Roman Gladiators (KS2) Fun Facts And Activities

Boy dressed up as a Roman gladiator.

What's your image of the Ancient Romans?

From fearsome warriors and rulers of land and sea to powerful gods, there's so much to explore within this civilisation and its lasting impacts on our modern world.

The Roman civilisation began in Rome, the capital city of Italy, around 509 BC. Here Romans invented many things we now rely on every day, like roads and books. Much of our language even has its roots in the language of the Ancient Romans. Pretty cool, right? The Romans also created a huge empire across Europe that reached and conquered Britain in 43 AD. At its largest, over 70 million people across the world lived within the Roman Empire.

Whilst advancing civilisation, the Romans also had some violent entertainment pastimes, one of which was gladiator fights. This Roman Gladiators history guide will cover the essentials, from facts to fun activities, to support your child's learning about life in Ancient Rome and this form of Roman entertainment.

When Do Children Learn About Roman Gladiators In School?

It is in KS2 history when children learn about the rise of the Roman Empire, life in Ancient Rome and the impact of the Roman Empire on modern Britain. This is when the topic of Roman gladiators will first be introduced to your child.

The Colosseum in Rome, the most famous Roman amphitheatre, where gladiators fought.
Image © user14202961, under a Creative Commons license.

What Is A Roman gladiator?

Roman gladiators were people who would fight in gladiator games as entertainment for large crowds of people in Rome. They would fight with each other or animals, sometimes to the death.

Roman gladiators' fights took place in a large arena called an amphitheatre. They were a form of entertainment for Roman people who enjoyed watching gladiators fight. The most famous amphitheatre, the Colosseum, opened in 80 AD.

It's believed that the first gladiator games, in 207 AD, may have been between slaves. Soon, Roman gladiator fights became a regular spectacle amongst wealthy Romans who enjoyed using gladiators to highlight their own social standing. They would sponsor the fights and use this to show off their power; the larger and more glamorous the event, the more wealthy the individual was seen to be.

As in the first gladiator fights, most gladiators were slaves. They would take a gladiatorial oath that meant the owner of their gladiator group had complete control over their life.

Gladiators were chosen due to their skill and strength and would be trained in gladiator schools to make sure they were giving the people the best show possible when they fought. If gladiators won many fights, there was a chance they could become wealthy and popular.

The ruins of a Roman amphitheatre where gladiators fought.
Image © dipetre, under a Creative Commons license.

Roman Gladiator Facts

If a gladiator died in the arena, their trainer could charge the person who sponsored the event up to 100 times the cost of a gladiator who survived.

It was not just men that took part in the games: female slaves were gladiators too, until they were banned around 200 AD.

Not all gladiators were slaves - some were actually volunteers!

Most gladiators only lived until their mid-twenties.

If a gladiator was badly hurt or admitted defeat, the crowd watching in the arena could decide what happened to them.

Nine thousand animals were killed in one hundred day ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum.

Gladiators were Roman celebrities, some children even played with clay gladiator action figures.

It's thought one of the words for sword ('gladius') is the root of the word 'gladiator'.

A Roman gladiator's metal helmet with a crest on the front.
Image © tony4urban, under a Creative Commons license.

Types Of Gladiator?  

Gladiator games became more organised as time went on, and fighters were placed in different groups depending on how well they fought and their style of fighting. There were different weapons and clothing depending on the type of gladiator you were. The main gladiator groups in the arena were:

Samnite: The most heavily armed, the Samnites had large Roman gladiator shields made from wood (a scutum), a helmet (galae), a short sword (gladius), elbow (manicae) or wristbands and leg ankle from their knee to their ankle (greaves). They were well protected!

Thraces: The Thraces used small rectangular shields, curved daggers (sica), galae, manicae and greaves.

Murmillo: They were known as the 'fish men' as they wore helmets with a fish on it, armour with scales, a heavy helmet (cassis crista), a Greek sword, manicae and shin guards (ocrea).

Retiarii: The Retairii, known as 'net men' used weapons similar to a fisherman's tools, carrying a net (retes), a trident (fascina), galerus (metal shoulder piece) and short tunics.

Secutor: Their armour included a loincloth, simple helmet, galae, manicae and ocrea.

There was a special class of Roman warrior, the venatores and bestiarii, who would fight different animals as part of opening event at the games. Most animals were killed, however, some were trained to fight each other. The animals would be kept underneath the arena and released on the day of the gladiator games.

Activities For Gladiator Learning

There's lots of fun things you can do to help your child learn more about the Roman world and the different types of gladiators. Why not check out our handy guide to making a Roman helmet, and get them thinking about the types of clothing the Romans wore? You could also get them to have a go at making their own Roman armour and imagine what they would need if they were heading into battle.

There are some great, interactive online games you can play that help children step into a day in the life in Rome or imagine how they would rule the Roman Empire if they were in charge. Let their imagination go wild! Reading and translating Roman numerals can also be a fun way to imagine how these fierce gladiators would have communicated with one another when they weren't fighting.



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