The ancient Romans were known for many things – their engineering marvels, road networks, and the establishment of Roman law. They were, however, also renowned for their war-like nature. After all, this allowed the Romans to build an empire in the first place. This appetite for violence not only manifested itself in Rome’s imperialist policy, but also in its fascination with gladiators and the empire’s most well-known sport – gladiatorial combats.
The Origins of Gladiatorial Games
The concept of gladiatorial games has its roots in the Etruscans, the predecessors of the Romans. In Etruscan society, gladiatorial games were supposed to be part of the funerary rituals honoring the dead. Thus, gladiatorial combats originally possessed a sacred significance. Over the centuries, however, these funerary games came to be a form of entertainment, and the earliest Roman gladiatorial combat is said to have taken place in 264 BC.
Two Venatores (those who made a career out of fighting in arena animal hunts) fighting a tiger. Floor mosaic in Great Palace of Constantinople (Istanbul), 5th century. (Public Domain)