searing heat of the mid-day sun on July 1st and 2nd 2006
at Caerleon's Roman amphitheatre added to the drama and
realism of the display given by Gladiator re-enactment group
Ars Dimicandi. Their name literally means
'the art of combat' and the Italian athletes gave a fine
performance for the large crowds seated around the ancient
Dimicandi was formed in Italy in 1993, its main
goal being the reconstruction of fights of the ancient Greek
and Roman world. Their demonstrations are based on scientific
research and experimental archaeology. Their re-enactment
team, athletes who fight 'for real'. Many of them have taken
part in hundreds of fights as gladiators and can claim to
be among the most famous athletes in this field.
were left in no doubt how vicious and remorseless the events
staged in Caerleon nearly two thousand years ago were. Men
(possibly women too) fought to the death here. The crowd
were engaged in the action - they were not just spectators.
For the decision whether the loser of a combat should be
(live) or not be (die) was theirs. A simple
sign made with their outstretched hands decided it.
do we know gladiators fought here in Roman times? Well,
firstly the layout of the amphitheatre - the eastern entrance
contained a chamber with seating and a shrine to the goddess
Nemesis. This was most likely where the gladiators awaited
their turn in the arena. A lead
tablet inscribed with a curse to the goddess was discovered
here when the amphitheatre was excavated - this was thought
to have been left by a gladiator. Pottery (pictured left)
found during excavations in the 19th century depict scenes
with gladiatorial combat. Does it seem likely that this
large body of fighting men would be satisfied with any less
a show here than they would see in Rome or any of the other
sites where gladiators are known to have fought to the death?
spectacles were usually held in the afternoons after fights
against animals and public executions of criminals. It's
unlikely that animals from distant countries, such as lions,
would have been seen in Caerleon. But there was no shortage
of native wild animals which could provide entertainment
- bears, wolves and wild boars. Possibly bulls were fought
were picked from slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war.
They usually belonged to a 'famelia' with a manager known
as a 'lanista'. He rented the fighters to those staging
games. The charge would depend on the star rating of the
individual gladiators and whether the fight would be to
the death. They were highly trained and given good medical
care for the times.
armour and other protection took many forms. Often the fighters
were equally equipped but interest was added when the combatants
used very different equipment. An example of this is when
the Retiari who were equipped with a trident, dagger and
net, and only protected by a shoulder guard on the left
arm, fought the Secutores armed with a sword and protected
by a rectangular shield and helmet. The more the protection
the more the gladiator was restricted and slowed in his/her
Also, the heavy metal helmets must have
become extremely hot in direct sun and visibility much affected.
entertainment started with boxing.
This was probably a more brutal sport in Roman times than
we observed. Then, fighters had no protection and metal
studded leather thongs bound around their wrists and hands
instead of gloves. The boxing was followed by several single
combat fights and the entertainment ended with a dual combat
fight pitting Retiari with tridents and nets against Secutores
with swords shields and helmets.
can view larger images of the gladiators (and browse forward
and back through them) by clicking on the pictures above.
On these pages you will also find more information about
the fighting disciplines.