Gladiator, in ancient Rome, a professional swordplayer who fought to entertain the public. Gladiator comes from the Latin gladius, sword. Gladiators were usually prisoners of war, slaves, or convicted criminals. Schools were maintained to train them.

GladiatorsGladiators were usually prisoners of war, slaves, or convicted criminals.

Gladiators fought duels or as teams. Sometimes they fought wild beasts. They were armed in various ways, typically with short swords and small shields. Some, however, carried only daggers, while others had to fight using only a net and trident. If a wounded gladiator held up a hand spectators might spare the gladiator's life by signalling with their thumbs up. Thumbs down meant death.

Gladiatorial combats originated in Etruria. Rome first saw gladiators when three pairs fought at the funeral of the father of Decimus Brutus in 264 B.C.E. Julius Caesar when running for office entertained voters with 300 pairs of gladiators. Emperor Trajan exhibited 5,000 pairs. Spartacus, a gladiator, led a revolt of gladiators and runaway slaves beginning in 73 B.C.E. He was defeated and killed in 71 B.C.E. by Crassus.

Legend says that the gladiatorial contests were halted by the bravery of Telemachus, a monk. In 404 C.E. he ran into the arena and tried to separate the fighters. Guards killed him, but Emperor Honorius abolished gladiatorial contests.