"We who are about to die salute you!"
Gladiator (Latin gladius,"sword")
This was the cry of the gladiators, or professional fighters, when they saluted the Roman emperor as they marched about the amphitheater before engaging in combat with one another or with wild beasts for the entertainment of the people. For the most part they were prisoners taken in war, slaves, or the worst classes of criminals. When a gladiator was disabled or disarmed, the spectators turned up their thumbs to indicate that the vanquished man should be spared. If they turned their thumbs down, he was to be slain. The successful fighter was at first rewarded with a palm branch. In later years, however, it became the custom to add to this rich and valuable presents and a prize of money.
The custom of giving gladiatorial shows seems to have been borrowed from the Etruscans, who sacrificed slaves and prisoners on the tombs of illustrious chieftains. The first combat in Roman history took place in 264 BC, and the fashion rapidly spread. Julius Caesar gave a show at which 320 couples fought, and the Emperor Titus gave an exhibition of gladiators, wild beasts, and sea fights that lasted 100 days and in which 10,000 men fought. Such contests were finally stopped in AD 404, supposedly as a result of the daring of Telemachus, an Asian monk. After he rushed into the arena to try to separate two gladiators, the spectators stoned him to death. Afterward the Emperor Honorius issued an edict suppressing such exhibitions.
Gladiators were professional fighters who performed in spectacles of armed combat in the amphitheaters of ancient Rome. The practice of armed men fighting to the death originated in Etruria, in central Italy, probably as a funeral sacrifice. The first gladiatorial exhibition in Rome was in 264BC, when...