The word 'gladiator comes from the Latin word for sword, gladius, so it literally means a swordsman.
The best way to get a man to fight to the death is to use a man who has nothing to lose, which is why slaves, criminals, and prisoners-of-war were ideal for the job. If a man was really good, he might keep winning and get his freedom.
Thousands of men and women were killed in combat or by animals for the entertainment of the people.
Slaves weren't the only gladiators. Some freemen (ordinary Romans) volunteered too.
It was important that the Gladiator entertainment was worth watching so only men with serious fighting potential were chosen. They were trained in special gladiator schools called ludi.
Different gladiators had different tools and weapons:
- Myrmillo: Wore a fish-like helmet and had an oblong shield and a sword.
- Retiaritus: Fought with a net, brandishing either a trident or a dagger.
- Secutos: Had a shield, sword, heavy helmet, and armour on one arm.
- Sagitarius: fought with a bow and arrow
- Thrax: Armed with a curved sword and a small shield.
Gladiator shows usually opened with animal hunts and fights. The animals were kept in underground chambers. On the day of the games, they were lifted up into the arena and sent out to do their work.
Learn more from
The life of a Roman gladiator.- Gory things you would rather not know! Will you live or die after your first fight as a Roman gladiator? Find out what fate awaits you on your journey to the arena.
Play the Gladiator game on the BBC website