Gladiators in Ancient Rome: how did they live and die?

Hollywood likes to cast them as heroic freedom fighters, but what was life really like for Rome's arena-warriors? Tony Wilmott brings you the facts

Roman civilization, Relief portraying gladiators and lions fighting in circus

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine

In 1993 Austrian archaeologists working at the Roman city of Ephesus in Turkey made a spectacular discovery – a cemetery marked by the tombstones of gladiators. The stones gave the names of the men and showed their equipment – helmets, shields, the palm fronds of victory.

With the tombstones were the skeletal remains of the fighters themselves, many of which bore the marks of healed wounds as well as the injuries that caused their deaths. Perhaps the most spectacular find was a skull pierced with three neat, evenly spaced holes. This man had been slain with the barbed trident wielded by a type of gladiator called a retiarius, who also fought with a weighted net.

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