GLADIATORS, persons who fought for the amusement of the public in the arenas of amphitheatres in the city of Rome, and at other places under the do minion of the Romans. The term is de rived from their use of the gladius, or sword; and the origin of this horrid cus tom is said to have been the practice of sacrificing captives to the manes of chiefs killed in battle. It seems, however, more probable, that it arose from the funeral games of antiquity, when the friends of the deceased fought in honour of his memory ; an instance of which,oc curs in the twenty-third book of the Iliad, at the burning of the body of Pa troclus. Achilles having ordained every solemn rite usual upon those occasions, Homer adds, The prizes next are ordered to the field, For the bold champions who the cxstus wield." The leather which composed the cxstus being loaded with lead, enabled the com batants to give each other mortal blows, though the hands only were used. Epeus, of gigantic stature, challenged the whole of the Grecian chiefs, who were terrified at his bulk, and Euryalus alone accepted his defiance : " Him great Tydides urges to contend, Warm with the hopes of conquest for his friend ; Officious with the cincture girds him round, And to his wrists the gloves of death are bound." The captives slain on this occasion were not commanded to fight ; they had been led to the pile, and died with the sheep, oxen, coursers, and dogs, that their bodies might be burnt by the flames which consumed that of Patro clus : " Then, last.of all, and horrible to tell, Sad sacrifice ! twelve Trojan captives fell." The above quotations positively prove, that the Romans deviated from their pre decessors in the practice of this barba rous custom. The Greeks appear to have destroyed their prisoners on a re vengeful principle, and despatched them immediately ; but the former refined up on cruelty, and would rather purchase captives, or destroy the lives of ill-dispos ed slaves, than send the ashes of their friends to the urn bloodless, or the spec tators of the obsequies home, without the gratification of witnessing wretches cut ting each other to death, though not un der the influence of previous anger. Ac cording to Valerius Maximus, and Lam pridius in Heliogabalus, gladiators were first introduced at Rome by M. and D
Brutus, at the funeral of their father, in the consulship of Ap. Claudius and M. Fulvius.
The examples of great men, however detestable, ever produce imitators. }fence, though the brothers may have acted from motives of family vanity only, other great personages, perceiving that the people delighted in the sight of blood, determined to gratify them by adopting the custom ; which was after wards extended to public exhibitions gi ven by the priests in the Ludi Sacerdo tales, and the magistrates, solely for the amusement of the populace, or perhaps to confirm them in an habitual contempt for wounds and military death.
Thus the family alluded to, introducing perhaps three pair of gladiators to the citizens a Rome, was the means of mai tiplying their number to an amount which is shocking to humanity; for the subse quent emperors appear to have attempt ed to excel each other in assembling them at their birth-day celebrations, at tri umphs, the consecration of edifices, at their periodical games, and at the rejoic ings after great victories.
As the dispositions of several of the chief magistrates, who are recorded as having exhibited gladiators, were mild and merciful, it is but fair to suppose, that Julius Caesar, who produced three hundred and twenty pairs in his edile ship, Titus, Trojan, and others, submit ted to the custom in compliance with the temper of the people, rather than from any predilection to it in themselves. But there are few pernicious practices which do not carry their punishment with them. The prevailing frenzy had at length ar rived to such an excess, that the gladia tors became sufficiently numerous to threaten the safety of the state ; as when the Cataline conspiracy raged, an order was issued to disperse the gladiators in different garrisons, that they might not join the disaffected party ; yet, although the fears of the government were excit ed, it Both not appear that any steps were taken to lessen their number, as the Emperor Otho had it in his power long after the above event to enlist two thousand of them to serve against Vi tellius.