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gladiator vs legionary

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    Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 08:39
This might be an odd question, but I've often wondered about the comparative fighting abilities of the gladiator compared to that of the Roman legionary.
Gladiators trained hard in inidivual combat and they fought for the giving a show to the public. Legionaries were trained to fight and win wars and were drilled in both individual and collective combat. At least part of the gladiator and legionary training would be rather similar.

Gladiators were also well known for their exceptional physical strength. Legionaries wouldn't be so much inferior in this aspect because they were trained to fight holding a 5kg shield and a 2kg sword and to march 30km a day carrying a weight of 30kg.

If legionaries were equal or superior to gladiators in physical strength and combat ability, back in republican times when the legions were recruited by the mass-conscription of Roman citizens, would most Roman citizens be capable of "beating gladiators" in a fight?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 10:12
Individually, no; collectively... quite possibly. A gladiator would have been more than a match for any of your run of the mill legionaries, Russell Crowe notwithstanding. That said, the legion was trained, quite well, to fight as a team, so gladiators would have a rough go of it, especially in open terrain. Those are the first thoughts that popped into my mind, anyway. There are several of our forum colleagues who, being experts in the field, could offer a much more detailed description.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 13:48
Apparently, gladiator always would win in individual combat. All the life of a gladiator was only about training and fighting, his whole existence was dependent on it. Moreover, a natural selection insured that only the most able natural-born fighters among gladiators would survive.
 
Of course, legionaries had a perfect training but the large aspect of their training was fighting in formations, different maneuvers in close formations, etc. So, in theory gladiators were more prepared for an individual fight.
 
So, a gladiator wins.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko- Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 14:27
Organization tends to win over chaos. Not saying that a gladiator is a chaotic fighter but the skill set and discipline of any pro soldier should give him the edge. I pick ...the legionaire.

ps- shouldn't this thread be nudged over to Historical Amusement?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 14:50
Originally posted by Seko Seko wrote:

Organization tends to win over chaos. Not saying that a gladiator is a chaotic fighter but the skill set and discipline of any pro soldier should give him the edge. I pick ...the legionaire.



A gladiator did, as you say, not fight chaotically, but also his training was disciplined and followed different concepts to heighten skills. Also many gladiator fights followed special routines or rituals that the gladiator was supposed to have learned.

So I would go for the gladiator in a fight man to man.

By the way, what does the sources tell us about such meetings?


Edited by Carcharodon - 29 Jul 2010 at 14:58
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 15:01
As some very subtle information has revealed..., legionary fighting techniques had improved following the Maria reforms, as soldiers were generally long-term career professionals rather than short-termed civilian levies. According to some sources, Marius hired gladiator instructions to train the legionaries in sword-fighting skills, which meant that gladiator combat skills were more refined.

Therefore, most probably that during much of the republic, legionary fighting skills were less technical on the individual level. This could be understandable because legions were raised and disbanded campaign after campaign, and many legionaries could be hastily-conscripted civilians who had limited time for training.
During the empire when the legions were fully-professionalised, the situation would have been different.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 15:08
Before we talk about such a hypothetical match one must ask, were the legionaries as good as books talk about them?
 
Because lets be honest, if it took them 7 years hard fighting to subdue ragtag jewish rebels who haven't been in a war in centuries and were lagely inferior in numbers that is not a good testiment about them.
 
I read several books on Roman armies and honestly I think the authors took alot of liberty in their analysis and interpretations.
 
Man to man I think no one will doubt a gladiator who fights for his own life and has been doing that for some time will win against a legionnaire who is far more inferior in both physical strength and combat skills (having spent much of his life fighting enemies with brass headed wooden spears and tin swords).
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 15:18
I second the opinion of most here who point out that the Legion was about organized combat, and thus had the advantage. The fact that promotion within the Legion, at least as far as Centurion, was based upon demonstrated skills in combat, is also an important factor. Indeed, it was the Legion's revival in the pre-modern period as the Spanish Tercio which set Europe on the path to adopting modern military formations.

Ironically, a trailer for "Gladiator" could have been: "Disgraced Roman Legionary takes command of a backwater mob of Gladiators, where his tactical skills and leadership welds them into a formidable team that earns a ticket to the Emperor's Games in Rome itself."


Edited by lirelou - 29 Jul 2010 at 15:24
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 15:30
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
Man to man I think no one will doubt a gladiator who fights for his own life and has been doing that for some time will win against a legionnaire who is far more inferior in both physical strength and combat skills (having spent much of his life fighting enemies with brass headed wooden spears and tin swords).
 
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The wooden shields and swords used for legionary drill were twice as heavy as the steel ones. It was to get them used to carrying weight.
Regarding strength, gladiators probably gained the upper hand but legionaries might win when it came to stamina. Gladiators didn't have to do 30km marchas loaded down with 30kg of weight and building a camp afterwards.

Of course, when talking about legionaries, it would also depend on the era or geographical region in question. The civil war veterans of Caesar and Pompey were probably considerably tougher than a legionary serving during the Pax Romana who had never fought in a major battle except the odd skirmish with barbarian tribes or bandit gangs.
Contemporary texts also claim that the soldiers of the Egyptian legions were accostumed to such a life of leisure that many of them ran their own businesses in town. However, a soldier serving in the Germanic border would have altogether a different experience.
The Germans were apparently bigger, stronger, and more ferocious than most Roman soldiers, who were generally recruited from the Mediterranean region.



Edited by calvo - 29 Jul 2010 at 15:33
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 15:40
Its always a difference in military training that teach collective combat skills and more individual training as the gladiators often got. One can see this also in comparing the hand to hand combat often trained in the military compared to hand to hand combat in for example the MMA. Ofcourse they have different aim but the skills of a good UFC fighter in hand to hand combat is mostly better than most military instructors.

One could see this in a recent TV show when a military instructor in hand to hand combat should fight with a skilled UFC fighter (if I remember correctly it was Randy Couture). In between five and ten minutes the UFC practitioner had made the instructor tap out five times, with both armlocks, leglocks and strangulations. In a real fight the strangulations would have been deadly if the UFC fighter had pressed them.


Edited by Carcharodon - 29 Jul 2010 at 15:45
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 15:44
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
Man to man I think no one will doubt a gladiator who fights for his own life and has been doing that for some time will win against a legionnaire who is far more inferior in both physical strength and combat skills (having spent much of his life fighting enemies with brass headed wooden spears and tin swords).
 
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The wooden shields and swords used for legionary drill were twice as heavy as the steel ones. It was to get them used to carrying weight.
Regarding strength, gladiators probably gained the upper hand but legionaries might win when it came to stamina. Gladiators didn't have to do 30km marchas loaded down with 30kg of weight and building a camp afterwards.

 
Here is a question, how often did a legionairre did this 30kg 30km drill?
 
How often did they drill period?
 
Gladiators fought for their life on an almost weekly basis, they trained hard, they had alot of money on their heads and hope for future freedom.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko- Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 16:06
OK I think we should break up this dual into two parts:  solitary fights among two individuals and battles among armies. 

Edited by Seko - 29 Jul 2010 at 16:06
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 18:05
Why speak of the hypothetical when History does tell us the result of a battle between gladiators and the professional Legionary: The Third Servile War!
 
At the Battle of the Silarus in 71 BC, Spartacus and his gladiators encountered not the militia of urban Rome but the crack legions commanded by Marcus Licinius Crassus. Here's a brief summation that does address the topic:
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 18:05
Legionaries would have had more sense than to fight in individual hand-to-hand combats.
 
I considered quoting Spartacus (especially the early battles of the war) but I didn't convince myself that many of the slaves who followed him by 71 were actually gladiators. But yes, it ought to be looked at.
 
 


Edited by gcle2003 - 29 Jul 2010 at 18:09
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 20:07
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Why speak of the hypothetical when History does tell us the result of a battle between gladiators and the professional Legionary: The Third Servile War!
 
At the Battle of the Silarus in 71 BC, Spartacus and his gladiators encountered not the militia of urban Rome but the crack legions commanded by Marcus Licinius Crassus. Here's a brief summation that does address the topic:
 
 
Wasn't the legion system as we know it (numbered standing legions which instituted Pax Romana) began in the principate not the republic?
 
I know that the modern legion owed its existence to Marius but even then most legions were not standing and the only reason they were not dissolved was the constant warring within Rome.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 20:47
I doubt there was much difference with regard to training and fighting ability between ten years' service in a legion during the republic and 20 years service in an imperial one.
 
Of course, loyalties were to commanders rather than the state (de facto if not de jure) so the repblican legions probably don't amount to a 'standing army' in the modern sense.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 22:10
The Legion System had pretty well solidified long before the advent of the Empire and periods of enlistment differed little between 80 BC and 14 AD (16 vs 20). True, most of what can be stated about the Roman Army in the Late Republic depends entirely upon sources writing in the years after Marius and during the early Empire; however, you do know the old adage about institutions and change. Besides, even a reading of Caesar's Commentaries indicates the systemic nature of recruitment, enlistment, and training by 100 B.C. As for the purported absence of "standing" legions under the Republic, the claim is untenable given the fact that Augustus himself "disbanded" some 25 of the then existing 50 legions in 30 BC, some with histories back to the Punic and Macedonian Wars, and more or less formalized during the Marian Reforms of 107 BC. Keep in mind that the imperatores of the Late Republic were not writing on a tabula rasa when existing standing armies came under their control through the cursum honorum.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 22:51
Your answer lies in analysis of the Third Servile War.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 23:35
How did the Gladiators become slaves?
A good lot of them were captured in war by Legionaries.
 
Who kept the Gladiators as slaves?
The legionaries.
 
Who has better armour, better shields, ranged and close weapons?
The legionary.
 
Who has better morale when thrown against their will into a circus with thousands of plebians shouting for your head?
The Gladiator.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2010 at 23:40
When did the practice of dueling before a battle start? By 600 AD it was well established in Roman Legions, but I don't recall it ever happening in the early empire.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jul 2010 at 02:10
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

Its always a difference in military training that teach collective combat skills and more individual training as the gladiators often got. One can see this also in comparing the hand to hand combat often trained in the military compared to hand to hand combat in for example the MMA. Ofcourse they have different aim but the skills of a good UFC fighter in hand to hand combat is mostly better than most military instructors.

One could see this in a recent TV show when a military instructor in hand to hand combat should fight with a skilled UFC fighter (if I remember correctly it was Randy Couture). In between five and ten minutes the UFC practitioner had made the instructor tap out five times, with both armlocks, leglocks and strangulations. In a real fight the strangulations would have been deadly if the UFC fighter had pressed them.
This is a correct observation. Moreover, UFC or MMA technques and instructors have been now employed to improve US military hand-to-hand combat skills.
 
However, UFC techniques aren't complitely applicable to combat fight. Basically, for UFC you need to know how to subdue or knockout the opponent out, in the military you need to know how to kill fast and effectively, including "dirty" techniques which aren't allowed in UFC, that makes those two quite different.
 
But the former doesn't apply to gladiator vs. legionary comparison, because both of the two were trained to kill and only kill not to win the competition.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jul 2010 at 02:18
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:



The wooden shields and swords used for legionary drill were twice as heavy as the steel ones. It was to get them used to carrying weight.
Regarding strength, gladiators probably gained the upper hand but legionaries might win when it came to stamina. Gladiators didn't have to do 30km marchas loaded down with 30kg of weight and building a camp afterwards.
 
I don't agree with this point, because there are different kinds of stamina. Legionaries would be superior in a long marches, but it doesn't mean that their stamina in a hand-to-hand combat would be better than gladiators' stamina.
 
Consider this, would a marathon runner perform better against a boxer in a fight (though the runner may have a better stamina...)?
 
And also regarding the gladiator vs legionary comparison.
Legionaries periods of training varied. The training was much more intense during the campaing vs peaceful years, and not all the legionaries were involved in permanent combat.
 
Besides, never legionaries were under constant and complete threat of death.
 
For gladiators it was totally different, they were under constant threat and they simply couldn't afford any mistake, their principle was excel or die, so both physically and mentally they were better individual fighters than legionaries.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kruska Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jul 2010 at 13:02
I think that this question is far too affected by Gladiator movies. In general Gladiators were normal people -propably with a good body physic - maybe some of them had been warriors or soldiers before. They were trained at specific actions and weapons or "nets" so as to entertain the plebs.
 
I am sure that they were no experts in using a pilum-pilum/shield combination or bow or riding a cavalry horse.
 
Unlike a Spartacus who was "lucky" or simply a superman to survive serveral circus performances - most off them lost their lives upon their first encounter - those that survived the first encounter propably lost their lives in the next arena fight - so I do not see hundreds or thousands of Spartacuses fighting Legionaries, whereas the latter had in fact been trained for years and decades to see action and survive.
 
A well trained average legionaer in his primes was certainly a match towards a gladiator - and due to having survived several battles - he would have been better then an average Gladiator. So it might well be that a Gladiator Star - would have been hard or impossible to be defeated by a legionaer, but this would not apply onto the overall average fighting skill of the two groups.
 
So IMHO, overall the Legionaer will win.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2010 at 14:14
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

Its always a difference in military training that teach collective combat skills and more individual training as the gladiators often got. One can see this also in comparing the hand to hand combat often trained in the military compared to hand to hand combat in for example the MMA. Ofcourse they have different aim but the skills of a good UFC fighter in hand to hand combat is mostly better than most military instructors.

One could see this in a recent TV show when a military instructor in hand to hand combat should fight with a skilled UFC fighter (if I remember correctly it was Randy Couture). In between five and ten minutes the UFC practitioner had made the instructor tap out five times, with both armlocks, leglocks and strangulations. In a real fight the strangulations would have been deadly if the UFC fighter had pressed them.
This is a correct observation. Moreover, UFC or MMA technques and instructors have been now employed to improve US military hand-to-hand combat skills.
 
However, UFC techniques aren't complitely applicable to combat fight. Basically, for UFC you need to know how to subdue or knockout the opponent out, in the military you need to know how to kill fast and effectively, including "dirty" techniques which aren't allowed in UFC, that makes those two quite different.
 
But the former doesn't apply to gladiator vs. legionary comparison, because both of the two were trained to kill and only kill not to win the competition.

The point I was trying to make was that a UFC fighter are more specialized in hand to hand combat than the ordinary soldier or even military instructor. He trains on a high elite level which the instructor have not the time to obtain. Also he meets real, live resistance when he fights in tournaments (and also in sparring) which sharpens his skills and reflexes. The military instructor might know some dirty tricks but still I will bet on the UFC fighter because of his experince in full contact fighting and his hard and consistent training. That ought to outweigh the instructors dirty tricks that seldom have been trained in full combat mode.

Also when it concerns gladiators and legionaries so was the gladiators training more specialized in individual fighting (even if gladiators also some times fought in a kind of battles that were arranged on the arena). A legionarie also had to train a lot of formation excersise to be able to be skillful in fighting in groups and formations. Also he had a lot of other duties. And as someone said, a gladiator often fought, many times for his life, while it could take some time between battles and campaigns for legionaries, depending on the circumstances.

But ofcourse, both when it comes to UFC fighter and gladiators the results of the fights between them and military instructors/legionaries also comes down to personal skills, psyche and capacity, the circumstances of the fight and sometimes sheer luck.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2010 at 14:33
Originally posted by Kruska Kruska wrote:

Unlike a Spartacus who was "lucky" or simply a superman to survive serveral circus performances - most off them lost their lives upon their first encounter - those that survived the first encounter propably lost their lives in the next arena fight - so I do not see hundreds or thousands of Spartacuses fighting Legionaries, whereas the latter had in fact been trained for years and decades to see action and survive.
 
 
Recent studies show that it, in fact, was different. The archeologists studied remains of several gladiator schools, they found the evidence that gladiators in fact received treatment and there won't, in fact, a concept of finishing one competitor in the fight no matter what, which suggest that they survived longer that just the first 2 arena encounters. They even found bones of man who was unusually old (by gladiator standards) about 50 years old who had many injuries and received multiple treatments. It is believed that he was kind of a veteran-instructor to the rest of the gladiators.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2010 at 14:54
Let's stick to discussing the topic in context, yeah?  If I recall correctly, a bullet with put an end to instructors and UFC fighters in equal measure.  There were no UFC fighters in Rome.  Gladiators used weapons and they killed each other.

In the Third Servile War (you will have heard of Spartacus), the gladiators amongst others rebelled and thumped local militias and less experienced and poorly led cohorts of legionaries in Italy.  However, when faced with the might of a seasoned legion of Roman soldiers led by experienced commanders, they were demolished.

In a one to one context, I see no reason why there should have been too much difference between a legionary and a gladiator unless there was some physical disparity.  Roman troops were taught to fight dirty so they didn't have any particular short coming here.

The difference I conclude would be in the relative individual's size, training and experience in any particular legionary vs gladiator scenario, considering all else (such as weapons) is equal.


Edited by Zagros - 31 Jul 2010 at 14:56
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2010 at 14:55
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by Kruska Kruska wrote:

Unlike a Spartacus who was "lucky" or simply a superman to survive serveral circus performances - most off them lost their lives upon their first encounter - those that survived the first encounter propably lost their lives in the next arena fight - so I do not see hundreds or thousands of Spartacuses fighting Legionaries, whereas the latter had in fact been trained for years and decades to see action and survive.
 
 
Recent studies show that it, in fact, was different. The archeologists studied remains of several gladiator schools, they found the evidence that gladiators in fact received treatment and there won't, in fact, a concept of finishing one competitor in the fight no matter what, which suggest that they survived longer that just the first 2 arena encounters. They even found bones of man who was unusually old (by gladiator standards) about 50 years old who had many injuries and received multiple treatments. It is believed that he was kind of a veteran-instructor to the rest of the gladiators.


Well it is easily conceivable that the winners also got wounded, so showing evidence of healing is nothing special.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2010 at 15:05
In one documentary that I saw about gladiators, it said that the vast majority (80%) of gladiator fights did not end in death, because as slaves, gladiators did not have the right to end the life of someone else. What they did was that they knocked their opponent to the ground and pointed their weapon at their throat, and waited for the thumb-up (death) or thumb-down (life) from the patron. Only in very sensationalists fights (such as between the top gladiators of 2 rival schools), or if one of the participants had been condemned to death, was the fight until death. As a fact, many gladiator "stars" had lost fights in their initial careers, but learned the lesson pretty quickly.
Because so much money was invested in feeding and training gladiators, the risk of losing them at the first fight was too costly.

The biggest irony regarding gladiators and legionaries was that the gladiators were slaves and the legionaries were Roman citizens, yet the gladiators in general led a far more luxurious life. Very often, the money that they earned in a single fight was worth more than the entire retirement pension of a legionary.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2010 at 15:43
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

But ofcourse, both when it comes to UFC fighter and gladiators the results of the fights between them and military instructors/legionaries also comes down to personal skills, psyche and capacity, the circumstances of the fight and sometimes sheer luck.

 
What I thought Harrison Ford demonstrated clearly in Raiders of the Lost Ark was that it comes down to who has the gun.
 
Citizen of Ankh-Morpork.

Never believe anything until it has been officially denied - Sir Humphrey Appleby, 1984.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Aug 2010 at 00:49
Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:



In the Third Servile War (you will have heard of Spartacus), the gladiators amongst others rebelled and thumped local militias and less experienced and poorly led cohorts of legionaries in Italy.  However, when faced with the might of a seasoned legion of Roman soldiers led by experienced commanders, they were demolished.
 
Well, The army of Spartacus consisted mostly of the ordinary slaves, not the gladiators.
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