Gladiators are usually among the first things we think of when we hear about ancient Rome. But our imagination of gladiatorial combat (and the weapons that Gladiators used) is often only shaped by movies. And these movies are not always historically accurate (to put it carefully). As a result of that, I´m often asked if Gladiators used maces.
There were clearly defined types of Gladiators that each used a different – unique but clearly defined – set of armor and weapons. But none of these types of Roman Gladiators used maces. So Gladiators didn`t use maces!
Ok, but why didn`t gladiators use maces?
We have to look at the different types of Gladiators and the purpose of the Gladiatorial games for an answer to that question.
There were basically 6 main types of Gladiators (more on their individual armament here). The Murmillo, the Secutor, the Thraex, and the Provocator were armed with different types of swords while the Hoplomachus used a lance (and a short sword), and the Retiarius used a trident (and a dagger). The Gladiator types that fought each other were also not chosen by accident. Instead, each type of Gladiator had a dedicated opposing type. So a Secutor would only fight against a Retiarius, not against a Thraex. Here you can find out more about the reasons behind that!
Ok, great. But why do I tell you that?
Well, my point is that we know pretty well which weapons each type of Gladiator used. And no type of Gladiator used a mace! So the armament of the different types of Gladiators tells us that Gladiators didn`t use maces. By the way. Here you can find several videos that show what a Gladiator fight between the pairs of the different Glasiatirs types might have looked like.
Ok, so Gladiators didn`t use Maces. But why didn`t Gladiators use maces?
Gladiator fights were set up in a way that both fighters had an equal chance of winning. That included that the two types of Gladiators that faced each other in a fight were masterfully designed in a way that each type perfectly echoed the weaknesses and strengths of his opponent (like a highly mobile but unarmored Retiarius against a less mobile but heavily armored Secutor). But the two Gladiators who fought each other also had a similar level of experience and skill.
There was a clear ranking system and only Gladiators of equal ranks fought each other.
The Romans also valued the technical skills of the Gladiators. And using a mace was much less a question of skill than using a sword! So that made maces as a weapon unattractive for the Gladiator fights.
The use of maces would have also increased the mortality rate of Gladiators since the wounds caused by a mace were a lot harder to treat than the wounds of a sword. But since training and leasing out Gladiators was big business (more on that here) the owners of the Gladiators had an interest in not having their priced possessions unnecessarily damaged.
So Gladiators did not use maces because the Roman viewers wanted to see a high level of sophisticated fighting and not the brute force with which maces were used. Additionally, the owners of the Gladiators did also block the use of maces since the wounds of a mace were much harder to treat. That would have endangered their investment and limited their profits.
Speaking of the viewers of the Gladiator fights.
Have you ever asked yourself why Gladiators fought in the first place? And why such a brutal sight like the Gladiator fights was so popular in ancient Rome? Then I would like to recommend you my articles on the topic!
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Cicero: The Complete Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero.*
K. Nossov; Gladiator: The Complete Guide to Ancient Rome`s Bloody Fighters (2011).*
F. Meijer; Gladiatoren. Das Spiel um Leben und Tod (Amsterdam 2003).*
M. Junkelmann, Das Spiel mit dem Tod. So kämpften Roms Gladiatoren (Mainz am Rhein 2000).*
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