Roman gladiators were some of the most vicious and popular athletes of all time. The extremely violent sport of gladiatorial fighting was as popular back then as MMA is today. In ancient Rome, crowds would swarm to see their favorite warriors beat each other until only one man was left standing in the center of the arena—or until the match ended in a draw.
Although multiple films and TV shows have covered the lives of these warriors, many details remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about these brave, sword-wielding warriors.
What their dental impressions revealed
Scientists who study the gladiator’s role in the Roman Empire have discovered that many fighters once suffered from infant malnutrition. Upon examining preserved dental impressions, specialists recognized defects in the form of horizontal lines that ran across the tooth enamel. This supports theories that state many gladiators grew up very poor and may have been sold off as slaves at a young age.
After becoming property, those trained in combat were then fed well by their owners and encouraged to gain the much-needed muscle to fight in the arenas.
They formed their own trade unions
Although gladiators battled and killed one another, they commonly viewed each other as brothers. Many developed and organized themselves into unions, called “collegia.” They had their own leaders and would pay respects to warriors who fell in battle.
Commonly, a fund was collected from gladiators that would then go to a fallen warrior’s family as compensation.
Fighting to the death
Contrary to popular belief, roman gladiators didn’t typically fight to the death while in the arenas. A warrior’s death was a tremendous financial burden on their owner. However, historians believe that nearly 700,000 gladiators lost their lives in the Colosseum.
That’s a lot of debt.
They were split up into different sections and types
Gladiators were broken up into various classes based on their records, experience, and skill level. The thraeces and murmillones gladiators battled it out using swords and shields while the essedariis rode in combat on chariots.
Before their battles, they lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as both training and prison grounds.
More from We Are the Mighty
- Why Trench Raiders were the scariest enemies of World War I
- This mayor saved his town by drinking three liters of wine at once
- Why Napoleon wasn’t executed after his defeat at Waterloo
- A single French airplane bombed Berlin before the fall of France
This article originally appeared on We Are the Mighty.