Tabula Larinas: Rome, 19 CE

At the meeting of the senate on the Palatine, in the Portico of Apollo. in the drafting were: Gaius Ateius Capito, son of Lucius, of the Aniensan tribe; Sextus Pompeius, son of Sextus ...; ... Octavius Fronto, of the Stellatine tribe; Marcus Asinius Mamilianus, son of Curtius, of the Aniensan tribe; Gaius Gavius Macer, son of Gaius, of the Poblilian tribe, quaestor; Aulus Didius Gallus, quaestor ...
Marcus Silanus and Lucius Norbanus Balbus the consuls declared that they had produced a pamphlet (as they had been given that task) on the decrees applying to sons of senators or those who appear on stage orat the games contrary to the prestige of their order, and that youths were behaving contrary to the decrees of the senate, which had been passed in previous years on this matter, acting fraudulently to reduce the esteem of the senate. What would the senate wish to do about the matter?
They had decided about the matter:

It was the resolution of the senate that no one should display on the stage or involve in a gladiatorial contract any son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, great-grandson or great-granddaughter, nor anyone, male or female, who personally or whose father or maternal or paternal grandfather or brother ever had the right of viewing games from the equestrian seats; nor should he engage them to hunt wild beasts in the arena or to win gladiatorial feathers or to take up the gladiator's sword or, if anyone should offer a similar service, to assist the effort; and that none of them should hire himself or herself out. And that for this reason there is more careful provision against the possibility that, in order to annul the previous decrees of the senate, for the sake of escaping
the power of their order when they had the right of sitting in the seats, they had accepted public ignominy or condemnation in a court involving loss of status and, after they had lost the right to sit in the equestrian seats, hired themselves out as gladiators or appeared on stage. If any of those specified above act contrary to the prestige of their order, they shall not have a public funeral, unless they have already appeared on stage or contracted their services for the arena or are the sons or daughters of an actor or gladiator or gladiatorial trainer or a procurer.

And it was resolved that what was specified in the decree of the senate, passed when Manius Lepidus and Titus Statilius Taurus were consuls, be included: 'It should not be permitted to a free female younger than 20 years old or a free male younger than twenty-five to hire themselves out as gladiators or to contract out their services for the stage or for any shameful purposes, except if any have been bound over to a creditor by the divine Augustus or by Tiberius Caesar and have been thrown by the creditor into chains - then, if they have made an agreement with the man who has thus imprisoned them that if he agreed to them hiring themselves out as gladiators or contracting their services for a price, the money should be paid over into his private account, it seems right for that arrangement to be preserved, unless they are any of those specified above.'

Trans: T. Parkin and A. Pomeroy, Roman Social History: A Sourcebook (Routledge, 2007).
  1. What is the significance of 19 CE?
  2. What are the Aniensan, Stellatine tribe, and Poblilian tribes?
  3. What is the difference between a senator and an equestrian?
  4. Why did anti-gladiatorial laws only prevent senatorial and equestrian families from participating in games? What prompted such action?
  5. What is the purpose of the age limits placed on fighters? Why were women allowed to contract themselves at a younger age than males?
  6. Was this decree created to further protect senatorial family members or to strengthen previously disobeyed decrees and reiterate the power of the Senate?
  7. What is the importance of both the Palatine and the Porticio of APollow
  8. What were the provisions of a typical gladiatorial contract?
  9. Were gladiators slaves and other individuals who were being punished or was it considered a sport where a man could earn money and fame?

AKS: All good questions, especially #4 and #9, which are rather interrelated. Look up Alison Futrell for some very good sources here.


1) Document Analysis

Upon my first reading of this document regarding anti-gladiator laws I found the message to be quite clear: members of the consul in 19 CE wanted to place tighter restrictions on the gladiator games. While it seems obvious that individuals such as Manius Lepidus and Titus Statilius Taraus would have pushed to enact such laws to protect their aristocratic children from risking their lives in the perilous gladiator games, a closer reading can reveal more about the status of gladiators in ancient roman society. After reading through the list of punishments for breaking the law including “public ignominy or condemnation”, loss of the right to sit in the equestrian seats, and even prohibition of a public funeral, I began to see that this set of laws had more to do about protecting standing in society rather than their children.
I first began to wonder why the children of such prominent and wealthy figures would bother to place themselves in the gladiator arena. To my understanding fighting in the gladiator games was a task reserved for slaves and left them with the sole reward of death. While death was fairly prevalent in the games, Alison Futrell’s The Roman Games shows that the matches had more to offer for their participants. In her book Futrell includes a letter that Tertullian wrote to the Martyrs which reads, “Earthy glory has so great power over the strength of body and mind, that men despise the sword, the fire, the cross, the beasts, the tortures for the reward of the praise of men.” (Futrell 135) While death was always a possible outcome in gladiator matches, the other side of the situation contained the temptation of glory. Champions of the gladiator games were greatly praised and their victory forever preserved in art. In his book The Gladiator, author Alan Baker describes Emperor Nero as a prime example of an individual who craved the glory that could be found in the games. During a few gladiatorial matches Nero would step down from his position as a Roman Emperor and enter the arena to fight against vicious beasts such as lions. Although Nero had his opponents “prepared” before he fought them, the reaction was far from diminished. As Nero would drive his sword through the beasts, the fanatical crowd of Roman spectators would cheer and rave at the victory procured by their ruler.
Although surviving gladiators were admired for accomplishing such a feat, their victory in the games did not fully negate their occupation and position in society. One of the incongruities of being a gladiator was the ambiguous nature of pursuing such a profession in the ancient Roman world. Some gladiators could be glorified celebrities in society, but regardless of the outcome, at the end of the day the gladiator was one of the lowest positions in Roman society. In The Gladiator, Alan Baker describes gladiators as a part of a group of people known as the infames. (Baker 44) These individuals consisted of actors, prostitutes, pimps, and gladiators and were seen as the most pitiful people in society. Satirical poet Juvenal even went as far to say, “Still, when the emperor turns to playing a fiddle, no wonder nobles act on the stage. Below there is nothing. Ah, but there is! The games!” (Grant 33) Surprisingly, there was one thing worse than being a gladiator: being a female gladiator. When noblewomen volunteered themselves to the gladiator games it was seen as one of the most awful social taboo. Juvenal continued his rant against the gladiators, and more specifically the female gladiators, saying,” How can a woman be decent sticking her head in a helmet, denying the sex she was born with?” (Grant 34) In addition to the public humiliation, volunteering to become a gladiator required an individual to shamefully surrender authority of their own body over to the lanista where they were subject to great amounts of physical abuse. (Futrell 132)
Despite the shame that could accompany entering the ring, elites such as Caligula still set foot in the arena. For this Roman Emperor, benefits such as glory and misfortunes such as the jeers of individuals like Juvenal were all quite trivial. He was a member of the upper-class society that fought as a gladiator to quench his bloodlust. For many of the equestrians and senators of Rome though, volunteering to participate in the gladiator games made no sense. They enacted these laws stop their children from chasing their thirst for glory and instead left the job to prisoners of war, social outcasts, people who needed money, or even psychopaths such as Caligula. These families saw themselves as the elites of society whose glory from holding titles such as a senator or an equestrian greatly outweighed the fame received from meddling with the low-class status of being a gladiator.

2) Lingering Questions

A lingering question that I would like to answer is whether circumstances such as prostitution are included besides participating gladiator matches in the line, "It should not be permitted to a free female younger than 20 years old or a free male younger than twenty-five to hire themselves out as gladiators or to contract out their services for the stage or for any shameful purposes".

3) Linked Documents

-- I linked the Anti-Gladiator Laws to the document Kronion's Will. While one may discuss the rules placed to further govern the gladiator games and one gives us insight into the protocol required to complete a will, both contain similar elements. Being as Kronion's Will is an after-death request, an important theme that is found in the document is the idea of family. Just as the tension between Kronion and his son shows, the relationship between a father and son was essential to a Roman family. Fathers expected their son to carry out the legacy of the family in a positive and honorable fashion. This expectation is also seen in the Anti-Gladiator Laws as well. Individuals such as Lepidus and Taurus fashioned such laws partially to prevent their children from defacing the family name by entering the gladiator arena.

-- I linked the Anti-Gladiator Laws to the document Oath of allegiance. Upon first reading this document I was constantly wondering how an emperor could so easily get hundreds of thousands of people to easily subjugate themselves to his power. After reading about gladiator fights I was able to form a connection between the games and allegiance to the empire. An emperor could not simply wave his finger and place all of those people under his rule. He had to prove himself to be a worthy leader and also gain the favor of his subjects. Emperors such as Augusts were able to way the opinion of the Romans by throwing lavish festivals and by getting the crow riled up with epic gladiator events. These gladiator matches were a source of competition between various political figures.

--I linked the Anti-Gladiator Laws to the document Rags to riches. This document outlines the life of a meager farmer who works his way from a rugged and destitute life to one full of children, riches, and honorable positions of various offices. I connected this to Roman gladiators because they too had the ability to experience such an ascension. Although being a gladiator was not the highest level of success, slaves or other members of lower class society had the ability to better themselves. If they managed to go far in the gladiator games they had the to experience a great deal of glory that they would not have obtained as typical prisoners of war.

4) More Information

UChicago Gladiator Info
UNRV-Roman Gladiators

5) Works Cited

Baker, Alan. The Gladiator: the Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2002. Print.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2011. Web. 17 May. 2011.

Futrell, Alison. The Roman Games: a Sourcebook. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2006. Print.

Grant, Michael. Gladiators. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1995. Print

McManus, Barbara. Social Class and Public Display. VROMA. January 2009. 5 May 2011

MurraySteven. "Female Gladiators of the Ancient Roman World" Journal of Combative Sport. July 2003. 5 May 2011

6) Comments

In your discussion of the gladiators in the document analysis, the lifestyle is depicted as undesirable and lowly. However, in lecture we found out that a fair amount of gladiators lived a "pampered lifestyle", and very few battles were actually to the death. You mention that some gladiators enjoyed fame, but we don't get a clear picture of the good side of the gladiatorial lifestyle. It might be worth mentioning that there was a very wide range of lifestyles experienced by gladiators, from good (famous, celebrity status) to bad (one of the lowly "infames"). - Mark Wieland

In your analysis, you do not say why these restrictions were deemed necessary by the elites. Your analysis contains one quote from a book regarding glory, but does not discuss any specific situations where the elites of society fought. I would give specific examples, and also discuss what they sought to gain. Is it also possible to answer any of your preliminary questions that are still unanswered in your analysis? --Dylan Plofker

I thought this was a very engaging document and that your document analysis was great. One thing that I found interesting was the emphasis that was put on the seating arrangements at the gladiator games. It might be interesting to do research on the different social classes based on where people sat at the games. I also found the age limits on gladiators to be interesting. Some information on why they chose 20 years for females and 25 years for males might be interesting. - Brian Guymon

I'd like to reinforce Dylan's point about "specific situations." You give us a pretty clear general framework for viewing the public attitude toward gladiators - although, as Mark notes, this wasn't by any means a monolithic or uniform one - but I think your analysis would benefit from a few links to pages elaborating upon anecdotal support of the broader, more thematic points you make. Why would prestigious Roman families ban their children from participating in the games if it won them glory among the populace? If the games were so vicious and brutalizing, why would pampered Roman elites want to participate in the first place? Correspondence between elite children and parents, accounts of specific gladiatorial contests, and the like might go a long way toward buttressing what looks like an adequate general framework for your argument.

Miles Unterreiner