What Kinds of Weapons and Armor Did Gladiators Use?

Many different groups of gladiators fought for glory and their lives.

Rome, Italy. Bas relief of gladiators fighting.
Rome, Italy. Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting. Ken Welsh / Getty Images

Much like today's football players or WWF wrestlers, gladiators could win renown and fortune. Modern sportsmen sign contracts; ancient ones made oaths. Injuries were common, and the life of a player was generally short. Unlike modern sports figures, however, gladiators were usually slaves or criminals. As a gladiator, a man could potentially raise his status and wealth; naturally this occurred only when the individual gladiator was both popular and successful.

There were many types of gladiators in ancient Rome. Some gladiators -- like the Samnites -- were named for opponents of the Romans [see Samnite Wars]; other types of gladiators, like the Provacator and Secutor, took their names from their functions: challenger and pursuer. Each type of gladiator had his own set of traditional weapons and armor. Often, certain types of gladiators fought only specific foes.

 

Weapons and Armor of the Roman Gladiators

While the information below is based on historical evidence, it doesn't cover every type of gladiator or every form of arms and armor.

Weapons and armor of the Samnites

  • scutum: large oblong shield made from 3 sheets of wood, glued together and topped with a leather or canvas coating.
  • galea: plumed helmet with a visor and small eye holes
  • gladius: short sword called a
  • manicae: leather elbow or wrist bands
  • greaves: leg armor that went from ankle to just below the knee.

Weapons and armor of the Thraces (who usually fought against the Mirmillones)

  • small rectangular shield
  • sica: curved scimitar-shaped dagger
  • galea
  • manicae
  • greaves

Weapons and armor of the Mirmillones ("fish men")

  • cassis crista, a heavy bronze helmet used to protect the face
  • galea
  • manicae
  • ocrea: shin guards

Weapons and armor of the Retiarii ("net men," who usually fought with weapons modeled on the tools of a fisherman)

  • weighted net called a rete used to entangle the opponent
  • three-pronged trident called the fascina which was thrown like a harpoon
  • short tunics; galerus (metal shoulder piece)

Weapons and armor of the Secutor

  • loincloth with leather belt
  • distinctive simple helmet
  • galea
  • manica
  • ocrea

Weapons and armor of the Provacator (one of the most heavily armored gladiators, Provacators generally fought one another in exciting challenge matches)

  • galea
  • round top helmet with circular eye grates andfeather plumages on either side of the head
  • highly decorated square scutum (shield)
  • small breastplate
  • manica
  • greave

Weapons and armor of the Dimachaeri ("two-knife men")

  • siccae: Two short curved scimitar blades designed for slicing attacks on an opponent.
  • reports of their armor vary; some say they wore nothing but a loincloth and belt, while others describe a variety of armor including chain mail

Weapons of the Essadarii ("chariot men" who used their horses and chariots to run over their opponents or fought on foot if necessary)

  • chariots
  • spear
  • gladius

Weapons and armor of the Hoplomachi ("armored fighters")

  • loincloth called a subligaculum
  • greaves
  • manicae
  • helmet with visor and crest
  • round shield called a parmula or aspis
  • gladius and a short dagger called a pugio
  • long dory spear

Weapons of the Laquearii ("lasso men" about whom little is known)

  • lasso
  • some kind of weapons; possibly gladius or spear