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did the gladiators fight to the death
>also, what are good books about the subject of gladiators (also URL's)

since nobody seems to have mentioned it so far:

Junkelmann, Marcus. Das Spiel mit dem Tod. Zabern, 2000.
Very good IMHO, especially so for checking what origianl gladiatorial equipment looked like.
You can use its bibliography to check for other publications on this theme.


Hi there,

There is a small, but soon to grow list of books about gladiators which I have reviewed here:

I'll be adding to it over Christmas.

All the best
I have on video somewhere (no way of watching it at the moment, unfortunately) a recording of a television programme from a few years ago. This was a documentary based on the real life of a Gladiator and did say, at the time this Gladiator lived, that most deaths were accidental.
This is possibly it..... ... 47-9146262
The Hoplite Association
The enemy is less likely to get wind of an advance of cavalry, if the orders for march were passed from mouth to mouth rather than announced by voice of herald, or public notice. Xenophon
To be honest, I suspect that this is fairly old news to those that enjoy the subject, but new news for the news (try saying that when your drunk) to shout about.

The massive expense of the games themselves could render killing a gladiator out of the question.

After Marcus Aurelius officialised the costs of hiring gladiators things where still very expensive. A top notch gladiator would cost 5,000. He would need another 5,000 gladiator to fight. So we have 10k at the moment. Then to kill the guy there are secondary reports (at work so will need to dig hard for quote at home later if you want it, sorry) I have read that state the penalty for killing a gladiator could be up to five times his hiring cost.

If this is true, killing a top ranked gladiator would cost you 35,000. However a pair of gladiators is hardly a good show, so the costs start to spiral. The cheapest gladiators after the reforms would cost 1000. But only 50% of the gladiators in the show could be gragarii rank. So a four pair event (quite low key) could be like the following.


Grand total = 20000

Now if we add two deaths of the gregarii (lets not kill a top level gladiator it will cost a fortune) using the secondary evidence of the 5 times hiring cost we can reach 30000.

Currently we have not hired special equipment, umpires, harenarii, the arena, annunctorii (sp?), beast, beast fighters, advertising, bribed officials (err hired their services and permissions) etc, etc ....

Even leaving aside the unsubstantiated death penatly fee (I am sure something must have been done, but I haven't read the primary sources to use them happily here) this is going to cost a fortune for a days entertainment.

Working from an earlier thread giving a soldiers wage at 300 a year, we could end up with a single days entertainment in gladiators alone costing enough to pay just over a century for a whole year!

When you consider these costs its starts to become easier to see why the games may have developed into a sport with few or little death. I am sure noxii etc where butchered wholesale, but the professional gladiators may have stood a much, much better chance of survival.

I find it easy to take the next leap to rigging the games and deciding the amount of deaths (at least by gladiatorial level) or even who would die long before the games. Imagine the penalties that might come an editors way if he leaves it truly open to the gladiators and crowd over who lives and dies? He may have already bankrupt himself putting on the games, to suddenly be landed with a bill many times the original costs because of viscious crowds and his desire to please them he owuld be more than penniless.

Obviously monies could be recouped through charging for the games, which again seems to have happened more often than not, but this was a high gain, high risk venture in my book.

Anyway, end of the lunchtime ramble, costs, quptes and everything else come under the lunchtime caveat of having no reference material with me, other than my often befuddled brain.

All the best
I think it's a bit disingenuous of us to apply modern expenditure-against-return economics to an ancient institution. After all the whole point of putting on games was to win popularity by a tremendous waste of your own fortune. The ancients had a potlatch mentality and one way to earn status was to throw away your own wealth publicly. A set of games was in no way an investment after the Republic, when it helped get elected to higher office. Also, there was the religious significance of the munera. From the beginning, they were funeral games in honor of the dead. I believe that in a modest showing of, say twenty pairs in the amphitheater of Pompeii or Capua, there would have to be at least two or three killings, just to keep the proceedings properly solemn. A mere display of swordsmanship without at least the prospect of violent death would not have held popular interest. We have hundreds of tomb steles of gladiators who died young in the arena. I know of none for a retired veteran.
Pecunia non olet
Hi John,

>I believe that in a modest showing of, say twenty pairs in the amphitheater >of Pompeii or Capua, there would have to be at least two or three killings,

might be a pretty good guess - from surviving grafitti, tomb steles etc. it has been figured (if that's the right word?) that about one in ten fights ended fatally. That is a figure for the 1st-2nd century AD, IIRC.

>We have hundreds of tomb steles of gladiators who died young in the >arena. I know of none for a retired veteran.

There are a few, but I need to track down again where. IIRC, one even says that the retired gladiator lived to the age of 99. I'll try and follow up with the sources.

About deaths and wounds caused in gladiatorial combat see also

Gladiatoren in Ephesos. Tod am Nachmittag. Herausgegeben vom ÖAI in Kooperation mit dem Efes Müzesi Selçuk und dem Institut für Histologie und Embryologie der Universität Wien. Ausstellungskatalog Selçuk (2002)

This is the catalog of an exhibition on the findings from the gladiators' cemetary containing the skeletal remains of about 70 individuals that was discovered in Ephesos some years ago. Very interesting read, as some of the skeletons showed bone damage from combat. Price is 12,- euros, btw.

On the video Arthes mentioned above - saw it a few weeks ago and personally found it pretty disappointing from a historical point of view concering the gladiatorial stuff. Equipment was hollywod/fantasy style mostly and I can't remember seeing even a single referee in any of the fights ...


Ok, here are a few statistics from gladiators' steles, as cited in Gladiatoren in Ephesos. Tod am Nachmittag (see post above):

Age 21, 4 years of training, killed in 5th fight
Age 22, 13 wins
Age 23, survived 8 fights, killed in 9th
Age 25, survived 20 fights, 9 wins
Age 27, survived 15 fights, killed in 16th
Age 30, 34 fights, 21 wins, 9 draws, 4 defeats (always with missio)
Age 35, 20 wins
Age 38, 18 wins
Age 48, 19 wins, 20 years of service
Age 60, released and retired gladiator
Age 99, released and retired gladiator


I have the Ephesos book. Unfortunately, I don't read German. I hope the exhibit travels to the UK or States so that there will be an English translation. If nothing else, it demonstrates that the munera were certainly lethal in the Greek East. Popular opinion tends to swing to extremes. From the incorrect idea that the loser was almost always killed, it swung to the equally incorrect idea that the loser was almost never killed. Killing was always an essential part of the gladiator fights.
Pecunia non olet
You know, the shield dropping part of the article puzzles me too, now to think of it. I had long thought that classical style combat often tended to be more "shield-centric" than we would at first think. The division of gladiators into classes based on shield size (scutarii vs. parmularii) might be a symptom of this, and I remember an exchange I had over a year ago with Graham on the old board where he said that that seemed to be the trajectory which his gladiatorial group was heading too... So the shield dropping seems to run quite contrary to my perceptions of the gladiatorial mindset...

I also wonder if using fight books from some of the much later time periods isn't introducing a false analogy into his theory.

Just a few stray thoughts.

Have you tried any experiments along the "shield-dropping" lines with your group, Graham?


He who rules by fear, fears courage most!
I've seen a number of depictions of gladiators fighting without shields, both from West and East, and they usually show the climactic moment when one stabs the other. I suspect that this was a prearranged stage of the combat, perhaps called for by the crowd when a fight had gone on too long. Without shields or body armor, the ending would have to be swift. Considering the shortness of the weapons it would not be a fencing match, but more like a knife fight. One relief from the east shows the pair grappling with one stabbing his opponent in the side. A relief from Pompeii shows a fighter having missed, his sword passing above the other's shoulder while the winner stabs him in the chest. Very dramatic, and a much more likely kill than when fighting with shields, where nonlethal wounds were the rule.
Pecunia non olet
Hi John,

Quote:I suspect that this was a prearranged stage of the combat, perhaps called for by the crowd when a fight had gone on too long.

Interesting idea. There certainly are a number of depictions with *both* gladiators fighting without the shields they normally held. I find it hard, however, to believe (we're down to personal believes here, I fear :-) ) ) that this was a prearranged phase in the combat. What I can rather imagine, based on personal experience of my (mock-) gladiatorial fights is that when you get really close to each other, a valid tactic might be to let go of your shield in favor of trying to catch/delay your oponents weapon arm for that moment it takes to bring home the decisive hit. I find that with really close in-fighting a shield way not as useful anymore as with a distance of 30 or 50 cm or more.

Of course this is just trying to transplant my modern-day-blunt-weapon-sure-to-survive experiences to a very distant world ...


I think and at least as witnessed by the classical sources that gladiators did not usually fight to the death. First, because a lot of money to keep cost gladiator and was an investment and second, because a good gladiator could give fame and honor to the house training and assume the owner except to make money with it. Occasionally as you have seen, fought to the death, as with animals or against themselves. Furthermore, the authors and survived a bout stats by 98% while 2% were death or injury or death directly in combat.
Marcvs Marcivs Aqvila

Tesserarivs of Legio XIIII GMV from Madrid-Spain. Of the Antiqva Clío Association.

Marcus Marcius, Antonius F., Quintus N., Aquila domo Miaccum.
Welcome to the forum, Marco.
I believe that we should not try to draw firm statistical conclusions from these inscriptions. The very fact that these gladiators rated inscriptions means that they had money, families, friends, fans and probably all four. Such men, assuming they had decent swordsman skills, would be more likely to survive defeats than the broke and friendless (the majority). There is a record of a chariot-fighter who gained his freedom when his sons appealed to the emperor, who used the opportunity to deliver a homily on the advantages of having a large family.
Pecunia non olet
Thanks for the welcome. I did not want to be sharp with the statistics or anything, just give an opinion of what appears to have been. Already mentioned above the amount of wins a gladiator. On the other hand, we know the adventure, so to speak, of certain types of gladiators, victorious and triumphant, but generally, I think, we know of those who lost or died in the sand. Sorry for being so blunt, it was not my intention.
Marcvs Marcivs Aqvila

Tesserarivs of Legio XIIII GMV from Madrid-Spain. Of the Antiqva Clío Association.

Marcus Marcius, Antonius F., Quintus N., Aquila domo Miaccum.

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