Through much of Roman history, gladiators provided public entertainment by fighting animals, prisoners, and each other in the arena. Most were slaves, but their ranks could include almost anyone - from the impoverished, looking to earn a living, to wealthy thrill-seekers. Because gladiators risked their lives in the arena, Roman society saw them as being above such "petty" concerns as morality and responsibility. Thus, a successful gladiator was often rich and pampered, able to indulge in his most cherished (or debauched) pleasures. It was said that all men wished to be gladiators and all women wished to be with them.

During the era of professional fighters, they or their promoters would pick their opponents from the ranks of slaves, prisoners, or (occasionally) volunteers. Most match-ups were calculated to guarantee the professional fighter a victory and the audience a good spectacle. Fights weren't to the death as a rule - at least, not between professionals. Still, some Romans found entertainment in massacres and lopsided contests where untrained fighters had to defend themselves against merciless pros.

Gladiators enjoyed treatment that would be familiar to modern professional athletes. Top schools kept a physician on staff, and masseurs, bonesetters, and coaches - all likely to be former gladiators - helped keep the fighters fit and healthy. The school's head (lanista) was typically politically and socially connected, and took care of the school's financial, religious, and gladiatorial affairs. The top trainer was responsible for hiring other instructors (generally former soldiers or gladiators), who might be broadly skilled or very specialized. These teachers tutored the gladiators in armed and unarmed combat, and even monitored the fighters' diet. They led their charges in daily weapons drills and exercises designed to improve strength and fitness. Legion officers sometimes regarded gladiators as useful trainers for their soldiers and had them show the troops the dirty tricks of arena combat.

The celebrated doctor Galen, whose views on medicine were long seen as infallible in later eras, was a physician to gladiators for five years early in his career. He prescribed a program of walking to improve breathing, rhythmic movements to settle the soul, and progressive weight training to build muscle.

The Games

The Olympic Games of ancient Greece featured three different martial-arts contests: wrestling, pankration, and boxing. None of the three concerned themselves with weight classes, rounds, or time limits. All were brutal contests of skill, strength, and endurance. The Romans were also fond of games and held similar contests.

Wrestling was much like modern freestyle wrestling. Victory was by submission and striking was forbidden. A match consisted of a single, untimed round. Endurance was as important as strength, since defensive tactics and stalling to exhaust one's opponent were legal. The

Boxing in ancient Greece and Rome consisted solely of strikes to the head and upper body. Protective headgear existed but wasn't used in competitive bouts. Contestants wrapped their hands and wrists with leather. The original purpose of this seems to have been to protect the hand, but later wraps were twisted - some sources claim edged - to increase the injury from punches, and the Romans sometimes boxed wearing the cestus (p. 214), a studded or spiked glove. Bouts lasted until one of the fighters submitted or was incapacitated. Disfigurement was common: legendary Greek boxers withstood enormous punishment, and period texts depict cauliflower ears, broken noses, and marred faces.

Men competing in both boxing and pankration would occasionally request that the pankration events be held first - a reversal of the usual order. Boxing was held to be so brutal that competitors worried about being too injured to compete in pankration, even if they won! A pankration bout could end with a submission hold or choke, but a boxing match ended only when one boxer was too injured to continue.

Boxing Simplified

Boxing Simplified

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