Gladiator School Discovery Reveals Hard Lives of Ancient Warriors
Archaeologists have revealed the almost complete remains of a Roman school of gladiators on the banks of the Danube in Austria and have used sophisticated 3D reconstruction techniques to bring to life the ancient gladiator school where famed warriors lived, trained, and fought.
The ‘spectacular’ find made at the site of Carnuntum outside Vienna, which was just announced in the journal Antiquity, is the first ‘ludus gladiatorius’ (gladiator training school) found outside the city 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 2 nd 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 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.
"It was a prison; they were prisoners," says University of Vienna archaeologist Wolfgang Neubauer, who led the study team. "They lived in cells, in a fortress with only one gate out."
Neubauer explained that the gladiators were “big business” in Rome, and not much more than valued slaves. Within the 11,000m 2 walled compound, gladiators trained year-round for combat at a nearby public amphitheatre.
"They weren't killed very often, they were too valuable," Neubauer says. "Lots of other people were likely killed at the amphitheatre, people not trained to fight. And there was lots of bloodshed. But the combat between gladiators was the point of them performing, not them killing each other."
The reconstruction of the fortress prison contradicts the image of gladiators as traveling from town to town in a circus-like setting, as seen in the movie Gladiator released in 2000. "They weren't a team," Neubauer says. "Each one was on his own, training to fight, and learning who they would combat at a central post we can see the remains of in our survey."
The research team plans to conduct analyses of the skeletal remains of the gladiators found in the nearby graveyard in Carnuntum in order to further explore the real lives of these ancient warriors.
Featured image: A digital reconstruction model of the Roman school of gladiators at Carnuntum. Photo credit: M. KLEIN/7REASONS