In the Ring of Gladiators

gladiators of the ring

For the longest time, I had no idea there were several different types of gladiators during the Roman Empire.  As the arena grew more popular, different types of battles and fighting surfaced.


These gladiators fought animals (lions, tigers, elephants, bears).

  • “damnatio ad bestias” (damned to the beast). Their death was meant to amuse the crowd. They weren’t considered gladiators. Rather, they were lowest class of Rome that was sentenced to death.
  • “venatio” (hunter).  They trained and hunted as part of the act. Because these gladiators were looked down on by others, there wasn’t much record of individual bestiarii. The most famous was Carpophorus (the link leads to an interesting but disturbing diary-like entry of Carpophorus) at the Circus Maximus.



These were more pawns used to aid other gladiators than anything else. They were thrown in the arena to die the worst way possible for their crimes. Noxii weren’t deemed a part of Roman society because they were often murderers, traitors, Christians, Jews, or those who deserted the Roman army.

They were used as a harsh reminder as to why civilians should follow the Roman law.


These were the gladiators with nets and tridents. They were often mocked and viewed as more feminine because they weren’t suited in armor. They depended most on their speed and agility.


The gladiator dressed in heavy armor:  the large shield, sword, and round helmet. The Secutor and Retiarius were often pitted against each other because of the visual contrast.


The glorified showmen who would ride on horseback and aim at one another with lances. Soon, they’d dismount and fight with sword and shield. They wore light armor.


They’d challenge each other, using the fights to settle feuds. With these duels, each Provocator was armed with rectangular shields, breastplates, and a helmet.


Female gladiators that were armed with short swords and often came from high status. They caused such scandal that they were eventually banned in A.D. 200.


Originally known as the Gallus, they fought after being captured as prisoners of war. They relied on power and force and usually fought other Gallus’. Once Gauls and Rome made peace the gladiators were renamed the murmillo. Typically, they were armed with heavy swords and shields.

In 2009, a murmillo helmet surfaced from the Pompeii ruins. It is now held at the Melbourne Museum.


Originally prisoners of war from the Samnium region of southern Italy. When Rome took over this area, they forced Samnites to perform mock ceremonial battles.


Prisoners of war from the Thracian tribe of southeastern Europe. Thracians carried a round shield, curved blade, and broad helmet. The most popular of the gladiators.


There are so many layers to the Roman Empire that when I think I’ve learned enough, I continue to learn more. Discovering the different types of gladiators is heavy but also something I’d love to illustrate one day.

For now, I’ll settle for a Murmillo helmet.

green knight2.jpg

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