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"Cursus Honorum" of Gladiators?
Salvete Omnes,

I just finished reading the book "Gladiateurs - Des Sources à l'Expérimentation" by Eric Teyssier and Brice Lopez. They have the hypothesis that there existed something like a "cursus honorum" of the gladiators.

They stated that the new recruit began his training as a provocator since that was the basic equipment of all gladiator types. Also there are only very few inscriptions of of provocatores that lead them to the assumption that tirones who died in the arena usually didn't had enough money to have an epitaph with inscription.

Depending on the talents of the tiro the doctor decided then if he should continue his training as a fighter with a big shield (scutum) or with a small shield (parma and parmula).

The first step for the fighters with the big shield would be murmillo fighting agains the thraex, then murmillo fighting against the hoplomachus and then the most advanced form of secutor who fought of course against the retiarius.

For the ones with the small shield they would become at first a thraex, then a hoplomachus, because that required fighting with one long weapon (the hasta) and a short weapon (the pugio). The last step would be fighting as a retiarius because that requires the most skills since he only has a trident and a pugio and no protective armor except the galerus and a manica on his left arm.

This carreer seems to them logical when looking at the training of gladiators, that they specialized more and more the more they advanced in the training.

Esp. concerning the retiarius Susanna Shadrake states exactly the opposite in her book "The World of the Gladiator". She writes that the retiarius was at the bottom of the gladiatorial pecking order because if was a rule that the less concealed the body and face of a gladiator were the lower his status was.

It is known of course that there were ranks among the gladiators like primus palus and secundus palus etc. But I would like to know now from you what you think that these ranks were also depending on the type of gladiator you fighting in.
Very interesting hypothesis and it does make sense that veterans would diversify but its a big leap of faith to say that there was a route up via the Provocator.

Epitaphal evidence for Equites or Essedarii ( please excuse latin grammer ) are scarse also. This may simply be that the Thracian and Myrmillo were the glamour boys of the arena and were more popular with both crowds and gladiators?

Regarding the Provocator as being less specialised than the others, I can see that but why train someone to a level where they could be unleashed on the arena and then when they became good at it, and popular with the crowds, have them change and presumably fight someone who has similarly changed as to go against a veteran in their field would be suicide. Can't see it being a crowd pleaser... might as well train them from the start. I am in the process of changing the martial art I practice and its just like going back to the begining:oops:

As to the Retiarius being the pinacle ... mmmmh , not convinced.

Why no mention of the Essiddari as they look pretty specialised as they appear to fight with a blunt ended sword ?

My two penneth for what its worth :wink:
Conal Moran

Do or do not, there is no try!
Interesting stuff.

I know that Michael Grant, who until recently was considered to have th authorative starter book on gladiators mentions retiarius being the bottom level, but he gives no sources. This might be starting a popular myth.

I would disagree about provocator tombstones being few and far between, I can think of a number of them just of the top of my head. Here's one:

I would say that the most common gladiator would have to surely be the Murmillo and they seem to have fought just about every type of specialisation out there: Thracians, other murmillo, retiarius and not sure about the Hoplomachus.

I haven't cme across any divisions being made based upon the types of gladiators, they seem rather to have been on entry status, noxi, auctori etc or upon the levels drawn up by Marcus Aurelius:

I haven't honestly come across other types of division, could this be a modern invention? What do you think are there any sources out there suggesting division between the types of quality f gladiators based upon their types?

Even the gladiators seem divided on it, after all the one piece of grafitto in Pompeii is 'bigging up' a retiarius. Not exactly the actions of a people who thought them the bottom rungs of the ladder?

Just a few ideas and thoughts.

All the best


All the best
I belive there is one illustration showing a Hoplo Myrmillo pair. Wall painting I think.
Conal Moran

Do or do not, there is no try!
Actually, the hoplo is usually shown paired against a murmillo. Occasionally, he fights a thracian. The difference seems to be that, when paired with the murmillo the hoplo fought with spear and sword. Against a thracian, he fought with sword alone.
Pecunia non olet
I agree with you, Conal and Gashford, that this hypothesis of a "cursus honorum gladiatorium" as describes by the two French authors seems rather odd, that's why I posted it here because I stumbled across that when reading the book and wanted to know whay you other gladiator buffs think about it.

Especially I don't see the point in changing the type of gladiator one fights in once he became more or less good in fighting in another type, because you need to become good to survive the arena and that you could become only through year long experience. That is shown by the fact that the highest mortality rates were among the tirones.

The reason for the rarity of equites and essedarii was that it was very costly esp. to maintain horses so only big ludi might have had horses for their equites. The chariot for the essedarii wasn't cheap either but at least had no constant costs as for the horses.
MM. Teyssier and Lopez came up with another hypothesis which I seemed to me kinda awkward as well so I present this to you also:

According to the iconography they examined and to their experiments in fighting with reconstructed gladiator armor they came to the conclusion that gladiatorial combats were not like a form of ancient fencing but more a form of wrestling and boxing with arms.

* The basic position resembles that of a boxer, with the shield being in line with the gladiator and the outside of his fighting range

* The right arm (sword arm) drawn back like the one of a karateka for rapid forward thrust and back to its basic position

* The decision of combat by either fighting in close combat or to exhaust the opponent by injuries

The tactic was to exhaust or to injure the opponent, but taking the most of precaution of one's own life. For ending a combat they used repeatedly precise attacks by the dagger which was of course only possible in short range.

The best distance was to "touch" but not to get touched yourself. At the beginning it was important to check on the opponent how he reacts etc. by attacks with the shield without coming to a decision of combat yet.

The finalization of combat could be a close combat fight in a clinch as shown e.g. on the knife handle shown now in Avenches, Switzerland where a secutor and a retiarius are in clinch.

The group the both authors belong to have also a website only in French unfortunately. But you could see some pictures of their reconstruction (which didn't convince me either) there:
The boxing analogy is quite plausible.
"Fencing" was not realy part of the Roman combat philosophy as the Scutum, Galdius combination was designed to "take the enemy on the shield" and quickly stab around it.
Except for the Tridens and the Hasta all weapons were short stabbing weapons and slashing or chopping would not be used with these.
One notable exception might have been the esedarii depicted with flatt or round shaped tips on there gladii.
But basicaly you could say the take gladiators take would take the opponents "jabs" on their guard and would counter with "jabs" and "hooks" themselves.
The shield of the scutarii can be very effectively used to keep the parmularii at bay if it is held straight or sligtly angled out to the front, though this can only ever be done for a short while as it stresses the shoulder alot.
The parmularii, provocatores and essedarii can of course use their lighter shields a little bit more dynamic and offensively.

I dont believe in the advancement theory referd to in the original post as I can remember one or two textual references in Junkelmanns book that mention gladiators fighting in multiple styles at once.
There are also gravestones of a retarius and a secutor that depict the fight-history of a gladiator as a kind of graphical list, and all fights are depicting the gladiator in his single armentarum.

As I cant read frensh I can only judge their site by the pictures and videos shown.
And I do actualy like their equipment and fighting style.
In this video
at 00:11 you can actually see why the murmillo shoud not keep his scutum close to his body, as the thraex can then easily find a way around it.
The thraey however nicely keeps his shield angled out to keep his opponent out of reach.
Olaf Küppers - Histotainment, Event und Promotion - Germany
The essedarius probably calls for his own thread. I'm pretty much convinced that this was the gladiator called "Galli" because all his equipment was Gaulish: simple, round-topped helmet, oval shield which was apparently flat in the early days, absence of armor except for the manica and round- or square-tipped slashing sword. Depictions of the essedarius/galli are rare compared to the other types. Most depictions show a short sword, held almost upright and well forward. This suggests to me that it was wielded not in a full-arm slash, but in short chops rather like a small machete. One exception is the odd gladiator depicted in a relief from Dyrrachium (see Osprey Republican Roman Armies p. 24) who seems to have a longer but still blunt-tipped sword. This fighter also seems to be wearing a cloth helmet cover that looks like an 18th century woman's mobcap. Of course the essedarii only fought within their own category which was probably a good thing, as the lack of armor and stabbing capability would have been a severe handicap against any other type.
Pecunia non olet

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