A quick look at: the gladiators of Rome
“I turned in to the games one mid-day hoping for a little wit and humor there. I was bitterly disappointed. It was really mere butchery. […] Then men were thrown to lions and to bears: but at midday to the audience. There was no escape for them. The slayer was kept fighting until he could be slain. “Kill him! Flog him! Burn him alive” was the cry: “Why is he such a coward? Why won’t he rush on the steel? Why does he fall so meekly? Why won’t he die willingly?" (Via the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook).
The above passage is given by Roman historian Seneca (Epistles 7), offering us a vivid (albeit, aristocratic) eyewitness account of gladiatorial games in the age of Nero. A unique product of Rome and Italy, the sensation of gladiators has become one of the most famous aspects of Roman society, and epitomizes the Roman taste for blood sports.
There never seemed to have been a shortage of willing participants in Rome for this grim life. Candidates were originally found among captives and slaves, those with nothing to lose. However, as the popularity of the sport continued to grow, so did the need for other avenues of supply. During the empire, noblemen were sent by emperors into the arena for committing crimes. Freedmen and imperial citizens came to enter the auctorati, a class of people who sold themselves to gladiator schools. The auctorati gave an oath of service, by which they agreed to submit to burning, beating, and death if they didn’t perform the tasks required of them as gladiators. As we may imagine, it took a truly desperate man to enter into such a grim life of combat and death, a measure that was prompted in times of economic or political hardship. This was a way to escape debtors for those in poverty.
Shown at the top of the post are a series of Roman mosaics depicting gladiatorial scenes. The first is from the Villa Borghese, and on view at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Note the names of the gladiators inscribed next to the figures, and the Θ symbol (it seems likely here that it is the Greek letter Θ for θάνατος, 'dead'), which marks those who have died in combat. The second mosaic is from Römerhalle in Germany, and the remaining mosaics are from the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany.
The first image is via the Wiki Commons, and the rest are courtesy of & taken by Carole Raddato.