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The times of the Gladiator

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One of Ancient Rome’s most important forms of public entertainment was gladiatorial games. Although there were more well-known forms of entertainment, such as chariot races, gladiatorial games became a well-liked and powerful form of freedom for Rome’s society. Gladiatorial games developed from a more passive state and different motives to the image that many people in today’s society believe it to be.

Before the times of the emperors, gladiators were used mainly for funerary commemoration. The family of the person who had passed away would try to honor the deceased by having a display of power and wealth between gladiators, to give you an idea about the capability the deceased had possessed in life. This form of gladiatorial combat had been going on in Rome and its surrounding provinces since the mid-rd Century B.C. and was often followed with a banquet and gifts (Hopkins, 18).

The Etruscans, who introduced this type of contest are recognized with its development but it’s the Romans who made it famous. The first gladiatorial competition took place at graves of those being honored, but once they became public exhibitions they moved into amphitheaters. Obviously most spectators just enjoyed the massacre without any regretful expression.

What was offered to appease the dead was considered a funeral sacrament. The ancients thought that by this sort of exhibition they rendered was a service to the dead. The belief was that the souls of the dead reconcile with human blood. Afterwards it seemed good to obscure their sinfulness by making it a pleasure. After the individual had been trained to fight, their training was completed when they learned to be killed. For such reasons gladiators were sometimes known as “funeral men” (Scullard, 181). Throughout many centuries of Roman history, this remembrance of the deceased was still among the principle reason for such combats.

Free men also volunteered to be gladiators which consisted of half the number who fought. Often, these individuals were in exile, were freed slaves, discharged soldiers, or former gladiators whom chose to return to fight. Roman citizens sometimes assumed the career of a gladiator. There were no doubts of religious tendency, but the purpose of Roman spectacles, were a public display of power (Koestler, 147).

Men writing their wills often made provisions for gladiatorial duels in connection with their funerals.

In the beginning, incarcerated soldiers had been made to fight with their own weapons and in their particular style of combat. It was these individuals that the gladiators acquired their interesting appearance. This distinction was made between the weapons to be used by defeated enemies and those of their Roman conquerors.

The Gladiators constrained to fight gladiator duels included prisoners of war, slaves and condemned criminals. Among them were many supporters of the new Christian faith. During this time maltreatment fell heavily on their faith. Fighting in the arena was one of the sentences given to these individuals of the Christian religion because of their rebuttal to sacrifice to the emperor.

The crimes which led individuals to the arena were murder, treason, robbery and arson. Criminals sentenced to compulsory labor were often indebted to serve as gladiators, and were sentenced to multiple years of combat and training in the gladiator schools. “Compensated gladiators” became more expensive in the second century AD the use of untrained criminals in the amphitheater increased (Hopkins, 18).

Most gladiators were slaves, but in addition there were always some free men who became gladiators because they sought to. The line of work was a substitute to being a social outsider. These individuals were generally derived from the lowest ranking category of free persons, namely the freedman who had themselves been slaves.

Free fighters were more sought after than slaves, because they demonstrated greater passion in the arena. Such a volunteer was offered a bonus if they survived the term of their contract, yet they still had to swear the terrible oath of submission to be burnt with fire, shackled with chains, whipped with rods and killed with steel like the rest of the gladiators. For the period of his engagement, he had become no more than a slave (Harris, 17).

Gladiatorial games had become an indispensable aspect of the services a ruler had to provide, in order to maintain his reputation and his job. Thus gladiators were trained in special schools. Training of gladiators was a complicated business involving those members of the public who attended the games for something more than blood and thrills.

Discipline was severe, with merciless punishments but the schools were situated in favorable climates, and equipped with first class doctors. The schools had resident medical counselors to check the gladiator’s diet. Gladiators were called barley men because of the amount of barley that they ate (Weirdmann, 1).

Gladiators were ranked in different categories according to their fighting style and the type of weapon they used. Examples will be described as follows

• The Samnites wore the heavy, magnificent armor of soldiers. It included a large shield, metal greave on the left leg, and a visored helmet. They also had a sword or lance, and the sleeve on the right arm which was part of a gladiator’s general equipment.

• The Sectores were armed with a sword and mace loaded with lead.

• The Thraces carried a curved scimitar of varying shape, and a small square or round shield.

• The Myrmilliones carried a shield and a short scythe and wore a distinctive fish ornament on their helmets.

The Retiarii were exceptionally uncovered, except sometimes for a head band. They carried a trident in one hand and a net in the other (Whyte-Mellville, 18).

Gladiatorial shows were intensively promoted to raise public awareness. Descriptions of upcoming contests appeared on walls and on the gravestones beside main roads. The opening ceremonies began the day before the games. It was then that the sponsor of the show donated a grand feast to contestants about to appear the following day. The proceedings of the day began with a chariot drive and parade, which was presented by the emperor of the games.

The gladiators made an exhibition of themselves in uniform. The gladiators would march around the arena being followed by slaves carrying their protective covering. Gladiators, who belonged to the emperor’s own troop, were truly equipped.

The gladiator games often opened with a convicted criminal being thrown to a lion. This individual was given a small weapon, and if he could kill the beast his life was spared. To make the beast ready for fighting they would starve the animals and poked them with sticks while in the cage (Harris, 17). These events were followed by a break.

This included another gladiator event which consisted of a fully armed gladiator against an unarmed man. The object was simple; to kill your opponent and the champion went on to fight. The overall winner was the person that was standing in the end (Hopkins, 18). The afternoon brought about the beginning of the gladiatorial events.

Meanwhile the crowd shouted commands of their own including beat, kill and burn. When a man fell, spectators would yell “Got him! He’s had it!”(Scullard, 181). The decision whether his life should be spared, rested with the provider of the games, but the provider generally let the crowd make the decision. If a fighter’s performance had not given satisfaction to the emperor of the games, this individual’s life was sometimes risked again on the same day by orders for a repeat performance.

The emperors had chose a quality place for such a contest which was the amphitheater. This was an oval auditorium surrounded by rows of seats facing on to the arena. The first permanent amphitheater known to us is not in Rome but in Campania, the country which inherited the gladiatorial games from Eturia and passed them on to the Romans (Yonah, 175).

The largest and most famous of all such buildings was by Titus in AD 80; this Coliseum is one of the most marvelous buildings in the world (Yonah, 175). There was accommodation for perhaps 45,000 sitting spectators and at least 5,000 more willing to stand. Underneath the arena are passages for stage effects, pens for wild beasts, storage rooms and the mechanism by which scenery and other apparatus were hoisted into the arena. It was said “As long as it stands, Rome will stand; when it falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the world will fall” (Weirdmann, 1).

The reputation of gladiators in the eyes of the public was inquisitively diverse. Society was never able to forget that gladiators were a potential danger to civilization. When a gladiator was killed, his corpse was not permitted honorable to be buried, unless it was claimed by his family or a friend (Hopkins, 18). Although gladiators lived relatively short lives, it was possible to win freedom.

The games played a huge part in the life of the Roman people. In order to keep the citizens happy, games were a constant part of Roman life. Gladiators were admired by all and lived only to die for others amusement. The games played a pivotal role in the development of Roman culture

It was probably assumed that the gladiator games would go on forever, and that nothing would stop their growth. With the rise of Christianity a religious presence lingered about such contests once again. The Roman ruling classes began to view these contest with a favorable eye. Another purpose present in the minds of Rome’s rulers was the desire that potentially unruly and dangerous city population should be amused and kept quiet.

They should be given entertainment that they wanted, no matter how disgusting if might be. The games gradually lost its original intentions and connections to the earlier funeral games. Once defenseless human beings are thrown to wild animals, the original purpose is lost, the purpose now is blood-thirsty spectators viewing inhumane, unjust executions. With the rise Christianity came the fall of the gladiatorial spectacles.


Harris, H. (17). Sport in Greece and Rome. New York Cornell University Press.

Hopkins, K. (18). Death and Renewal. New York Cambridge University Press.

Koestler, A. (147). The Gladiators. New York The Macmillan Company.

Scullard, H. (181). Festival and Ceremonies of the Roman Empire. New York Cornell University Press.

Weirdmann, T. (1). Emperors and Gladiators. London Routledge Press.

Whyte-Mellville, G. (18). A Tale of Rome and Judea The Gladiators. New York Longmans Green.

Yonah, M. (175). Illustrated Encyclopdia of the Classical World. New York Harper and Roe Publishers.

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