Inside the Tough Life of an Ancient Roman Gladiator

Researchers map out Roman 'prison'

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 2, 2014 9:20 AM CST

(Newser) – After discovering a well-preserved ludus gladiatorius (read: gladiator school) near Vienna in 2011, researchers mapped it out using radar and overhead surveys, the BBC reports. Now, they're revealing details of the terrible life of an ancient Roman gladiator—enslaved as part of what was a "big business," experts tell National Geographic. The school at Carnuntum, says study leader Wolfgang Neubauer, "was a prison; they were prisoners," and "lived in cells, in a fortress with only one gate out."

The cells, which could hold one or two fighters, were just 32 square feet in a 118,400-square-foot complex. The ludus had two floors and was home to at least 80 gladiators, who did, at least, have heated training floors and plumbing. And contrary to what Russell Crowe's version of Gladiator would have you think, these fighters didn't travel around as if in a circus. What's more, "they weren't killed very often; they were too valuable," says Neubauer. In fact, they were trained by survivors of the fighting, who were also housed in the facility. But "lots of other people were likely killed at the amphitheater, people not trained to fight." Meanwhile, a recent study found that skulls Romans left lying around in London pits could have been gladiators.

A virtual video shows the former Roman gladiator school at Carnuntum, in Austria, on Monday, Sept 5, 2011.   (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
A virtual video presentation of the former Roman gladiator school at Carnuntum, in Austria, is shown on Monday, Sept 5, 2011.   (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
A model of the Roman gladiator school is presented at a press conference by the Ludwig Bolzmann institute for Archaeology on Monday, Sept 5, 2011.   (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
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