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Types of Gladiators

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There are many, many types of gladiators: Provocator, Dimachaerus, Arbelas, Venator, Crupellarius, Essedarius, etc....  Listed below are the gladiators that this Ludus represents and normally fights with and along side.

Hoplomachus:
A hoplomachus was equipped with a helmet, a small round shield, a pari of high greaves and a manica on his right arm.  He was armed with a spear and a dagger or short sword.  A hoplomachus fought bare chested.  His only clothes, like those of many other types of gladiator, comprised the subligaculum loincloth and the balteus belt.
 
The hoplomachus broad-brimmed helmet was supplied with a visor, a crest and a feather on either side, and greatly resembles a thraex's helmet.  In its shape and structure, the hoplomachus bronze shield looked like a smaller copy of a Greek hoplite's shield.  The latter is more widely known under the names of aspis, but sometimes is called hoplon, explaining the etymology behind the word hoplite.  The word hoplon is very rarely used in the singular, and its plural hoopla describes weapons collectively.  The name hoplomachus is derived from the Greek and means 'fighting with weapons' (hoplon - 'weapon', and machein - 'to fight').  A hoplomachus weapons - a spear and a short sword - were also similar to thoseof Greek hoplites.  Thus a hoplomachus represented a classic heavily armed Greek warrior in the gladiatorial arena.
 
By the structure of its handle, the parmula also resembled a hoplites shield.  It allowed a hoplomachus to hold a dagger as a secondary weapon in his left hand and manoeuvre a spear with his right hand.  In case the spear was lost, the gladiator put the dagger into his right hand and was able to hold the left hand using its central handle.
 
As a hoplomachus was only equipped with a small shield, his legs required substantial protection.  Covering both the shin and the knee, his greave reached high up to the middle of his thigh.  Under the greaves he wore tight, quilted but very soft cloth trousers that covered from his feet to up under his loincloth.  The trousers not only covered the unprotected upper parts of the thighs, but also served as a lining for the greave, softening blows and making the high and heavy greaves less uncomfortable.  Judging by some frescos, the trousers were often adorned with embroidery.  Such greaves and tight quilted trousers were part of the costume of a thraex, who also had nothing to defend himself with except a small shield.  Indeed the hoplomachus equipment strongly resembled that of a thraex.  the difference lay in the offensive weapon, the shape of the shield and the crest of the helmet.  Life a thraex armour, the armour of a hoplomachus weighed up to 17-18kg (38-40lbs), so the hoplomachus also falls into the category of heavily armed gladiator.
 
A hoplomachus usually had a myrmillo as an adversary, but he is occasionally depicted fighting with a thraex.  It was probably because he imitated a Greek warrior in the arena that the hoplomachus was not recognized as a type of gladiator in eastern parts of the empire.  He was, however, widespread in the West.  Although a hoplomachus - myrmillo pair was less common here than a myrmillo - thraex pair, it was still very popular.

Martinus, the Basher from Britiannia
thraex.jpg
Castra Romana, 2005

Thraex:
The thraex as a type of gladiator probably appeared in the arena in the first half of the 1st century BC, when a great many Thracians were taken prisoner in the Mithridates Wars.  However the equipment of the thraex had little in common with that of the Thracian soldier.
 
A thraex can be easily confused with a hoplomachus, as he had similar equipment: a manica on his right arm, quilted leg-wrappings, two high greaves and a brimmed helmet with a similar crest.  Moreover, the common thraex's adversary was also a myrmillo.  They were however, easily distinguished by their shields and their offensive weapons.  While the hoplomachus used a round shield and attacked with a spear or a straight dagger, the thraex protected himself with a small rectangular, almost square parmula shield and for attacking wielded a short curved sica dagger. 
 
The thraex's helmet was crowned with a peculiar crest in the shape of a griffin's head.  The griffin was deemed an incarnation of the goddess of retribution, Nemesis; tiny temples consecrated to the goddess were to be found in many amphitheaters.  The crest was adorned with a plume of feathers, and a couple of feathers were sometimes added on either side of the helmet.  A wide plume of horsehair, however, is never seen on the helmet. 
 
Measuring roughly 55x60cm (22x24in), the parmula was almost square and with a deeply convex profile.  Armed like a hoplomachus, with only a small shield, the thraex relied on the greaves and the quilted leg-wrappings to protect his legs, which provided covering form the suligaculum down to the foot.  The sica's blade was normally evenly curved along its length, but after about the mid 1st century AD we also see examples that are more sharply curved around the middle of the blade.  With the total weight of his armour reaching 17-18kg (38-40lbs) the thraex fell into the category of heavily armed gladiator.  A myrmillo was his regular adversary, but there are occasional representations of a thraex - hoplomachus pair.

Marius, The Slayer from Syracusa
gladmyrmillo.jpg
Castra Romana, 2003

Myrmillo:
The myrmillo gladiator entered the arena about the mid 1st century BC.  It is possible that the gallus (gladiator), never mentioned from that time, was renamed myrmillo.  The name myrmillo is frequently associated with the sea fish mormylos.  Hence the myrmillo often confused with the retiarus adversary, the secutor.  The myrmillo, however, appeared about the mid-1st century BC, while the retiarius was never heard of until the early Imperial period.  The fact allows Junkelmann to suggest that the etymology of the term should not be traced to the name of a sea fish, which implies the existence of a fisherman (retiarius), but from the word murex (sea snail, spine), which a myrmillo may have resembled owing to his helmet or a large shield.  There are, however, some rare artefacts in which a fish is clearly seen on a myrmillo's helmet.
 
The myrmillo entered combat with nothing on except the subligaculum and the broad balteus.  His defensive armour comprised a helmet, a manica on his right arm, a short greave on his left leg only, and a large scutum.  The helmet had broad brims, a visor and was crowned with a peculiar crest in the shape of a huge fish dorsal fin.  The fin was usually decorated with a plume made from feathers or horsehair.  Two more feathers were often put on either side of the bowl.  The structure of a myrmillo's helmet was very much like that of a thraex's helmet and only differed in the crest.  Like others types of gladiators, myrmillones had a plain polished bronze helmets, but there is an existing helmet that has a unique finishing - it is silvered to resemble fish scales.  It must have gleamed wonderfully in the sun on the arena floor.
 
A greave protected the myrmillo's left leg, but only below the knee.  It was worn over thick quilted leg-wrappings made of cloth.  The lower part of the greave had a deep U-shaped cut so that it made a smooth adjustment to the thick cloth foot-wrappings.  the greave was fastened to the leg by belts attached to two or three pairs of rings fixed onto the greave.  A myrmillo wore nothing but gaiters on his right leg.
 
A myrmillo protected himself with a 1m-high (3.2ft) scutum shield.  Following the example of Roman legionaries, myrmillones were equipped with an oval scutum until the mid-1st century AD and later changed it for a rectangular one.  The shield covered a gladiator from the greave to the chin.  This type of gladiator also fought with an ordinary 40-55cm (16-22in) long gladius infantry sword that had a straight, rather broad blade.  Being the myrmillo's only weapon, it was often tied to his hand with belts to prevent it being lost in combat.  The total weight of a myrmillo's armour reached 16-18kg (35-40lbs), with the shield the heaviest item.  Thus a myrmillo was classified as one of the heavily armed gladiators.
 
Myrmillones were never engaged in combat with each other.  They were generally paired with a gladiator equipped with a small shield - a thraex or hoplomachus.  A myrmillo and a thraex was a common pairing and one of the most popular in the Imperial period.  They were usually called scutarii and parmularii after the types of their shields: a myrmillo carried the large scutum while a thraex used a small parmula,  Marcus Aurelius illustrates their popularity when he thanks his tutor for being uninterested in the outcome of the duels either between the Greens and the Blues or between parmularii and scutarii (the Greens and the Blues are the teams of supporters at races) - such disinterest was an incredibly rare phenomenon in those days.  Domitian preferred a myrmillo to any other type of gladiator, and even threw a man to the dogs for speaking out in favour of a thraex gladiator.

Our Lanista
480734_10152224794370190_378576764_n.jpg
Castra Romana, 2012

Secutor:
The secutor (persecutor), also known as contraretiarius, was created specially for combat with a retiarius.  The sector had its origins in the myrmillo gladiator, only differing from the latter by the shape of his helmet.  His equipment consisted of a helmet, a large rectangular scutum, a greave on his left leg, a manica on his right arm, and a gladius sword.
 
The secutor's helmet had a streamlined shape, smooth surface, small eyeholes and a fin-like crest.  All these features had a double purpose - first protection, to prevent the secutor's head being caught in the retiarius net and to counter the threat from the retiarius trident, and second to call forth an association wit a head of a fish.  the eyeholes in the secutor's helmet were made very small, no more than 3cm (1.2in), because a trident could easily pierce through the visor grating in the helmets of all other types of gladiators.  For the same reason, there was neither relief décor nor engraving on the secutor's helmet - they could catch  on a point of the trident and hence lead to defeat.  Helmet brims, which could catch on the net, were also absent.
 
In action the secutor would always try to engage in close combat.  He therefore lunged at the retiarius, using his large shield for defence.  The retiarius, by contrast, aimed to keep at a distance and avoid close combat - his main weapons, the net and the trident, were only effective at mid-distance ranges.  So the retiarius would retreat or whirl round the secutor, waiting for the right moment to throw his net over the adversary or use his trident.  On account of his much heavier armament, the secutor was considerably less mobile.  Moreover, his thight, close-fitting helmet with tiny openigns for the eyes limited his vision and hearing and, which is even more important, restricted access to fresh air; the secutor became tired much sooner than his opponent and had to use his strength sparingly.
 
A secutor was first mentioned late in the 30s fo the 1st century AD by Suetonius, who wrote: 'Five retiarii, in tunics, fighting in a company, yielded without a struggle to the same number of opponents; and being ordered to be slain, one of them taking up his trident again, killed all the conquerors.'  Why the retiarii 'yielded without struggle' remains a mystery.  Could it be because Caligula was favorably disposed towards the sectores and wished to see them victorious?  This is quite possible, considering that in the edict that followed he declared that 'this he lamented as a most cruel butchery, and cursed all those who had borne the sight of it'  Whatever the reason, this occasion shows what a dangerous opponent a retiarius could be.  Secutores were a favorite with Commodus, who would himself often take to the arena as a secutor. 

Agron, the Merciful
img_6223.jpg
Castra Romana, 2010

Retiarius:
The retiarius (from rete - 'net') is the most easily identified type of gladiator. A retiarius carried no shield, he wore neither helmet nor greaves; a manica protected his left arm, not his right arm as was the case with gladiators of all the other types.  He fought with a net, a trident and a dagger.  A characteristic feature of a retiarius was a galerus, a metal shoulder-guard fastened to the manica.  It is easy to make out a retiarius in a group of gladiators by these distinguishing features.  The only type that can be confused with a retiarius is a laquerarius, of which very little is known except for the fact that he was equipped like a retiarius but was probably  armed with a lasso and a spear. 
 
The retiarius appeared in the arena as late as the early Imperial period.  Until the beginning of this era neither the retiarius nor the secutor, his adversary, is depicted in a single large panoramic relief representing gladiators.  The retiarius - secutor pair provided some of the best-loved gladiatorial combats.  It gained popularity in the mid-1st century AD and kept its appeal until gladiatorial games were abolished.
 
A retiarius is usually shown wearing nothing but a subligaculum; occasionally, however, he is wearing a light tunic open at his right shoulder.  His left hand, which held the net, was protected by a manica.  The galerus shoulder protection was fastened on the upper part of the manica.  The galerus was 1.1-1.2kg (1.5-2lbs) heavy bronze plate, inner side so that it could be fastened on the arm.  Apparently the belt sometimes ran diagonally across the chest and back and was done up under the right armpit; however, no suck belt can be seen in most reliefs, which leads us to the conclusion that it was only fastened on the left arm, as a rule.  The galerus projected about 12-13cm (5in) above the shoulder, protecting the neck and most of the head from lateral blows.  The upper edge of the shoulder-guard was slightly bent outward, which retarded sliding blows and allowed the head to move easily.  In later times (2nd-3rd centuries), a retiarius sometimes fought without a galerus, at least in the east of the empire.  Instead of a shoulder-guard, his left arm, the shoulder and a part of his chest were covered with a metal (scale or mail) mancia.
 
A fuscina (trident) was the main weapon of a retiarius.  Having successfully thrown a net over his opponent, a retiarius had made only one step on his way to victory.  Mostly, however, the retiarius seems to have missed his target on the first attempt, and then the secutor would try his best to prevent him from picking up the net.  Sooner or later a retiarius was left with just a trident and a dagger - now he could either hold the trident with both hands or leave it in his right hand, taking the dagger with the left.  The first option was preferable, as it was equally hard and ineffective to handle a heavy trident with only one arm and use a dagger to parry blows struck with a sword.  When fighting on foot, holding a shaft weapon with both hands was preferable, as it allowed the combatant to use both ends of the weapon in parrying and striking blows.  The blows themselves were heavier and more effective with the two-handed grip.  The lethality of such blows is a strong reason why the secutor's helmet had a smooth surface: it increased the possibility of a heavy thrust sliding along the surface without doing harm to the head.  A trident also allowed the retiarius to catch the adversary's blade between the points of the weapon or to press the edges of the shield.  Blows dealt to the opponent's legs were no less dangerous.  Although the secutor's left leg was protected with a greave, he could be knocked down when his left leg was attacked with a trident.  The length of the trident approximately equaled a man's height. 
 
It is important to note that the net cannot always be seen in the representations of retiarii.  Numerous explanations have been advanced in an attempt to explain the problem.  The simplest is that the retiarius has thrown his net unsuccessfully, missed the target and lost the net.  However, a shield lost by a combatant can often be seen lying at his feet.  If a lost shield is worth depicting, why not a lost net?  It is possible that, finding it difficult to represent a net, the artists simply omitted it, as they are known to have swapped a sword and a shield in the combatant's hands or even deprived him of one of them just for the sake of making a picture clearer.  Also surprising is the fact that the images of a retiarius covering his adversary with a net are very scarce - this is an impressive moment in the combat, and easily represented.
 
The pugio dagger was the third and the least important weapon of a retiarius.  He held it in his left hand and used it as a last resort, either having lost both the other weapons or in order to de4al his adversary a final blow.  At any other time there was to no advantage for a retiarius to engage in close combat with the secutor.
 
With his armour weighing up to 7-8kg (15-16lbs), including a 2-3kg (4-6lbs) heavy net, the retiarius was the most lightly armed gladiator.
 
A retiarius could sometimes oppose two secutores at once - he placed himself on a specially raised pons platform to make up for being outnumbered.  The pons was a wooden platform raised to about a man's height above the ground.  Two narrow inclined boards with steps led up to the platform on two sides.  In addition, the retiarius was also armed with a store of apple-sized round stones.  the stones were stored in small pyramids on the platform.  As the secutores approached the platform and climbed on it, the retiarius threw the stones at them.  Eveidently there was a rule forbidding secutores from throwing the stones back at the retiarius; without some advantages, the retiarius - exposed on the platform and unprotected by a shield or a helmet - would be easy game for the enemy. 

Samnites:
All the available information about the samnis is within the Republican period (the first reference to these gladiators dates from 308 BC), and it appears that the samniswas the most popular type of gladiator at the time.  The samnis came from the warriors of the samnite tribe defeated by the Romans in the 3rd century BC.  Taking a lot of Samnite armour as a trophy, the Romans decorated their forum with it and 'the Campanians... made the gladiators who performed at their banquets wear it, and then they called them "Samnites."
 
Samnite armour is minutely described by Livy:
There were two divisions; one had their shields plated with gold, the other with silver.  The shield was made straight and broad at the top to cover the chest and shoulders, then became narrower towards the bottom to allow it being more easily moved about.  To protect the front of the body they wore armour; the left leg was cover with a greave, and their helmets plumed to give them the appearance of being taller than they really were.  The tunics of the men with gold plated shields were in variegated colors, those with the silver shields had tunics of white linen.
 
Livy's evidence here should be taken with a pinch of salt, however.  Modern scholars are inclined to be doubtful about his description of the shield - the few examples discovered point  to the Samnites' protecting themselves with a round or large oval shield that possibly had the upper edge cut off.  There is a suggestion that Livy's description refers only to samnis gladiators, not Samnite warriors.
 
Fragmentary evidence and numerous questionable iconographic artefacts reveal that the samnis' equipment comprised of a helmet with a ridge or feathers, a large oval or rectangular shield, a greave on his left leg, a spear and a sword.  They also possibly wore distinctive three-disc armour (composed of three large metal discs).

Female Noxii
noxii.jpg
Castra Romana, 2009

Noxii:
Noxii are not a type of gladiator, in fact they are considered a class below all gladiators, even the Venator (Venator were gladiators that fought against wild beasts).  They were simply the criminals that were sentenced to death, the scum of the city that were being used for entertainment, run away slaves, even political prisoners being made example of.  Sometimes they would face a well trained gladiator and sometimes they would face another Noxii.  It all depended on the editor of the games. 
 
There weapons were what ever the editor of the games allowed them to have.  It could be a sword, a spear, a dagger, maybe just a shield, and sometimes nothing at all.  They wore the clothes that they had on when they were captured, nothing more.

Source:
Gladiator: Rome's Bloody Spectacle
Konstantin Nossov
Osprey Press 2009
 

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