wealth. Yet, even though the Romans were obsessed with the gladiators, the victors would still be outcasts of society. This is hard to imagine, because how could a victor that Romans are fascinated with still be on the same level as criminals and other infamous people? That would be like making football players outcasts because they participate in such a violent sport. In ancient Rome it was socially unacceptable for a woman to have sexual relations with a gladiator. This is curious because the gladiator would symbolize the “ultimate man”, so naturally women would be attracted to the gladiators, especially since they compete bare-chested. Yet, women were not allowed be in contact with gladiators without running the risk of destroying their public image. Women today however do not face the same social stigma when dating an athlete as the women of ancient Rome. In fact, today it raises the social status of most women that marry an athlete and has no negative effect on their image. A final interesting piece of information that adds to the complexity of a gladiator’s social standing is the belief in ancient Rome that a gladiator’s blood was a remedy for impotence. This seems really out there in terms of a remedy, the only way that it makes sense to me is again that the gladiator is the “ultimate man” and that the ultimate man would not have impotence problems so his blood would fix it. That’s the only thing that made sense to me, but interpret that however you want. This is just a little more insight into the social aspect of gladiators and gladiatorial games.


How I found my sources:

 I used the same article as last time from the Encyclopedia Romana which was found using the alternative search engine and searching for “Roman Gladiators”. It is an article published from the University of Chicago and uses only factual information, so I consider it a credible source.

The second source I used was suggested by Professor Maiullo and is an article from the BBC, and it is written by Kathleen Coleman who is a Professor of Latin at Harvard. So I consider this a credible source because she is a Latin professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Again it contained only factual information, so she could not input her biased opinion.


– Skylar H.


One thought on “The Social Aspect of Gladiators

  1. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    You raise some really interesting parallels between gladiators and campaigning. I think that there are some similarities in terms of buying support and swaying public opinion by financing one thing or another, but other things stand out to me as a little different. For example, our votes aren’t usually bought by a fight to death sponsored by our favorite (and not so favorite) politicians. They are won in competitions, though (debates). Very thought provoking.
    I also liked what you shared about gladiator “lore.” They seem to be idolized and desired, but social outcasts. They weren’t allowed to engage with women, but a gladiator was the “ultimate man.” What a tantalizingly ironic situation. I wonder if there are any modern parallels to that side of the gladiator. Your sources were also pretty interesting-thanks for sharing. I liked the second one about what such forms of entertainment say about the society that is entertained by them. -Isabel


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