List of Roman gladiator types

List of Roman gladiator types

This is a list of the different types of gladiator in ancient Rome.


Some of the first gladiators had been prisoners-of-war, and so some of the first types of gladiators, "Gauls", "Samnites", and "Thraces" (Thracians) used their native weapons and armor. As these countries became integrated into the Empire their gladiator types were often renamed in an early example of "political correctness".

Different gladiators specialized in different weapons, and it was usual to pair off combatants with widely different, but more or less equivalent, equipment. As a rule Gladiators only fought others from within the same school or troupe but sometimes specific Gladiators could be requested to fight one from another troupe.
During combat, musicians played musical accompaniments altering their tempo to match that of the combat in the style now familiar with music in action movies. Typical instruments were a long straight trumpet (tubicen), a large curved instrument (lituus) similar to an exaggerated French horn and a water-organ (organum). The Romans loved burlesque and pantomime and these musicians were sometimes dressed as animals with names such as "flute playing bear" (Ursus tibicen) and "horn-blowing chicken" (Pullus cornicen), names sometimes found displayed on contemporary mosaics. Like today’s athletes, Gladiators did product endorsements. Particularly successful Gladiators would endorse goods in the arena before commencing a fight and have their names promoting products on the Roman equivalent of billboards. [ [ Not Such a Wonderful Life: A Look at History in Gladiator] IGN movies February 10, 2000]

Forensic studies [ [ Gladiators fought by the book] New Scientist February 23, 2006] [ [ Head injuries of Roman gladiators] Forensic Science International Volume 160, Issue 2, Pages 207-216 July 13, 2006] have shown that as a rule gladiators fought to strict rules and barefooted [ [ Roman gladiators were fat vegetarians] ABC Science April 5 2004]


* Andabatae: From the Greek “αναβάται” (ascensores) because they fought on horseback . They wore chain mail like eastern cavalry (Cataphracti) and wore visored helmets without eye holes. They charged at one another on horseback similar to a medieval joust but without being able to see each other. [1728]
* Bestiarii (beast fighters): Armed with either a spear or a knife, these fighters were originally not really gladiators but criminals ("noxii") condemned to fight beasts with a high probability of death. In later times, the "Bestiarii" became highly trained gladiators specializing in fighting various types of exotic, imported beasts with spears. The fights were arranged in such a way that there was a small chance the animals would defeat the "Bestiarii".
* Bustuarii: These fought in honour of a deceased person as part of his funeral rites.
* Dimachaeri: From the Greek "διμάχαιρος" (bearing two knives). Used two-swords, one in each hand.Marcus Junkelmann, 'Familia Gladiatoria: “The Heroes of the Amphitheatre”' in The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome: Gladiators and Caesars, ed. by Eckart Köhne and Cornelia Ewigleben (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2000), p. 63]
* Equites ("knights"): In early depictions, these lightly-armed gladiators wear scale armour, a medium-sized round cavalry shield ("parma equestris"), and a brimmed helmet without a crest, but two decorative feathers. In Imperial times, they sport an arm-guard ("manica") on their right arm and sleeveless, belted tunics, in contrast to other gladiators who usually fought bare-chested, and no greaves. At least in Isidore of Seville's times, the "Equites" rode white horses and opened a day's program of fights ("Origines" 18.53ff.). They started on horseback, but after they had thrown their lance ("hasta"), they dismounted and continued to fight on foot with their short sword ("gladia"). Generally, "Equites" only fought other "Equites". [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 47-48]
* Gali (Gauls): Used a lance, helmet and small Gallic shield.
* Essedari ("war-chariot fighters"): From the Latin word for a Celtic war-chariot, "Esseda". Likely first brought to Rome from Britain by Caesar. "Essedarii" appear as arena-fighters in many inscriptions after the first century A.D. Yet since no pictorial representations exist, we do not know anything about their equipment and manner of fighting.
* Hoplomachi: From the Greek "οπλομάχος" (armed fighters). They wore quilted, trouser-like leg wrappings, maybe made from linen, a loincloth, a belt, a pair of long shin-guards or greaves, an arm guard ("manica") on the left arm, and a brimmed helmet that could be adorned with a plume of feathers on top and a single feather on each side. Equipped with a "gladius" and a very small, round shield made of one sheet of thick bronze (an example from Pompeii survives)and a spear, (which the gladiator would have to cast before closing for hand to hand combat). They were paired against "Murmillones" or "Thraces". They may have developed out of the earlier "Samnites" after it became “politically incorrect” to use the names of now allied peoples. [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 52-53]
* Laquerarii ("lasso fighters"): Laqueatores may be a kind of "Retiarius" who tried to catch their adversaries with a lasso ("laqueus") instead of a net.
* Murmillones (also occasionally called a "Gali" or Gaul): Wore a helmet with a stylised fish on the crest (the mormylos or sea fish), as well as an arm guard ("manica"), a loincloth and belt, a gaiter on his right leg, thick wrappings covering the tops of his feet, and a very short greave with an indentation for the padding at the top of the feet. "Murmillones" carried a "gladius" (40-50 cm long) and a tall, oblong shield in the legionary style. They were paired with "Thraces", occasionally also with the similar "Hoplomachi". [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 48-51]
* Paegniarius: Used a whip, club and a shield which was fixed to the left arm with straps.
* Praegenarii: Were used as an opening act to get the crowd in the mood. They used a wooden sword ("Rudis") and wore wrappings around the body. As they fought, they were accompanied by light hearted music using cymbals, trumpets, and a water organ ("hydraulis"). [ [ Roman Gladiator Types] UNRV History Roman Empire]
* Provocatores (challengers): Their armament, in the late Republican and early Imperial era, mirrored standard issue legionary armature. In the later Imperial period, their armament ceased to reflect it's military origins, and changes in armament followed changes in arena fashion only. They have been shown wearing a loincloth, a belt, a long greave on the left leg, a "manica" on the lower right arm, and a visored helmet without brim or crest, but with a feather on each side. They were the only gladiators protected by a breastplate ("cardiophylax") which is usually rectangular, later often crescent-shaped. They fought with a tall, rectangular shield and the "gladius". They were only ever paired against other "Provocatores". [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 37 and 57-59]
* Retiarii (net fighter): Developed in the early Augustan era, the retiarius carried a trident, a dagger and a net . Except for a loincloth held in place by a wide belt ("balteus") and a larger arm guard ("manica") extending to the shoulder and left side of the chest the "Retiarius" fought naked and without the protection of a helmet. Occasionally a metal shoulder shield ("galerus") was added to protect the neck and lower face. A tombstone found in Romania shows a Retiarius holding a dagger with four spikes instead of the usual bladed dagger. This was previously thought to be an artistic invention or perhaps a ceremonial weapon but a recent discovery of a Gladiator graveyard found that several of the remains had four odd-looking marks that form the outline of a square on their bones which is consistent with the use of such a weapon. There appears to have been an effeminate class of Retiarius ("retiarius tunicatus") that wore tunics to distinguish them from the usual Retiarius. ["The Retiarius Tunicatus of Suetonius, Juvenal, and Petronius" (1989) by Steven M. Cerutti and L. Richardson, Jr. The American Journal of Philology, 110, P589-594] Retiarii usually always fought "Secutores" but sometimes "Murmillones". [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 59-61]
* Rudiarius: A gladiator who had won his freedom (received his wooden sword or "rudis") but chooses to remain a gladiator. Not all continued to fight and there was a hierarchy of "rudiarii" such as trainers, helpers, referees, fighters etc. These were very popular with the public as they were experienced and could be relied on to provide a good show.
* Sagittarius: Mounted bowman armed with a reflex bow capable of propelling an arrow a great distance.
* Samnites: The "Samnites", an early type of heavily-armed fighter that disappears in the early imperial period, point to the Campanian origins of gladiatorial contests because the Samnites were a powerful league of Italian tribes in the region of Campania south of Rome against which the Romans fought three major wars between 326 and 291 BC. A "Samnis" was armed with a long rectangular shield ("scutum"), a plumed helmet, a short sword, and probably a greave on his left leg.It is frequently said that Samnites were the lucky ones since they got large shields and good swords. [Junkelmann 2000, p. 37] .
* Secutores: This kind of fighter, specifically developed to fight the "Retiarius", was a variant of the "Murmillo" and wore the same armour and weapons, including the tall rectangular shield and the "gladius". His helmet, however, covered the entire face with the exception of two small eye-holes in order to protect his face from the thin prongs of the trident of his opponent. The helmet was almost round and smooth so that the "retiarius" net could not get a grip on it. [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 40-41 and 61-63]
* Scissores (carvers): Little is known about this type of gladiator apart from the name and the weapon they used. They used a special short sword called a scissores. This sword had two blades (that looked like a pair of open scissors but without a hinge). It is speculated that they attempted to trap their opponent's weapon between the twin blades in order to disarm them.
* Tertiarius ("Suppositicius" or substitute): In some games three men were matched against each other. The first two would fight with the winner then fighting the third man, this third man is the "Tertiarius". Tertiarii would also act as a replacement (substitute) if an advertised Gladiator was unable to fight.
* Thraces: The "Thracian" wore the same protective armour as the "Hoplomachi" with a broad-rimmed helmet that enclosed the entire head, distinguished by a stylized griffin on the protome or front of the crest (the griffin was the companion of the avenging goddess Nemesis), a small round or square-shaped shield ("parmula"), and two thigh-length greaves. His weapon was the Thracian curved sword ("sicca" or falx, c. 34 cm long). They commonly fought "Murmillones" or "Hoplomachi". [Junkelmann 2000, pp. 51-57]
* Velites: Fought on foot, each holding a spear with attached thong in strap for throwing. Named for the early Republican army units of the same name.
* Venatores: Specialized in wild animal hunts instead of fighting them as the "Bestiarii" did . As well as hunting they also performed tricks with animals such as putting an arm in a Lions mouth, riding a Camel while leading Lions on a leash and making an Elephant walk a tightrope (Seneca Ep. 85.41) Technically they were not gladiators but were still a part of the games.


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