chapter  2
36 Pages

Recruitment and Training of Gladiators

Who were gladiators? How did they become gladiators? Cicero identi-fies them as ‘either men of no moral worth or barbarians.’1 What Cicero means is that they are either criminals convicted of capital crimes (‘men of no moral worth’) or prisoners of war (‘barbarians’) taken captive in one of the countless wars the Romans waged during the Republic and the empire.2 The criminals had been condemned in court to live in a gladiator school (damnatio ad ludum gladiatorium), where they would be trained for a gladiatorial career. This penalty provided a rich resource of recruitment. In the province of Bithynia (modern north-west Turkey) in the early second century AD, so many convicts were given this penalty that the gladiator schools could not accommodate them and they were forced to become public slaves.3 Some convicts were sentenced to a school for arena hunters (ludus venatorius), a penalty equivalent to service in the gladiator school, although the risk of death was probably less.4 In the category of ‘men of no moral worth’, Cicero probably would also include slaves. The ancients believed that slaves were not capable of moral judgement: a slave’s testimony in court was accepted only if it was given under torture. Slaves were bought

by lanistae on the open market and sometimes were sold by their masters directly to lanistae, usually as punishment. The future emperor Vitellius once sold a difficult slave to an itinerant lanista, but relented just before the man was to appear as a gladiator and gave him his freedom.5 In fact, a significant number of gladiators were slaves.6