5 Famous Ancient Roman Gladiators

Before ancient Roman gladiators fought grisly battles in rowdy public arenas like the Colosseum, they clashed in far more solemn places: funerals.

The first gladiator fights began in the 3rd century BCE as ritual offerings of blood to the spirits of recently deceased nobles. That changed around 27 BCE, when Augustus seized power in Rome, says Michael J. Carter, professor of classics at Brock University in Ontario: “He detached gladiatorial combat from its purely funerary context and forms a regular part of the entertainment cycle in Rome.” This change gave rise to some of today’s most famous gladiators: Spartacus, Spiculus, Marcus Attilius and many others.

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