Gladiators or swordsmen got their name derived from the sword gladius. They were a form of blood sport entertainment in the Republic of Rome and the Roman Empire. They were people that were conquered by Rome, enslaved and pinned against each other, fighting against beasts to fight to death for the amusement of the cheering crowds.

Those crowds as such would gather inside the fighting pits, the arenas, the amphitheatres and the Colosseum itself. Earliest evidence of the existence of gladiators dates back to the colonizing by the Hellenistic tribes settling on the southern side of the Italian peninsula, where slaves fought against each other. The slaves were given armaments to fight to death for the populace’s amusement. Frescoes later confirm the origin of the gladiators as a style of punishment for the neighbors of Rome that were allies against their adversaries or had waged war themselves against the Republic.

After losing the war by supporting Hamilcar Barca, the Samnites were enslaved and forced to fight as a form of funeral rite for the wealthy and powerful individuals of Rome in what became later known as a munus or a commemorative duty to honor the achievements of their ancestors. First they fought in the forum boarium, or cattle market, and later dedicated pits and arenas for their activities. The early depictions of the gladiators were a form of punishment and mockery for the opposition to Rome. Clad in similar fashion and armed with weapons native to their lands, the slaves would fight to death and commit suicide as a way of showing that barbarians were below the Romans in any aspect of life. As munera became more frequent in order to reflect the ever growing territorial expansion of Rome, the gladiatorial arenas attracted more viewers and became larger in magnitude.

Seeing as they provided a worthwhile entertainment and were a source of great wealth, what was once a mockery and punishment became more of a blood sport, and as time went on and the once enslaved populations under Rome became Romanized, individuals or teams became recognized in the arenas and entire schools were built to train the gladiators in a style of combat. Yet gladiators were still bought slaves for the amusement of the cheering crowds, pitted against each other as a form ofmunera, or as an offering to a deity during a celebration of a festival. They were mistreated, downtrodden, whipped, starved, beaten to near death, raped, but they tolerated it no longer.

Biggest Rebellion under Spartacus

The series of rebellions to gain their rights and to punish their captors became known as the Serville Wars, waged on the Italian peninsula, although protests and rebellions were ever constant around the territories of the Republic and later the Empire, none were as devastating as the gladiatorial rebellion led by the legendary Spartacus in what would be known later as the Third Serville or Slave War. Not a lot is known about Spartacus, yet it is known that he was born around the middle course of the river Strymon River, of Thracian origin. As an accomplished military leader he led the largest slave revolt in 73 B.C, amassing a following of slaves so large it threatened the heartland of Italia. Originating from the gladiatorial school in Capua, around 70 gladiators overthrew the guards and later the small Roman force set to recapture them.

In a span of just two years they had gathered 120.000 slaves, men, women, children and anyone capable of fighting. The Roman Republic grew weary of the slave’s intentions and thought they would capture Rome itself, since their successes were so threatening. Under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus, eight legions were set upon the escaped slaves to bring them to justice by force, yet the persistence and clever unorthodox tactics employed by the slaves, who managed their operations at the Mount Vesuvius, brought the legions to a shame. In a fit of desperation, Crassus had requested reinforcements from Pompey who had just returned to Italy after quelling a rebellion in Hispania. As legions were marching down from the north, Spartacus had attempted diplomacy with Crassus, which he later refused. Having a portion of the army under Spartacus disperse from the main force, with pursuit of the legions on their heels, some 12.500 slaves were put to the blade. Seeing no way out to venture out to Cisalpine Gaul and return to their homelands, Spartacus rallied his army and went full force against the legions.

Defeated, but costing severe casualties to the Republic of Rome and forcing them to eventually reorganize their entire political sphere and military to that of an empire. What remained of the slaves was crucified along the roads to deter anyone from disobeying the law of Rome. Eventually Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire in the later years. The gladiatorial arenas were dismantled and those only remaining were performing hunts against beasts in the once venerated and highly popular blood sport known in the Old World.