It’s a hot day. Two men are waiting at the gates of the arena dressed in battle gear, ready for their fight to start. Sweat is flowing down their cheeks and their breathing is becoming heavy. This might be their last day alive.
Yet these men are professionals. Training has prepared them for this day and they know what needs to be done. They stand proud and determined, wiping all doubts from their mind and instead refocusing their thoughts on the task ahead.
Each one has the same thought flowing through his mind. No, this will not be his last day. He will go on to score a huge victory and be celebrated by the crowds, going on to become a real sports superstar. Each one of them knows that they are the best, yet there can be only one winner. One of these will leave the arena a victor, while the other one will be the defeated…
Each one of them will do everything in his power in order to remain the one standing up, to be the victor. There is no other way. They are Roman gladiators and that is their way of life.
Gladiatorial fights were all the rage in Ancient Rome. They were the equivalent of today’s Super Bowl in magnitude and popularity, with one huge exception: some of the contestants would probably not make it through the day alive.
Ancient Rome was a martial culture and any type of sport where the contestants aren’t risking their lives was a pussy sport. That’s why athletics, which were very popular in the Ancient Greek city states, never became very popular in Rome. The Ancient Romans thought athletics were not something real men should compete in, because there was no risk in them. They might use similar methods of training originally developed for athletics to train, but athletics were for the pussies, real men wanted to see sweat and blood and feel death knocking at the door.
Many gladiators started off as lowly slaves, purchased on the market or captured in war, but went on to rise to become veritable superstars with fans cheering their name and women throwing themselves at them. They went on to enjoy lavish lifestyles just like the sports superstars of today.
However for the majority of gladiators this was not the case. Many of them died during their fight in the arena or suffered crippling injuries and lived out the rest of their lives as cripples. Gladiatorial fights were high risk, high reward contests.
Reflections on the role and popularity of gladiatorial fights in Roman society
Gladiatorial fights were the epitomy of Ancient Roman society. They demonstrated the ideal values that were held dear: valor, strength, bravery, cunning, discipline and above all risk. These were the individual traits valued in what was a very martial society. Rome was built by war and martial values were what was supposed to define Roman society.
The gladiatorial games exploded in popularity, when Rome had grown very far beyond its original borders. The very dominance of Rome in the ancient world at that time was the instigator for the growth in popularity of gladiators. Originally Rome was a small city-state and all male citizens were required to protect it. So in times of need basically all males had to go on military duty. During these times, most male Roman citizens experienced combat first hand.
However as Rome grew and conquered lands far and wide, less and less of its inhabitants directly participated in war. The empire of Rome also brought in more and more new subjects and these needed to be exposed to Roman culture and in that way “romanized”.
It is at exactly this time, when we see the importance and popularity of gladiatorial games grow and expand into all parts of the lands that Rome brought under its control. The games were sports, spectator sports, but they served not only as entertainment, very bloody entertainment, but as a way to remind the masses of their martial spirit and the original values of Rome.