In ancient Rome, there was a very special form of entertainment: gladiator fight. The arena was a cruel place where two gladiators fought until one of them died. In modern times, such bloody man-to-man fights would be unthinkable, but about two thousand years ago, this spectacle was commonplace in Rome.

The name ‘gladiator’ comes from the Latin word ‘gladius’, which means sword. Gladiators were indeed skilled in sword fighting, but they often used other weapons as well. Some participated voluntarily in the arena, but most were prisoners of war, slaves, or convicts forced to fight to the death as ‘entertainment’ for the people. Although the life of a gladiator was usually quite short, the best fighters were admired and honored by their followers. A gladiator who won one victory after another and impressed the emperor might sometimes gain his freedom.

Below is a list of the most famous gladiators from ancient Rome.

10. Spiculus

Spiculus was probably a Roman slave from Africa. He was trained to be a gladiator. Spiculus defeated one opponent after another in the arena and became a favorite of the audience. It didn’t take long before he caught the attention of Emperor Nero, who ruled Rome with a cruel hand from 54 AD to 68 AD.

Spiculus came into Nero’s favor and was showered with gifts by the emperor after each victory. Nero is said to have even gifted Spiculus a palace with slaves. When Nero was overthrown in 68, he allegedly asked Spiculus to kill him. However, Spiculus was nowhere to be found at that moment. Nero eventually committed suicide.

9. Tetraites

There are few sources about this famous gladiator, but his fights against Prudes were depicted in mosaics and etched on glassware, fragments of which have been found as far away as France and Hungary. The fame of Tetraites was known far beyond the city limits of Rome. The images show that Tetraites used a sword and a rectangular shield, wore a helmet on his head, and had arm and leg protection. This type of gladiator was also known as a ‘murmillo.’

Beyond that, almost nothing is known about Tetraites’ life: not even the century in which he lived is known for certain. In any case, he must have lived before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which buried the city of Pompeii under a layer of lava. During excavations in Pompeii in 1817, a wall painting was discovered depicting a fighting Tetraites.

8. Hermes

Hermes is another gladiator about whom little is known. However, Hermes is mentioned in the work of the Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis (40 AD – 104 AD). Martialis apparently had a great admiration for Hermes. In a poem in which every line begins with the name ‘Hermes’, Martialis praises Hermes’ fighting skills and courage.

Most gladiators were trained in a particular fighting technique and used only one type of weapon, but Hermes mastered almost all fighting styles and could easily handle at least three types of weapons. From Martialis’ writings, one can infer that Hermes won one victory after another and was a ‘superstar’ among gladiators.

7. Marcus Attilius

Marcus Attilius was a free citizen who voluntarily became a gladiator, although some say he did so only to pay off his debts. Regardless, Marcus Attilius was a very skilled fighter in the arena. As an inexperienced ‘rookie,’ he had to face Hilarius, a famous gladiator who had won twelve consecutive fights. Against all expectations, Marcus Attilius defeated the highly praised Hilarius, gaining much support from the audience. Later, Marcus Attilius fought another well-trained and very experienced gladiator, Raecius Felix. He also won this duel. Marcus Attilius’ fame grew so much that his followers depicted him in a graffiti drawing on one of the gates of Pompeii.

6. Priscus and Verus

The only well-documented fight of these two gladiators was their last duel. This battle was the first gladiator fight that took place in the Colosseum, the enormous amphitheater in Rome, built in the first century AD. The duel between Priscus and Verus was part of the inauguration of the new amphitheater in the year 80 AD.

The fight between these two well-trained gladiators lasted for hours. Both were evenly matched, and neither gained the upper hand. Exhausted, both opponents simultaneously laid down their wooden swords. Emperor Titus, who attended the fight, showed his respect for both gladiators. He declared both as winners and granted them their freedom. Priscus and Verus left the Colosseum as free men. The duel between Priscus and Verus is the subject of a poem by Martialis, one of the few written sources about gladiator fights in ancient Rome. Priscus was a slave from the northern part of the Roman Empire, and Verus was a foreign prisoner of war.

5. Crixus

Crixus originally came from Gaul. He was captured by the Romans and enslaved, after which he ended up in a gladiator training school in Capua. Crixus seemed destined for a brilliant ‘career’ in the arena, but in 73 BC, he was one of the 70 slaves who escaped from the gladiator school. The escaped slaves set up camp on the slopes of Vesuvius. Other slaves joined them until the group numbered about 30,000 members. This was the beginning of the so-called Third Servile War, a revolt of slaves and second-class citizens against the Roman rulers.

Spartacus was the leader of the rebels, and Crixus became one of his generals. In 72 BC, the rebellious group split: Crixus formed a separate army with his followers and aimed to plunder the cities of southern Italy. The rebels led by Crixus were, however, overrun by the Roman army. Crixus fell during the fighting.

4. Commodus

Emperor Commodus, son of the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, ruled the Roman Empire from 177 to 192 AD. Unfortunately, he did not inherit his father’s leadership qualities. He was a vain man who liked to boast about his fighting skills. He even went so far as to perform as a gladiator in the arena despite his imperial status. He fought with real weapons against opponents who could only defend themselves with a wooden sword. Sometimes he fought animals that were wounded and weak. Naturally, he won every fight this way without really being in danger. The Roman population hated his self-importance and lack of leadership. Commodus was murdered in 192 AD. His life story partially inspired the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Gladiator’ from 2000.

3. Carpophorus

Gladiators fought man to man, but in ancient Rome, there were also fighters who faced wild animals. The so-called ‘bestiarii’ fought in the arena against lions, panthers, tigers, elephants, bears, and hippos.

Usually, the bestiarius was defeated in his duel with a dangerous beast. However, this was not the case with Carpophorus, who seemingly effortlessly won fights against wild animals. Carpophorus also fought wild beasts during the inauguration of the Roman Colosseum. It is said that he killed no fewer than twenty different wild animals on that day. His ‘fans’ quickly compared him to the Greek hero Hercules. Carpophorus not only fought dangerous beasts but also trained the animals to later tear apart condemned criminals and persecuted Christians.

2. Flamma

Flamma, a slave from the Roman province of Syria, became one of the best gladiators of his time around 50 AD. Most gladiators did not survive more than two or three fights, but Flamma kept his ‘career’ going for more than 13 years. He fought no fewer than 34 times in the arena, winning 21 fights. Nine times, the duel ended in a draw, and four times Flamma lost, but he was always granted mercy by the audience.

His victories earned him a lot of money. Four times, Flamma was offered freedom, but he refused to leave the arena as a free man each time. The arena was his life. He died at the age of 30, probably during a gladiator fight.

1. Spartacus

Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com

Spartacus is undoubtedly the most famous gladiator in Roman history. He was from Thrace (the present-day Balkan region), captured and enslaved by the Romans. He was trained as a gladiator in the school of Lentulus Batiatus in Capua. Spartacus held his own in the arena, but he would forever go down in history as the leader of a slave uprising against the Roman rulers. Along with 70 other slaves, including the aforementioned Crixus, he escaped from the gladiator school in 73 BC and formed a small army of rebels. Spartacus and his right-hand man Crixus managed to fend off the attacks of the Roman army. Crixus separated from the rest of the group with part of the rebel army but was killed during a crushing battle against the Romans.

Spartacus sought revenge and once again engaged in battle with Roman military units. When Rome appointed the experienced Marcus Licinius Crassus as commander of the Roman army, Spartacus’ fate was sealed. Spartacus was driven with his rebels to southern Italy, tried to escape to Sicily, but was overtaken by Crassus’ troops. Spartacus died during the battles near the village of Quaglietta. More than 6,000 followers of Spartacus died by crucifixion. The crosses were set up along the Via Appia to serve as a terrifying example for anyone who dared to challenge the Roman rulers.

Menno, from the Netherlands, is an expert in unearthing fascinating facts and unraveling knowledge. At Top10HQ, he delves into the depths of various subjects, from science to history, bringing readers well-researched and intriguing insights.

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