Roman Gladiators: Schools, Training, and the Arena

Forms of entertainment in the age of the Roman Empire were worlds apart from the ones we know today, and the gladiator games are an excellent example. They were extremely popular among the entire Roman society and became an essential part of the cultural and political life.  

The central characters of the gladiator games were, of course, the gladiators. They were armed warriors who fought, sometimes to death, with untamed animals, sentenced criminals, or other gladiators. But who were the faces behind iron helmets? And what did their life look like?

Who were the Gladiators?

In ancient Rome, criminals who were imprisoned were either condemned to death or forced to fight in the colossal arenas. Therefore, gladiators were mostly men who were either slaves or prisoners, and who didn’t have much choice but to fight for their life.

Later, as the gladiator games grew more popular, some men volunteered to fight. It became a fruitful profession that earned prestige to successful gladiators. The new kind of fighters were men of the lower class who wanted to become wealthy, discharged soldiers, and even some aristocrats who wanted to demonstrate their bravery.

Gladiator Schools

When it comes to discipline, schools for gladiators resembled prisons. Once a gladiator joined the school, he agreed to adhere to strict rules that were imposed. Even free men who volunteered to become gladiators were shackled and had to sleep in cells. 

Gladiators were released from their cells only for exercise and mealtimes. They had three meals per day, during which they weren’t allowed to chat. They also had to obey a stern diet, which largely consisted of protein and water. The health of the gladiators was of particular concern as they were under thorough medical attention.  

Gladiator Training

The gladiator training regime was rigorous. Gladiators that carried lighter armor had to learn different techniques than those who wore heavy armor. In the beginning gladiators were trained in various fighting styles, and later they would exercise their strength and perfect their technique. 

The Arena

Gladiators would have to fight in the arena up to five times a year. Before every battle, a feast was organized for the fighters, and they were told to savor it because it could be their last one. However, contrary to popular belief, most gladiators did not die fighting in the arena. 

Once the gladiators were in the arena, they had to entertain the audience and put up a good fight. Otherwise, the audience would get bored and the battle would be stopped. On the other hand, if the gladiators carried out an engaging performance, both fighters would leave as winners.

Doubtless to say, gladiators were very famous figures in ancient Rome. Even though they were mostly criminals and slaves at first, punished to fight and entertain masses, their social status altered later on, and choosing to become a gladiator provided individuals with an opportunity to earn wealth and glory.

[1] “A Day in the Life of a Gladiator in Ancient Rome.” History Collection [online] Available at: [Accessed on: 23 Mar. 2020]

[2] “The Real Lives of the Gladiators of Rome – The Unfathomable Sport of Life and Death.” Ancient Origins [online] Available at: [Accessed on: 23 Mar. 2020]

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