The Life of the Roman Gladiator

Sebastian Hererra '17

The project: After taking classes in Latin, Mr. Herrerra says he was inspired to learn more about Roman culture. That led to his research into the life of the gladiators and their role in Roman society. He notes that these brutal fighters came from three classes: prisoners of war, the poor and unskilled, or retired soldiers. Their fights were gory public spectacles, conducted before cheering crowds in arenas throughout the ancient Roman Empire. The practice was eventually put to an end in 380 AD by Constantine the Great, an early adherent to Christianity.

Biggest challenge. “Finding a lot of the details and material. My topic is thousands of years old and a lot of it isn’t completely true. Often, you find that people think happened or things that people imagined happened. Movies like Gladiator and 300 make Rome and Greek warriors out to be a certain way. Sometimes those stereotypes are true, but a lot of times they are not. So I was cross-referencing my sources and looking at the actual Latin to find texts that were helpful.”

Surprising discovery. “That there were female gladiators. I did not know this at the time. I found out that there were certain females who were often better than most of the other male gladiators. In one city, there is a woman who has a statue dedicated to her. The people were so amazed by her fighting and her skill set that they let her go free and be what she wanted to be, and they gave her a statue in her honor.”

Tip for future scholars. “Do something that’s interesting to you. You are going to be writing 15 to 20 pages of material on the topic, and it has to be something you’re willing to read endless amounts of books about. I really love Roman culture, and it all started from Greek and Roman myths that I read when I was growing up. That just always fascinated me, and so being able to research it gave me the outlet to go with what interested me.

From his presentation. Gladiators were trained at specialty schools called ludus.