The first gladiator fights are thought to have begun in Etruria, although they were made famous in Ancient Rome. The word "gladiator" comes from the Latin word for sword, "gladius." The first known gladiator fights in Rome were put on by Decimus Brutus in 264 B.C., when he had three pairs of gladiators fight in his father's honor at his funeral. Eventually, waging gladiator battles became a way to display one's power instead of a way to honor the dead. Those first Roman games took place about 300 years before the Roman Coliseum was even built.
Gladiator combat really took off in Rome when Julius Caesar used 300 pairs of gladiators to entertain voters. By this time, most of the men who were gladiators and fought in the Roman Empire's amphitheaters were slaves who attended special training to learn how to fight; they also receive special medical and nutritional attention. Some were volunteers, who may have received payment upon joining the gladiator ranks, but soon became owned as well. Spartacus was the most famous of the gladiators/slaves. He led a revolt from his training school in 73 B.C. that grew and continued. Eventually, an army of up to 125,000 slaves rose up to fight the Roman leadership but lost in the end to the roman general named Crassus.
Gladiators may have been slaves, but they were important investments, too. This was partly demonstrated in archaeological digs from many grave sites found in Great Britain that are believed to be those of dead gladiators. Although decapitated, the dead were buried with great care [source: History of the Ancient World]. In life, they also were revered as brave heroes.
Some of the festivals held for gladiator games were said to last up to more than 100 continuous days. Gladiator fights eventually ended under barbarian Emperor Honorius in 404 A.D; it's said that a monk named Telemachus ran into the arena to separate two gladiators fighting. The guards killed him, but his action prompted the emperor's move.
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