Roman Bloodsport: Gladiatorial Games

"We who are about to die salute you!"
This was the cry of the gladiators, or professional fighters, when they saluted the Roman emperor as they marched about the amphitheater before engaging in combat with one another or with wild beasts for the entertainment of the people.
Many people do not realize just who ancient Roman gladiators were, or how they received that position. Most gladiators were recruited from the ranks of criminals who had lost their citizenship rights, as well as slaves and prisoners of war. The word gladiator comes from the Latin word swordsman. They did not receive the choice of choosing that position. However, some men, who did have their citizenship rights and were considered free-born, gave themselves up to the profession by swearing an oath to their master and gladiatorial troupe that they would endure branding, chains, flogging, or death by the sword.
There were many advantages to engaging in that particular profession. The profession called for courage, good morale, and absolute fidelity to the master to the point of death, so the participant’s life became a model of military discipline. Through courageous behavior, he received an honor similar to that of a Roman soldier on the battlefield. Another notable advantage would be that if an aristocrat or common person suffered a financial setback, or lost his inheritance, he would find it difficult to make a living, so a career serving as a gladiator seemed most attractive. The position could prove to be one of reverence that modern athletes today enjoy.
In ancient Rome, gladiators were owned by a person called lanista and trained in the lanista's school called ludus. Combat was considered to be a science, just like boxing and mix martial art is today in the modern world. Years later, the gladiators were owned by the emperor because it was feared they would be trained into an army for revolutionary purposes by a private citizen. Outside of Rome, the lanista continued to train and own gladiators making a profit by renting or selling the troupe. This was especially true of the upper-class citizen who could own his own troupe and hire them out without suffering the scorn of his fellow aristocrats. That was because the citizen was a dabbler and not a professional so his main source of income did not derive from his ownership of gladiators.
Brilliant medical support was available to the gladiators and the surgeons of that time were comparable to the trauma surgeons of any respectable hospital today. Doctors typically saw sprains, ligament tears and muscle pulls on an everyday basis at the gladiator school, which they could treat with massage, medicines, ointments, lotions and rehabilitation programs. But more serious injuries typical during a fight would call for the skilled hands of a surgeon. Surgeons at gladiator schools were very knowledgeable about the human anatomy, as the nature of the wounds educated them of the various bits and pieces of the human machine. They were able to perform emergency procedures, like stitching torn skin and tissue, setting bones and even amputations. There have been numerous gladiator bones and skulls that show brutal fractures and slashes on bone, evidence of medical intervention and surprisingly even signs of healing. Besides this, gladiators were given an incredibly nutritious diet, rich in vegetables, lentils and barley, which was a form of carbo-loading, gladiator style! This came as a surprise as all meat was prohibited in their diet, leaving them to rely totally on vegetarian food to build and maintain their bulk.
Though often dismissed as uncivilized brutes by Roman historians, the gladiators won massive fame among the lower classes. Their portraits graced the walls of many public places; children played with gladiator action figures made of clay; and the most successful fighters even endorsed products just like the top athletes of today. They were also renowned for their ability to make Roman women swoon. Graffiti from Pompeii describes one fighter who “catches the girls at night in his net” and another who is “the delight of all the girls.” Many women wore hairpins and other jewelry dipped in gladiator blood, and some even mixed gladiator sweat—then considered an aphrodisiac—into facial creams and other cosmetics.
Rules in Combat
Despite what we would like to believe about combat being a fight to the death, most defeated gladiators could walk away from the arena to fight another day. Recruiting and training a gladiator was an expensive affair for the owners of the training schools and losing a gladiator for every combat would run them into monetary loss although they were compensated for this by the Editor. The gladiators could plead for mercy if the fight got out of hand, but the final decision was with the Editor or later the Emperor. Death, when it was inevitable, came swiftly and mercifully, as a man dressed as Charon (ferryman to the land of the dead), would bash the loser’s skull in with a hammer. Several gladiator skulls have been found with blunt force trauma on them, killing them instantly. Death in the arena was honorable and their funerals were respectful and attended by their peers.
Though they were regularly forced to come to blows in life-or-death combat, gladiators viewed themselves as a kind of brotherhood, and some even organized into unions, or “collegia,” with their own elected leaders and protector deities. When a warrior fell in battle, these groups would ensure that their comrade received a proper funeral and grave inscription honoring his achievements in the arena. If the deceased had a wife and children, they would also see that the family received monetary compensation for their loss.
In conclusion, the gladiator games served as a platform not only for political propaganda but also to communicate to the masses, the might and strength of the Roman military. It served as a message to the people of the kind of courage and bravery expected of them. It emphasized on values such as heroism, perseverance and gallantry, unflinching even when staring at death.

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