The aim pursued this article is to try to shed light on the types and the equipment of gladiators, their evolution and transformation during the seven centuries in which the protagonists were in the Roman amphitheatres.

Given the lack of data obtainable from the writings of ancient authors, who have skinny detail, both on the rigging on the types that, over the years has made reference to information derived mainly from inscriptions, from representations of gladiators on bas-reliefs, from tombstones and other objects, as well as that inestimable treasure of shields, helmets and greaves found under the ashes of Vesuvius in Pompeii. Despite this, the debate among scholars is still open and the opinions and theories are often conflicting. But you cannot disregard a basic premise, namely that the various classes of gladiators, and hence its armament, did not exist all at once. We must first of all make a differentiation in time between the Republican period and the imperial age. And this is the transition between the two periods, corresponding to the Augustan age, which will be introduced a reform of the “gladiator system”, by the same Augustus, which encode the classes of gladiators, leaving, however, likely to evolve over the years.

Another differentiation between classes gladiatorial can be made according to the heaviness of the armament, for this reason there are gladiators that can be defined as light, medium and heavy.


The Republican period

The munera gladiatoria made their appearance around the third century in Rome. BC, some say coming from Etruria from Campania who, as a sideshow to the funeral ceremonies.

The first class which is known in Rome are the Samnites, the Gauls and thraeces. As you can see from their names, they had to embody, for the audience of the shows, the enemies of Rome, to kill and humiliate the arena.

One of the peculiarities of the gladiators of this era is the fact that their equipment derives directly from the military. In fact, in the case of helmets, they come with neck roll and cheek-pieces, with crests or ridges adorned with feathers: a typical example can be seen on the relief from the Tiber, now in the Museo delle Terme in Rome, or that preserved in the Glyptothek in Munich. Also typical is the greater variety equipping, and thus less standardization than when later, back to the Augustan reform.

The samnes 


This class is the oldest among those known in Rome. Their armament, as well as their name, seems to derive from that of the Samnite warriors ((…Campani ad superbiam et odio Samnitium gladiatores, quod spectaculum inter epulas erat, eo ornatu armarunt Samnitiumque nomine compellaruntLIVIO, IX, 40). They were heavily armed, as evidenced by the frescoes found in Campania’s tombs dating back to the fourth century BC, with a large round or rectangular shield, a sword or a spear, leather leggings, sometimes with metal inserts, and wore a helmet equipped with a face shield and crest decorated with feathers.

Of the Samnites not have more news by the authors from Horace: probably disappeared in the Augustan age, when the Samnites became allies of Rome, and then, out of respect, not more presentable in the arenas. But the discovery of two inscriptions relating to the age of Nero could move forward more time to their ultimate demise. Date back, in fact, at this time two references epigraphic, one of a samnes Neronianus (AMANVS / SAM [nes] NER [onianus] / V [ctoriarum] III [coronarum]), of the familia gladiatoria of Capua, and another of a samnes named Thelyphus (CIL VI 10187).

Some researchers have wanted to recognize the two gladiators depicted on the relief of the Augustan age, found along the banks of the Tiber, two Samnites. It is assumed that the gladiators referred to as secutorhoplomacus and murmillo (all attested to the imperial age) were the heirs of samnes.


The gallus

Gallus would presumably have made an appearance in Rome in the era following the campaigns of Caesar in Gaul. Unfortunately we have no iconographic evidence about gladiators cocks, then you can only assume, as in the case of Sunnis, that they were armed and dressed as warriors Celts and Gauls.

This category would disappear in late Republican or early imperial age, as a result of the Augustan reform, and would have evolved in the figure of murmillo. This would be confirmed by a passage of Festus which reads: “The type of armor murmillo Gallic and the same murmillones previously called roosters” (Retiario pugnanti adversus murmillonem, cantatur: “Non te peto, piscem peto. Quid me fugis, Galle?” quia murmillonicum genus armaturae Gallicum est, ipsique murmillones ante Galli appellabantur; in quorum galeis piscis effigies ineratFESTO, p. 358 L).

A possible identification of these gladiators was made, based on the type of shields, with those on a bas-relief from Amiternum and now in L’Aquila.


The Republican traex

The third and final one of the first classes, the thraeces, owes its name to the Thracian warriors, with whom the Romans came into contact in the campaign of war against the King Mithridates. It will be one of the most famous and longest-lived classes, only disappear with the end of the munera. The draw was armed with a short curved sword, sica, a small square shield, greaves and two most likely wore a helmet with feathers.


The Imperial Age


This period in the history of Rome, and in particular the first century AD, can be considered the “classical” period, with regard to the arming and classes gladiatorial, and go back to it most of the sources found. In fact, given the documentation available, you can make a broader discussion on the equipment of gladiators. We see the appearance of new types of helmet. In the age of the Julio – Claudian the cheekpieces you change it until your face like a mask with only two holes for the eyes, protected by screens, and the neck roll is then replaced by a breeze (see two of the specimens from barracks of the gladiators of Pompeii and the relief of Lusius Storax in Chieti). Between the period of Nero and the Flavian dynasty helmets undergo a new change. The two circular holes for the eyes are replaced by a single large opening protected by a grid, while the circular brim is bent and flexed on the sides. In this regard, for example, are most of the helmets of Pompeii, from the early Flavian period. This form will remain in use throughout the mid Imperial period.

The gladiators fought bare-chested, with the exception of provocatores and the equites, as we shall see later, wearing a sublicaculum to cover the private parts, held by a balteus belt. The situation is different for other parts of the body, depending on the class, are protected by manicae, armed wing, from cnemides, greaves, and fasciae, bands. Another feature of this period is the fixed coupling of the classes in the gladiatorial munera, with some exceptions, as shown in Libellus gladiatorius of Pompeii (CIL IV, 2508).


The imperial thrax


A distinctive feature of the trace of the imperial age was in addition to the curved sword, sica, a helmet with a griffin. He also wore the greaves, ocreae, high on both legs, as if to protect them all, and a military arm, sleeve, right. He also had a shield of small size, of square or round shape. The use of the griffin on the helmet would be linked to the fact that this animal was mentioned in mythology as the companion of Nemesis, the goddess of fate and divine justice, to which they had devoted many small shrines inside the amphitheater.

The typical opponent of the draws was the murmillo, although on some occasions it is located opposite at the hoplomacus or another thrax. It is sometimes confused with another type of gladiator, the hoplomacus, given the similarity in the armor.

He was considered an “heavy” gladiator.


The retiarius


The type of armament of the retiarius (Retiarius ab armaturae genere. In gladiatorio ludo contra alterum pugnantem ferebatocculte rete, quod iaculum appellatur, ut adversarium cuspide insistente operiret, inplicitumque viribus superaret. Quae armatura pugnabat Neptuno tridentis causaISID., Orig, 18 , 54). allows you to easily find him in the representations. Equipped with a net, trident (fuscina) and a short sword, was not wearing a helmet, but as the only defense he had a metal plate, galerus, fixed on the left shoulder to protect the throat, and a sleeve, the same arm. As stated by Festus (see above) had the characteristic clothing, and then the appearance of a fisherman. His typical opponent was the secutor (Secutor ab insequendo retiarium dictus. Gestabat enim cuspi- dem et massam plumbeam, quae adversarii iaculum inpediret, ut antequam ille feriret rete, iste exsuperaret. Haec armatura sacrata erat Vulcano. Ignis enim semper insequitur, ideoque cum retiario componebatur, quia ignis et aqua semper inter se inimica suntISID., Orig, 18, 55). contraretiarius or contrarete, although a few times, especially in the first phase, we see him as opposed to murmillo, a reminder of the struggle between fisherman and fish.


This category makes its appearance in the amphitheatres in the imperial age, in fact, is not represented on two important sources dating back to the early part of the first century AD: the graffiti of Pompeii and the tomb of Lusius Storax in Chieti. Nevertheless, since the second half of the century A.D. become, until the end of the munera, one of the most popular categories of gladiators.

Given its armament can be defined as a “light” gladiator.


The murmillo


It is the most common class among the gladiators and even more difficult to identify in the representations. The etymology of his name could come from the greek μύρμα, a fish named “murma“, which probably adorned his helmet and exposed him to the Nets by the retiarius. This contrast between retiarius and murmillo is not however in any source. Academics such as George Villas and Philip Coarelli have recently proposed the hypothesis that the opponent was of murmillo was the thraex. In fact, the literary and epigraphic sources, such as the Libellus gladiatorius as opposed to always quote thraex or at the hoplomacus. This idea, often discarded or ignored by many, has been confirmed by the discovery dates back to several years ago, but only recently published, of a funerary stele of the second century A.D. belonged to Q. Sossius Albus, gladiator freedman, defined as myrmillo, another term used for the murmillo. From this pillar has been possible to confirm the armor of murmillo described in the sources, it was pretty much consists of a helmet with brim folded on the sides, a big and long shield, a sword straight, one short greave, ocrea, on the left leg and a sleeve on his right arm. This allowed us to identify how murmilli, the gladiators opposed to Thraces found in many depictions. It is also considered as its two traditional adversaries, a gladiator “heavy” gladiator.


The contaretiarius or secutor


These two types of gladiators more than two different classes appear to be variants of the same. Both usually opposed to retiarius, which, in the case of secutor, is confirmed by a pasage of Isidoro (see above). Probably made them different ways to combat the various tactics of attack and defence, or perhaps the weapon of offense. Their armor was very similar to that of murmillo, except for the helmet of an ovoid shape and without a brim, so as to make possiblethe more difficult the network socket of retiarius, with two holes for the eyes. From epigraphic evidence relating to Rome it was possible to infer that the news about Secutores, in addition to being scarce, are all concentrated around the middle of the first century AD, while those concerning provocatores you only have to start from the second century A.D. The figure of secutor is also not in the list of gladiatorial familia of Commodus, although he was called primus palus secutorum (Appellatus est sane inter cetera triumphalia nomina etiam sescenties vicies Palus primus secutorumHist. Aug., Commoddus, XV, 8) as well as a fan of Secutores.


The hoplomacus


Difficult to detect in the representations given the lack of direct evidence and the similarity with the trhaex. In our help, however, is the aforementioned Libellus gladiatorius that coupling of the munera always poses against murmillones or thraeces. The Coarelli suggests that it can be identified in two testimonies from Pompeii: a stucco relief from the tomb of Scaurus Umbricius and a relief now preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Naples, and in a third relief that adorned the tomb of Lusius Storax. In all cases it is opposed to a murmillo, heavily armed, with two high ocrae for legs, a round shield, a helmet with a sword and aimed high. In some representations, as in Zliten mosaic or stained glass of Begram, is also depicted with a spear. Given his armor is sometimes confused with the trhaex, but the lack of two fundamental characteristics of the latter, as the protome shaped snout and physics, confirm that this is another category of gladiators. Two findings of the Republican era, a statue of Priapus from Pompeii and gladiator with a relief now in the Museum of Roman Civilization, depicting a gladiator shield with small, round, confirm the existence of this type of gladiator in this period.


The provocator


The armament of this gladiator was similar to that of secutor or contraretiarius, with a sleeve on his right arm, one on his right leg greaves, a shield and a helmet rectangular closed and without crest, except for a kind of armor with a Gorgon relief, in the form of plate, to protect the chest. You can find representations of this type of gladiator reliefs from the banks of the Tiber, from Pompeii and Ephesus. We have news of provocator by Cicero (…sed ex ergastulis emptos nominibus gladiatoriis ornarit, et sortito alios Samnitis alios provocatores fecerit…… CIC., Pro Sesto, 64). Usually fought against another provocator and in some cases a retiarius.

Given its armament we can define a “medium” gladiator.


The eques

Of this type of gladiator there are rare depictions. In this regard, we find solace in the stucco relief in the tomb of Scaurus Umbricius, now illegible, from which it could be inferred that the equites wore a short tunic, a helmet with hemispherical circular brim, metal or perhaps leather, and the bands legs. To combat used a spear and a sword. Just this clothing has enabled G. Villas to recognize this type of gladiator in other depictions, but not always on the ground and on horseback. The reason could be the fact that the equites, similar to what will happen later in the Middle Ages, began fighting on horseback with lances, as also reminds us of Isidore of Seville (Genera gladiatorum plura, quorum primus ludus equestrium. Duo enim equites praecedentibus prius signis militaribus, unus a parte orientis, alter ab occidentis procedebant in equis albis cum aureis galeis minoribus et habilioribus armis; sicque atroci perseverantia pro virtute sua iniebant pugnam, dimicantes quousque alter in alterius morte prosiliret, ut haberet qui caderet casum, gloriam qui perimeret. Quae armatura pugnabat Martis Duellii causa. ISID., Orig, 18, 53), and then finish it on the ground with their swords. Usually fought against another eques.


The essedarius

This type of gladiator, who fought in chariots, essedae, was probably of Gallic origin or British, in fact, appeared in Rome around the middle of the first century AD, at the time of the Emperor Claudius’s campaigns in Britain. Probably, like what happened to the equites, also began fighting on the edge of the chariotss and then finish it on the ground. Their existence is also confirmed by several inscriptions (VENVLEIVS ESS(edarius) / VII |(victoriarum) VII (C.I.L. IV, 4413) – C(aius) IVLIVS / IVCVNDVS / ESSEDARIVS / V(ixit) A(nnos) XXV / FILIA PATRI (CIL VI, 4335).

Unfortunately, given the lack of representations can only speculate on his clothing and weaponry.


The sagittarius

This category of gladiators was quite rare, as are the depictions that represent and sources that talk about it. Armed with bows and arrows, their name, in fact, derives from latin sagitta, arrow, fighting among themselves. From a survey, now in the Museum Bardi of Florence, it is clear that wearing a conical helmet, a shield and a sleeve in practice were very similar to the Roman army auxiliary archers.


The veles

Unfortunately we have no representation in this type of gladiator, but we can say that you inspire in clothing and in arming the light infantryman of the Roman army (velites).


The bestiarius


He was the one who fought against the wild beasts in the arena. While before the Augustan reform, there was no differentiation between gladiators and bestiaries, as is apparent from even a relief belonging to the Torlonia collection, where you see gladiators fighting against trade fairs, subsequently established a clear separation between the first, those who fought against other men, and second, those who fought against animals. The armament of the bestiaries, who wore only the tunic, consisted of a spear, venabulum, as is clearly seen in a relief in the Museo Nazionale Romano at the Baths of Diocletian. The survey tells us that the battle took place at the Circus Maximus, given the presence of the seven ova, sources indicate that, in Republican and Augustan era, such as the place assigned to venationes.

The following does not seem to be real gladiator classes, but the specializations or sub-categories.


The dimacherus

Its name derives from the greek word διμάχαιρος, who carries two swords. In fact, he fought with two daggers or two sword, gladii.. Unfortunately there are no representations that help us to understand what his clothing. According to some theories might be a specialization attributable to several classes of gladiators.


The spataharius

This is definitely a specialization of some classes of gladiators, and refers to those who preferred to use the spatha, longest of the short gladius, to fight. The epigraphic sources tell us of murmillonesthraeces (MUR IVVENIS (Camillo) SP (atharius) – THR Zosimus (aex) SP (atharius) (CIL VI, 631), and provocatores spatharii (ANICETO PROV (ocatori) SP (athario) (CIL VI 10183).


A special mention deserve the female gladiators.

The presence of female gladiators, although rare, has been confirmed by both literary and archaeological sources. Tacitus (…namque ad eam diem indiscreti inibant, quia lex Roscia nihil nisi de quattuordecim ordinibus sanxit. spectacula gladiatorum idem annus habuit pari magnificentia ac priora; sed feminarum inlustrium senatorumque plures per arenam foedati sunt. Tacitus, Annals XV, 32), speaking of the splendid spectacle offered by Nero in 63 AD, says that women and senators entered the arena to fight. Same thing says Dio Cassius (62.3.1) when describing the games offered by Nero in Pozzuoli, in 66 AD, in honor of King Mithridates. According to the same number of women participated in the games for the inauguration of the Colosseum in the guise of bestiaries (66.25.1).


From the archaeological point of view, to witness these fights, comes to help us a relief from Halicarnassus, dating to the first or second century AD, and now preserved in the British Museum in London, on which are depicted two women fighting. Dressed as provocatores, wearing subligaculumocreae and manicae, but have neither the helmet nor the robe, and they fight with sword and shield. In 200 A.D. Emperor Septimius Severus will ban gladiatorial battles between women.


F. Coarelli, estratto dal catalogo della mostra Sangue e Arena.

P. Sabbatini Tumolesi, Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell’Occidente Romano – Vol. I Roma.