Gladiator: Animals Were Also Part of Gladiatorial Games

animal gladiator

Adding animals to gladiator games for entertainment became very popular at the center of Rome and beyond.  Where ever there was an amphitheater, throughout the empire, you could expect animals there as a form of entertainment.   Animal fighting was typically displayed as a form of power and wealth.  Showing off exotic animals from all around the empire made this type of entertainment popular as Romans loved to be surprised.  Many of the animals brought to the games came from all ends of the empire—mainly Africa, Egypt, and Asia.  After the animals were brought to Rome, they were than given to the Beat Masters who would tame and train them for ferocious entertainment. The more exotic and unique the animals were, the better the entertainment would be for roman citizens.

Most animal performances were displayed in either circus acts where animals were trained to do tricks for the audiences or they were intended for death.  Regardless of the form of entertainment, animals were treated cruel for entertainment purposes in ancient Rome along with their masters—if the animals did not give a good show.  Like everything in Rome, death was usually the outcome for not meeting the spectator’s needs.  An example of this would be if lions did not kill the criminal or gladiator.  Many times, the animals brought to the arena would be scared to death due to the crowds screaming and cheering.  They would hide or refuse to kill in the arena.  Since this was considered a failure; the emperor would have and animal trainer and beats killed as punishment.  Animal trainers would try everything to ensure their animals performed for the spectators or Rome.  They would even feed them human flesh to increase their craving for killing humans and beat them constantly to instill fear and anger in them.

Like everything in ancient Rome, it had to be grand to keep the audiences happy.  That is why there was a huge selection of beats and wild animals.  Many of the animals were imported from all around the empire which the romans conquered.  Below is a list of animals to see the appetite the Rome had for this form of brutal entertainment!  It should be noted that this list is not limited to these animals.  These were just the most popular used for entertainment purposes.

List of Animals used for entertainment in ancient Rome
·         Antelopes and various deer

·         Apes and Monkeys

·         Bears

·         Buffaloes

·         Bulls

·         Camels

·         Cheetahs

·         Crocodiles

·         Deer

·         Dogs and Wolves

·         Donkeys

·         Elephants

·         Giraffes (this is debatable)

·         Goats

·         Hippopotamus

·         Hyena

·         Donkey

·         Jaguars

·         Leopards

·         Lions

·         Panthers

·         Rhinoceros

·         Snakes

·         Wild boar


Roman entertainment had a detrimental effect on animal populations.  Many of these animals would be brought to the brink of extinction.  The demand for exotic animals was so high, that many animal traders became extremely wealthy.  It was recorded at the Inaugural games of the Flavian Amphitheatre, also known as the coliseum; nearly 9000 thousand animals were killed in 80 AD.  Most of the animal fights normally took place in the morning.  This was just one example of many where animals were killed as a form of entertainment to delight the crowds of Rome.

A type of gladiator specifically trained to kill wild animals was called the Bestiarii.  These types of fighters are mistakenly called gladiators.  However, the term gladiator can be used interchangeably when describing these beast fighters.  It should be noted that the word gladiator is referred to the one who fights other men in combat.  These gladiators were not trained with the traditional gladiators and had their own school and professional identity as all other gladiators did in ancient Rome.  They also had their own armor and weapons which signified their difference among the fighters of Rome.  Many of these gladiators were volunteers and slaves who wanted to fight these wild beats instead of human combat.  Bestiarii could be divided into two categories.  The first were the ones condemned to death by the beats and the second where those who chose to fight these beasts for compensation and glory.  The ones who embarked on fighting animals for pay were called Venatio which means hunting in Latin.

Click on the below topics to explore and learn more about the Ancient Roman gladiators and how influenced Roman culture!


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