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The Gladiators – From History To Movies
The movie Gladiator was very entertaining and certain raised the profile of gladiators. The question, however, is whether the movie accurately portrayed these warriors.
In history, there are few topics that are more interesting than the gladiators of Rome. From the very start, these people who thrust into battle with other men and many different animals have interested historians and the public at large. But what started the tradition of gladiators, and who would consent to performing at such a dangerous job?
Gladiators were not generally volunteers. Although a few men were trained at gladiator schools throughout Rome, most of the gladiators that battled in the arenas were prisoners of war, slaves, and criminals. Gladiator fights were started by the Etruscans, who believed that when a good (wealthy) man died, blood must be shed in order to pay honor to dead ancestors. These first gladiator fights were usually arranged and took place between slaves owned by wealthy men. Rome took up the tradition of these fights and expanded upon it – and the gladiators battled in arenas until the process was finally banned in 404 AD.
Gladiators usually fought in pairs, one man against another. These battles were not meant to be “to the death”, but often ended up that way as one gladiator or the other was killed due to being wounded. At the end of the gladiators' fight, one of the men would acknowledge that he was defeated by holding up one finger. At this time, the audience (or emperor) was encouraged to give a thumb signal (up or down) to show whether the defeated gladiator should die. If it was decided he should die, the man was taken in back of the arena and “humanely” killed by an executioner. Occasionally, men would fight well enough and win enough battles to gain their freedom, in which case they were given a wooden sword, symbolic of their battles.
The regular population had mixed feelings about the gladiators. Some felt they were not to be bothered with, as they were just slaves and criminals. Other gladiators, however, gained a sort of celebrity and were sought after by women. There is evidence that there were some female gladiators, and it's said that at least one emperor enjoyed staging fights between women and dwarfs.
Gladiators were an interesting and important part of culture of Rome, but their existence did not last long during the empire. In fact, gladiator fights only took place for about 150 years, and they were banned after several Servile Wars with gladiators fighting against Rome. Hollywood has always been fascinated by gladiators, and it's safe to say that more movies starring this group of people will probably grace the screen.
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