Assessing the Attitudes Shown Towards Gladiators by Roman Society.

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Gladiators were the insignificant outsiders and the lowest rank of Roman society. Criminals, captives of war, religious dissidents, the poor and destitute and disobedient slaves in possession of a strong body and resourceful mind could well have found themselves being sold to the familia gladiatoria (a gladiatorial school/troupe). The existence of a gladiator was perilous, painful and usually brief, but beyond the physical dangers and hardship, gladiators were restricted in a public and political sense. Roman legislation (from as early as the 1st century B.C.E.) states that anyone that has take part in gladiatorial games would be prevented from holding a political office in local government, serve on juries or become soldiers of the Empire. All the more fundamental was the loss of Roman citizenship or libertas. Upon recruitment new gladiators had to swear an oath, quoted by Seneca the Younger, to ‘be burnt, to be chained up, to be killed’ an similarly by Petronius ‘to endure branding, chains, flogging or death by the sword’. These were surely among the harshest terms of any profession. This bodily capitulation is entirely incompatible with what made a Roman citizen free. Much secondary evidence points to freemen inserting themselves into the gladiatorial ranks, although the figure varies widely from source to source – with a suggestion of up to 50% of gladiators being freemen by the end of the 3rd Century C.E. Despite this discrepancy we can ascertain that freemen did indeed chose such a course, substituting liberty and the rights afforded to a Roman citizen for whips, chains and the extreme likelihood of a painful death This ultimate submission makes it hardly surprising that gladiators were therefore regarded as the lowest of the low in Roman literature, and symbols of moral degradation. Roman politicians and senators could insult political rivals by casting upon them the slur of ‘gladiator’. Seneca, again, when writing a condolence letter to a friend, who...
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