Home > Uncategorized > A Look at the Gladiatorial Games and Their Influence on Our Modern Politics, Sports, and Media

A Look at the Gladiatorial Games and Their Influence on Our Modern Politics, Sports, and Media


A fight to the death for the Roman Empire: not for the procurement of land or resources, or repelling a tribe of invaders, but for the appeasement of a mob.  The Gladiatorial Games featured a different legion of soldiers, one that the most downtrodden of peasants could witness with their own eyes to see firsthand what made their Empire so dominant and powerful.  However, the state ramifications went beyond simply giving their citizens a great show: it was an immensely effective form of propaganda and psychological grandstanding.

Sport in the Roman Empire served as a true means of entertainment for the Roman crowds of spectators.  It was through the mass hysteria and interest that the public displayed for the gladiatorial games that gave the events their power in Roman culture.  For through the widespread devotion of the public to the games, the Republic was able to use them as a forum for public execution, the spread of Roman political positions and propaganda, and the ability to use the excitement as a means of support for social ideals: the ultimate form of “Bread and Circuses” to distract them from the struggles of the empire and their subjugation to the whims and conquers of the rulers.

The relationship between the Gladiatorial games and the Ancient Greek Olympic games are extremely relevant and interesting due to the great admiration the Romans had for their Greek predecessors.  The Greeks modeled their games after the Greek principle of arête, the warrior virtue of excellence.  While the Gladiatorial games were certainly involved with the pursuit of excellence and greatness, the notion of civic pride and strength was skewed in the sense that the crowd were the ones who were responsible for the pride much of the time.  While it cannot be denied that the gladiators prided themselves in their ability to fight, they were almost always slaves who were being forced to fight as a means of service or punishment.  And while the very greatest gladiators would perhaps gain notoriety as a great warrior, they did not represent regional, cultural, or social identity, thereby gaining the support of a sect of people who shared that bond, such as the proud competitors of the Greek Olympic Games did.  However, the Romans did in fact share similarities to the Greeks with the relationship between war, and the games that they practiced.  While the Gladiatorial fights may have been a bit more blunt in the relationship, the Olympic Games also featured many war-like events such as javelin throwing, long distance races, and pole-vaulting, representing the war time necessities of spear throwing, relaying important messages, and rising over high walls to attack enemies, respectively.  So while there are definite differences in the two events, it is easy to see that the Romans had a strong admiration of the Greeks, and the subsequent similarities which were borne from it.


The Gladiatorial games and their connection with the institution of the Roman Empire show the distinct ability of large masses both controlling, and being controlled by a political body.  The ability of the mob to influence the games no doubt instilled them with the feeling that they had the capacity to influence public policy.  The spectators were able to make decisions regarding many aspects of the games, even as to the fate of the Gladiators through police verso, in which the crowd decided through a “thumbs-up” method whether the fighter should be killed, which we all saw in action as Russell Crowe was dubbed “Maximus the Merciful!” in Gladiator.   However, most importantly, the games were used as a huge interest in reinforcing the Republic in many ways.  For instance, From Decimus Junius Brutus, who put demonstrated Gladiatorial Combat as a tribute to his fallen father and Roman leader, and later from the beginning of the Roman Empire, we see the political aspect begin to take hold of the games.  They begin to take over the court of law, as well as the instillation of policy.  And while, often the leaders of the Republic would listen to the suggestions of the crowd in respect to the rules and features of the games, such as the pan et circenses and whether or not to employ sine missione, or fighting to the death, these were often merely counter tactics to please the crowds, thereby preventing revolt and enabling the ability to present proposed actions to the happier crowds.  This is boldly evident through the toga candida, who was a candidate for office in charge of the management of the games.  The Romans used the euphoric atmosphere and camaraderie that filled the air of the Coliseum to unite the crowds with fanciful ideals and garner political support and capital.

As for the Gladiators themselves, once sold off to the state as slaves, the gladiators would be very seriously trained, become specialized in one form of fighting, and then begin a training regiment toward their physical peak.  From this, many different types of fighters evolved.  There was the secutor and retiarius, who were portrayed as a fish and fisherman battling each other.  The crowds were intrigued by this metaphorical theatric.  There were the murmillos, who had caged masks and curved shields and would usually fight the hiplomachus, armed with a round shield and spear.  These represented the gladiators who fought amongst different types of fighters.  There were also those who fought only the same type of gladiator.  The eques were horsemen who wore a round helmet with feathers and a long tunic, and entered on a horse but would ultimately fight on their feet.  The provocatores were the only group who wore full body armor, and were viewed much differently than the other gladiators.  There were also the eciderius, who rode upon a war chariot.  All of these specialized fighters represented the many aspects of war and battle, and served as a simulation of an atmosphere of war that the crowd could both glorify and fantasize.  This sense of pride was prominent due to the Roman identification with superior battle techniques.

The Gladitorial Games have helped spawn a revival in the “sword and sandal” genre in the 21st century.  Gladiator (2000)  was a cultural phenomenon that wowed critics and audiences alike, and helped to resurrect public interest in historical fiction, particularly Greco-Roman war epics.  The digital and photographic techniques used in the film were also revolutionary, and led to drastically improved filming procedures used to document kinetic and action-packed scenes in all genres and amazing capabilities for rendering historical and imaginative scenery.


As for the similarities that the Roman games had to modern day sports such as football and boxing, there are many more than appear on the surface.  For instance the representations of the arena as a church like building and idolizing the performers and the action before them are traits that remain in our present era.  In boxing, just as in the gladiator games, there are specialized fighters who battle each other with the aid of the support they acquire from different groups of fans.  Modern sports and their reputation of changing their rules and regulations in the interest of appeasing the crowds they perform for and are supported by trace their history to the Roman Coliseum.

  1. xtg120
    June 19, 2013 at 8:44 PM

    Reblogged this on My New PlayStation.

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