Many movies like to portray the wrong Idea that gladiators just fought against whatever Gladiator they could find.
That is not true. Actually, each Type of Gladiator had a specific opponent. Usually, the fight was between a Type of Gladiator with a large shield (the scutum) and a Type of Gladiator with a small shield (parmula).
The most popular duels between gladiator types were:
Murmillo VS. Thraex
Murmillo VS. Hoplomachus
Secutor VS. Retiarius
Provocator VS. Provocator
- 1 What is a Gladiator?
- 2 What is a type of Gladiator (= armatura)?
- 3 How was it decided which types of Gladiators fought each other?
- 4 General principles that determined which Gladiators fought each other
- 5 Which types of Gladiators fought each other?
- 6 Different types of Gladiators
- 7 Reenactment: Secutor vs. Retiarius
- 8 Did Gladiators fight in pairs?
- 9 How did Gladiators fight?
- 10 Sources
What is a Gladiator?
The Gladiator is named after the Gladius, the roman short sword.
Gladiators fought in arenas like the Colosseum in Rome, but also in other structures and arenas all over the roman empire. More on that here in my article.
After entering a gladiator school, more information on the men who would either willingly or by force become gladiators here in my article, a rigid training routine (more on the training here) started that would prepare the men for their fights.
So in conclusion: A Gladiator was a well-trained fighter whose` equipment was created in a way that he and his opponent had an equal chance of winning.
Are you interested in the origins of the gladiator fights? And how the reason why gladiators fought at all changed over time? You can find the answer here in my article.
But back to the question.
To find out what types of gladiators fought each other we have to take a look at the different types of gladiators.
What is a type of Gladiator (= armatura)?
An armatura is a type of gladiator. Each armatura had its specific fighting style and its specific equipment.
Examples for armaturae are the Murmillo, the Thraex, the Secutor, the Hoplomachus, the Provocator, and the Retiarius.
But more on these different armaturae at the end of the article. Or check out my article here where you can find more information on the equipment of the different types of gladiators.
How was it decided which types of Gladiators fought each other?
Against popular belief, gladiators would not just fight against a random type of gladiator. Every type of gladiator (a so-called armatura) would only fight against a specific type of gladiator.
The equipment of the two opponents was chosen as a sophisticated system of protection and vulnerability.
Learn more about the different types of gladiators and their unique equipment in my article here.
The most popular combination of gladiators was the duel between the Secutor and the Retiarius. More on them here in my article.
General principles that determined which Gladiators fought each other
There are a few general principles when it comes to combining types of gladiators for a fight. First of all, it is important to realize that the duels between gladiators were seen as entertainment.
More on why gladiators fought in the first place here in my article.
The spectators wanted to see well-developed swordsmanship and combatants that had an equal opportunity of winning.
This desire to provide more or less equal opportunities led to 3 basic rules when it comes to pairing up Gladiators for a fight
lightly-armoured vs. heavily armoured
The different types of gladiators had very different amounts of armour (more on that later).
The combination of Secutor and Retiarius is a prime example of that.
The Secutor had a helmet, a shin guard on his left shin, a padded sleeve (the so-called manica) on his sword arm and the scutum that covered him from chin to knee. The Retiarius only had a padded sleeve (= manica) on his right arm and a shoulder guard.
protected vs. unprotected
The degree of protection is a direct result of the degree of armour.
But the higher the level of protection the lower the gladiators` mobility!
And that leads into the 3. and final basic rule:
static vs mobile
One of the combatants would fight more statically while the other would be more mobile.
As already mentioned: That was archived through different types of armour. The shields were called scutum and were used by the Murmillo and the Secutor (more on the different types of gladiators later).
The scutum provided excellent protection by covering the bearer from his chin to his knees.
But these shields would weigh up to 22 lbs. Having such a weight in the left hand would limit the gladiators` possibility to move quickly. He would fight more statically.
His opponent on the other hand would use a smaller shield or no shield at all.
Are you interested in how the different types of gladiators fought? Check out my article here. There you can also find reenactments of fights between the different types of gladiators.
Once again is the retiarius a good example of that. The retiarius would only be protected by a padded sleeve on his right arm and a shoulder guard.
Without a shield or any kind of heavy armour, the retiarius was able to fight in a much more mobile way than his opponent.
A duel between two gladiators would be shaped by the difference in armour and fighting style.
This led to the following combinations.
Which types of Gladiators fought each other?
Murmillo VS. Thraex
Murmillo VS. Hoplomachus
Secutor VS. Retiarius
Provocator VS. Provocator
Please note that these armaturae are not the only ones. To this day historians are struggling with assigning and defining the different types of gladiators.
But the already mentioned armaturae Murmillo, Thraex, Hoplomachus, Secutor, Retiarius and Provocator are the ones that can securely be identified.
Click here for more information on how the different equipment of these types shaped their fighting style.
Different types of Gladiators
After we already discovered which types of gladiators would fight each other it is time to look at the different types (armaturae) of gladiators.
In general, the equipment of gladiators is extremely unique and highly differs from the equipment a roman soldier would wear in battle.
For example, all the different types (except for the Provocator) would be armoured in the exact opposite way as a roman soldier:
While the limbs and the head of a gladiator were well protected there upper body was completely naked!
Click here to check out my article on the different types of Gladiators to learn more about the weapons and armour these different types of gladiators used.
Reenactment: Secutor vs. Retiarius
Do you want to see how the other types of gladiators fought? Check out my article here.
Did Gladiators fight in pairs?
Generally, Gladiator fights were duels between two men of similar experience and quality. There are rare occasions where groups of gladiators would fight.
It is important to realize that the organizer of the gladiator fights didn’t spend all the money for anything. He had a goal in mind!
Find out more about why roman noblemen were so keen on spending large sums of money on gladiator fights in my article here.
These events did not only include gladiator fights but also animal hunts and executions.
The gladiator fights were the absolute highlight of an entire day of entertainment.
Here you can find out more about how such a day of entertainment worked and what disturbing sights were offered to the crowd.
A gladiator fight was usually pretty short, probably 10-15 minutes long.
So having groups of gladiators fight all at once would have made it a pretty short delight. It was much better (and more economical) to have only one pair of gladiators fight at a time!
Presenting only one pair of fighters at a time also increased the viewer experience since the spectators could focus on one fight. That meant that they could focus more on the technical details of the fight.
By the way, if you want to learn more about how gladiators trained you can check out my article here.
How did Gladiators fight?
Now we just established that every type of Gladiator had a specific opponent and equipment that was designed to provide chance equality.
But how did these different types of Gladiators fight each other?
The fighting style of each type of gladiator was highly adapted to the equipment of the gladiator he had to face in the arena.
But that is a story for another article. Please check out my article here for more information about how gladiators fought!
And if you want to find out more about how gladiators trained you can check out my article here.
I hope you enjoyed our short trip into the world of the gladiators.
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).
M. Junkelmann, Das Spiel mit dem Tod. So kämpften Roms Gladiatoren (Mainz am Rhein 2000).