History and Interpretation of Gladiatorial Games Some Historians believe that the Romans inherited the practice of gladiatorial games from the Etruscans who used them as part of a funeral ritual (servants would duel to the death for the right to provide companionship to their owners in eternity).
Other historians point to evidence of gladiators in Campanian society, perhaps of Samnite origin.
The early Christians interpreted the gladiatorial games as a type of human sacrifice.
The first gladiatorial games were offered in Rome in 264 BCE by sons of Junius Brutus Pera in their father's honor after he had died. 3 contests were organised.
Gladiatorial combat became a very popular form of public spectacle very quickly in Rome. offered.
A century later, Titus Flamininus offered 74 pairs in games in honor of his father that lasted over three days.
150 years later Julius Caesar promised 320 matches in funeral games for his daughter, Julia, but the Senate passed legislation limiting the number.
Thus, during the Republic, gladiatorial combat was associated in Rome with a) a death and b) elite competition.
Gladiators entered the arena with the intent to kill each other. They were infamis under Roman law (typically slaves, prisoners of war and convicted criminals who had a much more restricted set of rights under Roman law than ordinary citizens). If they fought well enough, however, they might, with the crowd's support, win both their lives (crowds could and did urge the editores, the sponsors of the games, to spare a defeated gladiator before the kill) and their social identities (crowds urged emperors to free gladiators who were popular).
What gladiators did (indeed what they were trained to do) was kill and die well.
As members of a relentlessly militaristic culture, Romans valued the art of killing in a way we simply don't understand. Roman soldiers, moreover, enjoyed a much greater autonomy in their line of battle than Greeks did. In fact, the success of the Roman battle line often depended on the courage of individual soldiers in hand to hand combat. Thus the ability of an ordinary citizen to kill single-handedly was a skill that the entire empire depended on to survive.
At issue in every gladiatorial contest, was the most basic question of life and death.
As Rome expanded, so did the performance of the games. We have evidence of gladiatorial performances in virtually every part of the Roman Empire. Format of gladiatorial games Games that the state sponsored were called ludi, were held quite frequently, never involved armed single combat, were associated with the worship of a god and were paid for (at least in part) by the public treasury.
Gladiatorial shows, which the Romans called munera, in contrast, were sponsored by private individuals, were held very infrequently, were associated with funeral rituals, and were paid for privately.
In addition to the armed individual gladiatorial contests, other spectacles became associated with gladiatorial games. Venationes were usually held in the morning of game days (but could be offered on their own). Bestiarii, or combatants trained to fight animals, were pitted against wild animals from all over the empire (bullfights and rodeos are the modern heirs and/or equivalents). The slaughter of wildlife in these contests was astonishing. Hundreds of deaths in a day were routine. At the games held by Trajan when he became Emperor, 9,000 were killed. Today we are appalled by scale of wanton destruction. But to folks living 2,000 years ago, wild animals were as much enemies as marauding Germanic tribes. While there are occasional reports of audience sympathy for the plight of animals (elephants in particular seemed to have been troubling), Romans overwhelming sided with the human combatants. The venationes symbolized the ability of human society to…