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Two gladiators fight while a referee looks on in a mosaic from a villa in Germany, about 2nd–3rd century AD

A gladiator was an armed combatant who fought other gladiators, condemned criminals, and ferocious animals in the arenas of Ancient Rome for the amusement of the populace. Trajan is said to have celebrated his war victories in the Colosseum with contests involving 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators over the course of 123 days.

The word gladiator is derived from the Latin word for "sword" (gladius), but other weapons were also used in arena such as tridents, daggers, and large nets. Most gladiators were slaves who were trained in gladiatorial schools, and were thus highly prized by their masters.

Gladiators were not sacrificed in the arena flippantly because they could make great sums of money for their owners. Nevertheless, they were despised by Roman society, and socially marginalized.

Emperor Commodus dressed for the arena as Hercules

The Emperor Commodus dressed himself as Hercules and willingly participated in the arena, much to the bewilderment and annoyance of the Roman people. His cowardly and merciless murders of helpless animals, wounded soldiers, amputees, and cripples scandalized and horrified Romans. He was said to have killed 100 lions in a single day. His brutal and ignoble participation in the arena may have led to his assassination.

Gladiatorial combats may have originated during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BC as funeral rites. The combats were eventually suppressed by early Christian emperors. Modern depictions of the gladiator appear in the movies Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas and Galdiator starring Russell Crowe. Many B movies were made during the mid 20th century in Europe that featured oily bodybuilders as gladiators liberating the downtrodden or defeating evil queens and tyrants.

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