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Roman Entertainment

Gladiators

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The first gladiatorial games in Rome were held in 264 BC, when three pairs of gladiators fought as part of a funeral celebration. The events became so popular that the Roman Senate limited the number of contestants after Julius Caesar held an event with 300 pairs of gladiators. The emperor Trajan held the largest contest.

The gladiators were male slaves, condemned criminals and prisoners of war. They were forced to become swordsmen in training schools and often, they committed suicide to avoid a worse public fate.

The rare successful gladiator received great acclaim; he was praised by poets, his portrait appeared on gems and vases, and patrician ladies pampered him. Sometimes, a gladiator who survived many rounds would be relieved from further gladiator fights. Occasionally, freedmen and Roman citizens entered the arena, as did the insane Emperor Commodus.

Gladiators were divided into various classes. There were heavily and lightly armed gladiators, and they fought against each other. Others fought using different weapons, or from horseback or chariots. Tradition dictated that when a gladiator overpowered his opponent, the spectators decided the fate of the weaker man. If they wished to let the man live, they put their thumbs down. This was because the Romans enjoyed watching people die.

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