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Gladiator glossary

Mainly of gladiator and related terms you will find throughout the Brothers of the Sand series. Most of them are easy to grasp without constant reference to this – but I know people love lists.

The gear

Fascia: protective band of material, skin, or leather that protected the leg below the knee and provided padding below a greave.

Fascina (or tridens): The long, three-pronged metal trident that was the hallmark of a retiarius.

Galea: The helmet worn by all gladiators except the retiarius. These were domed and often featured decorative crests and visors pierced with eyeholes.

Galerus: The distinctive metal shoulder-guard of a retiarius. It curved up strongly from the shoulder, away from the neck, so that neck and head were protected but the fighter's head movements were not restricted.

Gladius: This was the long, straight sword of the gladiator after which he was named.

Ocrea: A metal leg guard that ran from the knee (or above) to the shin and protected mainly the front of the leg.

Parma: A round or square shield that was smaller and lighter than a scutum.

Pugio: A dagger, weapon of last resort of a retiarius.

Rudis: The wooden sword or staff symbolizing a gladiator's liberatio.

Scutum: A large rectangular shield (curving inward so that it formed part of a cylinder) of the sort carried by a murmillo.

Sica: A short, curved sword of the sort carried by a Thrax.

Subligaculum: A traditional loincloth worn by gladiators (the chest was almost always bare).


AUCTORATIO: Most gladiators were slaves but some were volunteers. The auctoratio was the swearing of a legal agreement by free men who joined a school for whatever reason and for a contracted period, by which they handed themselves over as slaves to their master and trainer, agreeing to submit to beating, burning, and death by the sword if they did not perform as required. Gladiators were expected to accept death. The familiar 'we who are about to die salute you' was used once only by gladiators forced to fight in a naval battle on a lake in armour and who expected that even if they won they'd drown. It was shouted as an ironic protest to Emperor Claudius, whose less well-known response was simply: 'or not, as the case may be.'

DIS MANIBUS: A standard phrase of dedication to the 'Manes.' the spirits of the dead.  Effectively they are being warned that there's another one on the way. In the gladiatorial amphitheatre it was an actual person, also known as Charun, the Roman form of Charon, the Greek demi-god who ferried the dead across ther Styx. Pluto, the Roman fgod of the underworld was also used. A man traditionally masked as someone from the underworld, accompanied by other masked helpers would stab the fallen to make sure they were dead and, if not, use a traditional hammer to make sure of it. Then others would hook the body by the heels and drag if off through the Gate of Death. Those who had survived left they way they had entered, through the Gate of Life.

ESSEDARUIS: A chariot-fighter who probably dismounted to fight hand-to-hand.

EQUES: A gladiator who fought on horseback, like a Roman knight, against other mounted fighters. An eques carried a spear, but also used a sword, so he could dismount to duel with an opponent. His helmet often displayed two feathers on either side of the dome (with no crest).

FAMILIA GLADIATORIUM: A troop of gladiators who lived and trained under one lanista.

FLAVIAN: Now better known as the Coliseum, it was, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre because of the Flavian family of emperors involved in it. Commisioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian, completed by his son, Titus, in AD80, with later improvements by Domitian. Located just east of the Forum, it was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank. The Coliseum is huge, an ellipse 188m long and 156 wide. Originally 240 masts were attached to stone corbels on the 4th level to provide shade on hot days. It was called the Coliseum because of a massive statue of Nero which stood nearby – later remodeled into the god Helios or Sol and sometimes the heads of succeeding emperors.

GALLUS: A Gaul, a type of heavily armed fighter named after the Romans' tribal enemy. The original Galli were probably war captives. This type of fighter died out in the Empire.

HARENA: Literally – 'sand'. Possibly Etruscan, which was believed to be the origin of gladiatorial contests.

HOPLOMACHUS: This gladiator was distinguished by his short, curved sword. Like a Thrax, he wore high leg guards.

LANISTA: An owner, recruiter, trainer, and speculator in gladiators who sold or rented men to munerarii. In the Empire this job came under the jurisdiction of the emperor.

LIBERATIO: The freeing of a gladiator who had served his time (a period of years varying according to when and how he was inducted).

LUDI: Games in general, and festivals involving games. Games could be private, public, or extraordinary – since gladiators were so expensive to train and keep they fought three or four times a year and, unless the giver of the games – the editor – paid for it, there was no fight to the death. Contests were, in fact, one-on-one and regulated by a referee, usually a former gladiator. Criminals and prisoners could be damned to fight in the arena, with the hope of a reprieve if they survived a certain number of years. These men were trained in a specialized form of combat. Others, untrained, were expected to die within a short time. There were also volunteer gladiators, ones who either enlisted voluntarily as free or freed men, or who reenlisted after winning their freedom. Even equites and, more rarely, senators sometimes enlisted. The word 'gladiator' simply means 'swordsman'.

LUDUM VENATORIUM (VENATIO): The animal hunts - venatores were skilled men usually pitted against carnivorous beasts; bestiarii were animal-handlers and killers of less skill and finesse. Literary accounts and inscriptions often stress the numbers of animals killed. As in gladiatorial combat, men condemned to fight or perform in such games could sometimes win their freedom. By now, the 3rd century, the games had degenerated into vicious spectacle, with such crowd-pleasers as children hung up by the heels to see which of the starving dogs could leap high enough to get a bite, foxes let loose with their tails on fire and worse.

LUDUS: The gladiator 'school'. It's estimated that there were more than 100 gladiator schools throughout the empire. New gladiators were formed into troupes called familia gladiatorium which were under the overall control of a manager (lanista) who recruited, arranged for training and made the decisions of where and when the gladiators fought.. There were gladiator schools near all the major cities around Rome and one of the ones which has stayed in history is that of Batiatus in Capua where Spartacus was trained. But the most famous gladiator schools of all were those in Rome: The Great Gladiatorial Training School (Ludus Magnus), which was actually connected to the Flavian Ampitheatre by a tunnel, The Bestiaries School (Ludus matutinus) which specialised in training those who fought, handled and trained the exotic wild beasts, The Gallic School (Ludus Gallicus), smallest of the schools which specialised in training heavily-armoured fighters and The Dacian School (Ludus Dacicus), which trained lightly-armoured fighters in the use of the sicari sword, a short curved weapon about 16 inches long.

MANICA: Arm padding of wrapped cloth and leather.

MISSIO: A gladiator who acknowledged defeat could request the munerarius to stop the fight and send him alive (missus) from the arena. If he had not fallen he could be "sent away standing" (stans missus). The editor took the crowd's response into consideration in deciding whether to let the loser live or order the victor to kill him.

MORNING SHOWS: Starting early, the arena served as a place of dramatic public execution, including damnatio ad bestias or obiectio feris (throwing people to the beasts). The victims were noxii, criminals, deserters, rebels, traitors, runaway slaves, and those guilty of various sorts of antisocial behaviour. In the 3rd century, few if any Christians were persecuted in Rome itself – but the provinces threw them to the lions in droves.

MURMILLO: A fighter apparently named after a Greek word for fish. He wore a crested helmet and carried a tall shield.

MUMERARIUS (EDITOR): The giver of the games. It could be a member of the nobler orders of Rome who put on the show privately (a rarity post-Republic) or in his official capacity as a magistrate or priest, or it was more likely the State, putting on Games whose dates and functions were set in the Roman calendar. Outside Rome, munerarii were generally municipal and provincial priests of the imperial cult, or local governors.

MUNUS (pl. MUNERA): The show (the term has a connotation of "duty"). It usually lasted for three or more days and, under special circumstances, for weeks or months. Provincial games rarely lasted more than two days, but Titus's games in Rome for the inauguration of the completed Flavian in.AD80 lasted 100 days. The classic Italian munus plena included venations in the morning, various noontime activities (meridiani), and gladiatorial duels in the afternoon.


OMNES AD STERCUS: Not strictly a gladiatorial term, but certainly used by them and liberally scrawled on walls all over Rome. Best translation is: 'it's all shit', but 'we're in the shit' can also be used depending on context. It is not, as internet translations coyly have it 'get lost' or 'go to hell'.

POMPA: The parade that signaled the start of a gladiatorial munus; it included the munerarius, usually in some outlandish costume and carriage, the gladiators, musicians, a palm-bearer, and various other officials and personnel, such as a sign-bearer whose placard gave the crowd information about events, participants, and other matters, including the emperor's response to petitions.

POLLICE VERSO: "With thumb turned." Much debated signal, though most assume the thumb is turned down if a gladiator is to die. There are accounts of it being passed across the throat, turned to the heart etc etc.

PUGNARE AD DIGITUM: "To fight to the finger." Combat took place until the referee stopped the fight or the defeated gladiator raised his finger (or his hand or whole arm) to signal the munerarius to stop the fight.

RECIPERE FERRUM: To receive the iron. A defeated gladiator who was refused missio was expected to kneel and courageously accept death. His victorious opponent would stab him or cut his throat. The referee made sure it was done properly and swiftly.

RETIARIUS: This was the most distinctive-looking gladiator, a bareheaded, unshielded fighter whose main protection was padding and a shoulder guard on his left arm. He used a net to ensnare his opponent and a long trident to impale him.

RUDIARIUS: A gladiator who had received a rudis – the wooden sword that marked him a retired and no longer a slave - was therefore an experienced volunteer, especially worth watching. There was a hierarchy of experienced rudiarii within a familia of gladiators, and rudiarii could become trainers, helpers, and arbiters of fights, the referees. The most elite of the retired gladiators were dubbed summa rudis. The summa rudis officials wore white tunics with purple borders and served as technical experts to ensure that the gladiators fought bravely, skillfully, and according to the rules. They carried batons and whips with which they pointed out illegal movements. Ultimately the summa rudis officials could stop a game if a gladiator was going to be too seriously wounded, compel gladiators to fight on, or defer the decision to the editor. Retired gladiators who became summa rudis evidently achieved fame and wealth in their second careers as officials of the combats.

SAMNIS:Like the Gallus, the Samnis (Samnite) was originally an enemy of the Romans from Campania in the south. Captives taken in battle in the Republic undoubtedly provided the model for this type of heavily armed fighter.

SECUTOR: The "follower" was paired with a retiarius. His armor was distinguished by a helmet with small eyeholes that would presumably impede the trident's prongs.

SIGNUM PUGNAE: The signal given by the munerarius for combat to begin. It is not always clear what form this took, and it may have varied.

SINE MISSIONE: "Without missio:" a fight with no possibility of a reprieve for the loser. Rare.

SIX: Number tagged against a fighter's name in the Ludus he was part of when he had died. Origin unknown – but to be 'sixed' means you are a dead man.

STANTES MISSI: A draw, with both "sent away standing." Both gladiators walked away neither having won or lost.

SPECTACULA: Spectacles are the seats as well as the events viewed in the arena. Harena or arena, the sand sprinkled on the field of combat to absorb blood, can also signify the place of combat.

THRAX: The "Thracian" was another type of fighter equipped like a former enemy soldier (from Thrace in northern Greece). He fought with a small, rectangular shield and his helmet bore a griffin crest.

TIRO: A gladiator fighting in his very first public combat.

VENATOR:Venatores were skilled spearmen, usually pitted against carnivorous beasts.

VETERANUS: A veteran of one or more combats.

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