Have you ever wondered if gladiators did get paid? I asked myself that question after watching the Spartacus series. There the victorious gladiator got prize money that he could then use for buying conveniences.
But is that just a television thing or did victorious gladiators really get prize money?
Gladiators had a servile status so only their owner was paid. But victorious Gladiators would usually get some prize money. In the year 177 AD a victorious Gladiator would get between 12 and 75 sesterces of Prize money. The only exception were retired Gladiators who returned to the arena as free men and who could negotiate their own, much higher, pay. During the rule of emperor Tiberius one of these returning veteran Gladiators made as much as 100,000 sesterces for one fight.
Let`s find out more!
Did Roman Gladiators get paid?
Training and renting out Gladiators was a business. It wasn`t a business with high social standing, actually, the lanista (Owner of a Gladiator school), had the same social standing as a pimp.
But aside from the low social standing the profession of being a lanista, especially during the roman republic, was highly profitable. Gladiators were rented out to noblemen who wanted to organize gladiatorial games.
Click here to check out our article on why roman noblemen were so keen on paying tremendous sums of money for these games.
And the lanista would not only get the rent for providing his gladiators. If one of the gladiators would not survive his appearance in the arena (check out my Article on the mortality rate of Gladiators) the owner would also be compensated for the loss of his property.
Once again, it is important to understand that slaves (including gladiators, even the auctoratii) were seen as the property of their owners.
So gladiators would not get a share of the money for which they were rented out.
But the price money that a victorious gladiator got after the fight would, to our best knowledge, not have to be given to the lanista.
The amount of prize money depended on the size of the show. But it was usually high enough that the gladiator could either afford some conveniences or save it up in the hope of one day being able to buy himself out of slavery.
By the way, not only gladiators were allowed to keep money that they would get on the side. Usual slaves would sometimes also get small sums of money, for example at certain holidays.
Just like Gladiators, they could also use that money to buy themselves some conveniences or to save it in the hope of one day being able to buy themselves out of Slavery.
If you are interested in the 3 different ways to become a slave in ancient Rome you might want to click here check out my article here.
How much prize money did a Roman Gladiator get?
The amount of prize money that a victorious Gladiator could expect varied depending on the time he lived. In the Year 177 AD, Gladiators could get between 12 and 60 Sesterces if they were slaves and 15 to 75 sesterces if they were auctoratii.
Click here to read my article for more information on the differences between slaves and auctoratii fighting as Gladiators.
Now having a number of alien, long obsolete currency is great. But is that kind of prize money a decent amount of money?
Converting a currency that hasn`t been used for almost 1.500 years into modern-day US-Dollars is difficult and not very effective since not only the value of the Money but also prices for daily goods back then were quite different from today.
I think a way better method of putting the gladiatorial prize money into a perspective is to compare it with the average salaries and cost of living in the second century AD.
So we determined that depending on the status of the gladiator the prize money could vary between 12 and 75 Sesterces.
Around the year 177 AD, a regular roman legionary could expect an annual pay of 1200 Sesterces. Now that amount was the pay of a regular legionary who wasn`t an officer, didn`t have any special tasks, and wasn`t a member of the Auxiliaries.
He also had to use that money to pay for his own weapons and armor. Apart from the regular pay roman soldiers could also expect bonuses on several occasions.
But how were the prices during that time? Or in other words: What could you buy with a gladiator’s prize money?
What could a Gladiator buy with his price money?
Just like today, the prices for consumer goods varied from region to region. It makes sense that a pound of olives was cheaper in Italy, where they naturally grow than in Germany where they had to be imported.
It is quite difficult to find prices that are from the year 177 AD. So the prices that I’m going to list now might be a few decades to early to directly compare them to the price money a gladiator would get in 177 AD.
But I think you can still get a good idea of what a sesterce was worth.
In the Roman provinces of Germany (consisting of Germania superior, Germania inferior, and Raetia) one Sesterce would buy you one pound of beef.
Examples for prices in ancient Rome:
|1 chicken:||1-2 sesterces|
|1 pound of beef:||1 sesterces|
|19 pounds of wheat||4 sesterces|
|Entry to the bath-house:||0,06 sesterces|
|one slave:||2000 sesterces|
By the way, gladiators could also pay for women to visit them. Unfortunately, we can not provide facts on how much that kind of special service was.
Career opportunities for Gladiators after their gladiatorial career:
So the price money of one fight certainly didn`t make you rich. But Gladiators would fight multiple times per year.
But if a gladiator was lucky enough to survive long enough to get their freedom the prize money of many fights could form a nice fund for a different career.
The roman poet Horace for example indicates that a veteran of the arena was able to save up enough price money to buy a piece of property and to start a second career as a farmer after he was released from his gladiatorial status. Most likely that kind of radical professional reorientation was quite rare. Instead most Gladiators who were released into freedom would stay connected to the arena and the gladiatorial Games.
Either as a trainer for active Gladiators. As referees (here you can find my article with more information on the rules of gladiatorial fights) during the gladiator fights or as bodyguards for politicians.
Another possibility was to work as a freelancer Gladiators without an owner, click here for my article on how many of the gladiators were slaves.
The last group, free Veteran Gladiators without an owner, could negotiate their pay. Since they were Veterans with a huge reputation and a corresponding fan base they would make much more than 12-75 sesterces per fight.
It is not clear how much they could get, but since they did not have an owner to take most of the money their pay must have been substantial!
I hope you enjoyed our trip into the world of the gladiators! Please feel free to also check out the article here that answers the question if Gladiator fights had rules and referees.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
K. Nossov; Gladiator: The complete Guide to Ancient Rome`s Bloody fighters (2011).
F. Meijer; Gladiatoren. Das Spiel um Leben und Tod (Amsterdam 2003).