Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gladiators and Football players

American Football and Gladiators
I’ve gone to quite a few professional games with my husband and each time I go I think how this experience is so like the gladiator games during the Roman Empire.

Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City MO                                    The Colosseum, Rome Italy

The most obvious resemblance is the arenas.  In football stadiums, a fan purchased a seat for the day. In Rome’s Colosseum‘s 55,000 seats were free—first come first serve.  The wealthy and powerful senators sat close to the arena, while their wives were delegated to the upper tiers with the slaves unless they were invited to the special boxes as the imperial box.  Ordinary citizens had the middle seats. That’s not that different in the football stadium because the seats closer to the field are the most expensive as well.

Both had training camps. The gladiators came from any one of the many schools called a Ludus where they trained as football players do as well. People could own a gladiator, or as we see today, become a sponsor who paid for the training or for the games itself. The Ludii had specific colors as football players have in their jerseys. In addition, medical personnel cared for those injured in either sport. Galen, an early famous doctor, learned much of his medical skill from his time caring for gladiators.

Both teams protected themselves with protective covering as helmets, shoulder pads, leg and hand bindings. Gladiators specialized in certain types of weapons. And football players have a…football. Both sets of athletes trained for specific activities:

Football: Quarterback, Running Back, Center, Receiver, Tight End, Wide Receiver, Guards, Tackles, Linebacker, End, Safety, Corner back, kicker.

Gladiator: Thracian ,Myrmillo, Secutor, Retiarius, Eques, Velites, Sagittarii, Scissors, Holomachus, Venatores. The one exception. The gladiators had women fighters- the Gladiatrix

And, they had attendees to care for them.

These events also start in similar manners.  Gladiators parade onto the field in their colors, were given their weapons under much pomp and ceremony. Football players arrive and warm up, the National Anthem plays, and fans begin cheering.

Music accompanied all activities. Gladiators heard deep throated, tubas, trumpets, hydraulic organs, singers. and flutes.  Football players have PA systems playing ads and recorded music.  

Both activities started in much the same manner. Football entertains their crowds with a mock-fight with mascots. Gladiator matches start the day with possibly mock-fights between “midgets.” Both use animals in some way. Football shows off their mascots as lions, bears, and wolves representing the teams. And, gladiators fought wild real animals as lions, bears and wolves.  

Football starts with a kickoff, the teams play until halftime involving usually marching bands and performers, and then teams play until the set time runs out.  

For gladiator matches begins with the men trained to fight animals.  Then halftime comes, which is used for executions as Christians and runaway slaves etc. Then the professional gladiators fight during the afternoon.  This can last into the night if the fights are long. One unique fact is the Colosseum in Rome could be flooded by the Tiber for naval battles.

During both events, referees enforced the established rules. However, in the gladiatorial competitions, the spectators determined who is victorious by the infamous thumbs-up and thumbs-down, yet sponsor of the games having the final determination. Football has a score that determines the winner.   

Both had favored athletes who were very well paid, over and above that of educators of either time. Students then as now were obnoxious about their favorites so simply getting them on task to learn anything other than who was to fight in the coming games was nearly impossible.

Now, a few years ago, I was attending a 101 Honor banquet for professional football players and coaches. I was sitting beside one of the honorees and I have to say there was not a soft spot on the man.  I asked him if he ever felt like a gladiator when he walked onto the football field.

He was stunned to be asked that question and then answered, “Well, we don’t kill anybody.”  

And that is the biggest difference of all between American football and gladiatorial contests.


  1. Great post, Judy. I love visiting ancient amphitheaters and stadia, but I don't think I'd have enjoyed the games much. Too rough for me. I'm a wuss. I've only been to one pro football game in my life, and that was enough for me. I cringe at tackles. I'd probably keel over at a gladiatorial match.

  2. Thank you. The ancients would have been used to death since it was a daily occurance. J