Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Oct 2016

Tue 09 Feb 2016
David Casserly - Gladiator – Life and Death in the Arena.


David made a welcome return to the society following his successful talk in 2015. This time he spoke about gladiators.

Gladiators’ originated with the Etruscans who, as a way of honouring the dead, held fights between men. By the time of the Romans, gladiators were a status symbol and it was a question of how many gladiators you had to honour the dead.

David Casserly and Gladius

Julius Caesar owned 320 pairs of gladiators to honour his father’s death, 20 years after he had died.

Gladiator shows were very popular and Roman governors put them on to keep the population happy. Early gladiators included slaves and prisoners of war but not all them were condemned to die. Some gladiators fought for money, probably to clear debts.

David described life at the training school, the Ludos. Trainers were probably retired gladiators and the students received the best medical treatment. Not surprising, as there was much prestige and money at stake when they fought.


Various types of gladiators were produced, including hunters of animals, challengers, charioteers and chasers and were equipped with as varied a selection of weaponry and body armour.

At the arena, and provincial games could last for 10 days, there was a specific daily timetable of events. Morning saw the beast hunt, the more exotic the better and more popular with the spectators.

Jean-Leon Gerome Pollice Verso 

Noon day spectacle involved executions, by executioners and beasts, of convicted criminals.

Afternoons started with warm up events such as mock battles and charioteers. These led to fights with matched pairs and culminating in the best matched pairs squaring up to each other.

David’s compelling talk described the brutality of the arena but also the specific rituals of the show and how it reflected wider Roman society.

Peter Robinson

A retiarius stabs at a secutor with his trident in this mosaic from the villa at Nennig, Germany, c. 2nd–3rd century AD.