Humanities › History & Culture The Rudis: The Symbol of a Roman Gladiator's Freedom The Importance of a Wooden Sword in a Roman Gladiator's Life Share Flipboard Email Print Print Collector/Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Rome Figures & Events Ancient Languages Greece Egypt Asia Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated February 15, 2019 A rudis (plural rudes) was a wooden sword or rod, which was used in Roman gladiator training both against the palus (a post) and for mock combats between sparring partners. It was also given, along with palm branches, to the winner of a gladiatorial battle. Gladiators as Slaves Gladiators were slaves who performed a ritual battle between life and death for the attending Romans. The code of the gladiator was to defeat one's opponent without inflicting serious injury. The owner/judge of the games, called the munerarius or editor, expected gladiators to fight properly and according to established rules. There was a risk of death in combat to be sure, from a fatal cut or stab-wound, by loss of blood, or resulting infection. Animals were hunted and killed and some people were executed in the arena. But most of the time, the gladiators were men confronting and overcoming the threat of death through bravery, skill, and martial excellence. Freedom for the Gladiator When a Roman gladiator won a battle, he received palm branches for the victory and the rudis as a gesture symbolic of his freedom from slavery. The Roman poet Martial wrote of a circumstance in which two gladiators named Verus and Priscus fought to a stalemate, and both received rudes and palms as a reward for their bravery and skill. With his token rudis, the newly liberated gladiator could begin a new career, perhaps as a trainer of future fighters at a gladiatorial school called a ludus, or perhaps serving as referees during gladiatorial combats. Sometimes retired gladiators, called rudiarii, would return for a final fight. For example, the Roman emperor Tiberius put on celebratory games in honor of his grandfather, Drusus, at which he induced some retired gladiators to appear by paying each of them a hundred thousand sesterces. Summa Rudis The most elite of the retired gladiators were dubbed summa rudis. The summa rudis officials wore white tunics with purple borders (clavi),and served as technical experts to ensure that the gladiators fought bravely, skillfully, and according to the rules. They carried batons and whips with which they pointed out illegal movements. Ultimately the summa rudis officials could stop a game if a gladiator was going to be too seriously wounded, compel gladiators to fight on, or defer the decision to the editor. Retired gladiators who became summa rudis evidently achieved fame and wealth in their second careers as officials of the combats. According to an inscription in Ankara, Turkey, a summa rudis named Aelius was one of a group of famous ex-gladiators awarded citizenship from several Greek towns. Another inscription from Dalmatia praises Thelonicus, who while a retiarius was freed with the rudis by the generosity of the people. The Roman writers Cicero and Tacitus both used the wooden sword rudis as a metaphor when comparing oratory in the Senate versus what they considered lesser or practice oratory as a speaker using rudes rather than iron swords. Sources Carter M. 2009. Accepi ramum: Gladiatorial Palms and the Chavagnes Gladiator Cup. Latomus 68(2):438-441. Carter MJ. 2006. Buttons and Wooden Swords: Polybius 10.20.3, Livy 26.51, and the Rudis. Classical Philology 101(2):153-160.Carter MJ. 2006. Gladiatorial Combat: The Rules of Engagement. The Classical Journal 102(2):97-114.Carter MJ. 2011. Blown Call? Diodorus and the Treacherous Summa Rudis. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 177:63-69.Reid HL. 2006. Was the Roman Gladiator an Athlete? Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 33(1):37-49.