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Ancient Roman Tunnel from Gladiator Training School to Colosseum set to be Revived

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Authorities hope to preserve some ancient Roman history with the restoration of a tunnel that runs from a gladiator training school to the Colosseum, where brutal gladiatorial bouts took place. Parts of the school are exposed to the air now and are littered with trash.

The training school was called the Ludus Magnus or Great Gladiatorial Training School. It is near the Colosseum, between two busy roads. Thousands of people pass the site of the school's ruins every day and are able to look down on it.

There were other gladiator training schools in ancient times, but the Ludus Magnus was the biggest and most famous. For many years gladiators lived and trained there.

The Ludus Magnus from the Via Labicana

The Ludus Magnus from the Via Labicana (Photo by Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons)

The Kuwaiti government has offered to finance the restoration of the tunnel, but the school itself is not yet slated for restoration, though officials want to, according to a story in The Telegraph.

It's not possible to enter the Ludus Magnus now, but perhaps restoration of the tunnel will give access to it for archaeologists and preservationists in the future if Italy, other governments, or corporations donate money to finance restoration.

The Ludus Magnus was built between 81 and 96 AD by Emperor Domitian and rebuilt again later by Trajan. Gladiators underwent rigorous training there to prepare for the games.

Example of a tunnel through which gladiators entered a colosseum. This one is from the largest colosseum in North Africa.

Example of a tunnel through which gladiators entered a colosseum. This one is from the largest colosseum in North Africa. El Jem, Tunisia. Source: BigStockPhoto

In Feburary 2014, archaeologists revealed the almost complete remains of a Roman school of gladiators on the banks of the Danube in Austria and used sophisticated 3D reconstruction techniques to bring to life the ancient gladiator school where famed warriors lived, trained and fought.

The find at the site of Carnuntum outside Vienna is the first ludus gladiatorius (gladiator training school) found outside the cities of Rome and Pompeii (which had small, private gladiatorial grounds). Although it is believed that more than 100 ludi existed in the Roman Empire, almost all of them have been destroyed or built over, making it impossible to piece together the ancient structures.

However, a research team from Austria, Belgium and Germany used the latest non-invasive technologies, including aerial surveys, electromagnetic induction, and ground-penetrating radar to reconstruct the 2nd century gladiator school, which lies hidden beneath a field.

The results revealed that ancient Rome’s gladiators lived and trained in fortress prisons. The large, two-story facility, which would have held at least 80 gladiators, was equipped with a practice arena in a central courtyard. The site also included heated floors for winter training, baths, infirmaries, plumbing, and a nearby graveyard. The gladiators slept in 3-square-meter (3.2 square yards) cells, home to one or two people. Those cells were kept separate from a wing holding bigger rooms for their trainers, known as magistri, themselves retired survivors of gladiatorial combat who specialized in teaching one style of weaponry and fighting.

Gladiators were often prisoners of war and slaves, supplied through Rome’s wars. The use of Rome’s defeated enemies in these games is reflected in some of the gladiator types, including the Thraex (or Thracian), the Hoplomachus and the Samnite. Gladiatorial combats were a way for the Romans to re-enact the wars that they had with their conquered subjects.

Two Venatores (those who made a career out of fighting in arena animal hunts) fighting a tiger. Floor mosaic in Great Palace of Constantinople (Istanbul), 5th century.

Two Venatores (those who made a career out of fighting in arena animal hunts) fighting a tiger. Floor mosaic in Great Palace of Constantinople (Istanbul), 5 th century. Public Domain

Not all gladiators were forced into the games. Despite the hard and precarious life, gladiators were the superstars of their day. The benefits to be found in fighting in the arena – fame, glory and fortune, were strong enough to entice some people to become gladiators voluntarily. Some Roman emperors even participated in gladiatorial games themselves, the most famous of whom was probably the emperor Commodus. The participation of emperors in these games, however, was scorned by some, as gladiators belonged to the lowest of social classes.

Carving showing a Roman Emperor presiding over gladiatorial games

Carving showing a Roman Emperor presiding over gladiatorial games (Wikimedia Commons)

Despite the low social status of gladiators, they had the potential to gain the patronage of the upper classes, even that of the emperor. According to the ancient Roman historian Suetonius, the emperor Nero awarded a gladiator, Spiculus, with houses and estates worthy of generals returning triumphantly from a war.

Gladiatorial contests began in the afternoon. The fights started off semi-fake, like modern professional wrestling matches, with blunt swords or wooden training swords. But soon the matches turned brutal, and the fighters often sustained horrendous injuries. Occasionally, sponsors would pay extra to stage a fight to the death. The crowd drank watered down wine and ate lunch during the games.

The carnage was so awful some prisoners killed themselves before they were scheduled to fight. People killed in the games included prisoners of war and criminals.

Some species of animals were nearly wiped out during the spectacles. Numbers of lions, jaguars, tigers and North African elephants dropped precipitously, and hippopotami disappeared from the Nile River.

The Ludus Magnus in Rome consisted of barracks, a training arena, a few stands and storage rooms. Kuwait has offered $2.3 million to restore the tunnel, leading to it from the Colosseum.

"We are in talks with Kuwait, one of several countries that has shown an interest in investing in Rome's cultural heritage," said a Rome city council spokesman. “For many years the area around the gladiator school has been rather forgotten, and impossible to visit. We hope to make some significant improvements and restructure the whole zone."

Italian officials are seeking governmental and private support to restore Italy's wonderful archaeological heritage. Several projects are underway with corporate help, including repairs and cleaning of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum itself and other projects in other Italian cities.

Featured image: The Colosseum in Rome. Source: BigStockPhotos

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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