Terracotta statuette of a gladiator

Period: Imperial

Date: 1st–2nd century A.D.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Terracotta

Dimensions: Overall: 6 1/4 x 2 3/4 x 1 7/8 in. (15.9 x 6.9 x 4.8 cm)

Classification: Terracottas

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1910

Accession Number: 10.210.78


Roman gladiators were distinguished by different types of weaponry and armor, and it was common to pit a lightly armed combatant against an opponent who was more heavily clad and consequently less mobile. In this statuette, the gladiator wears protective body armor and carries a shield and short sword. He can be identified by the helmet with eyeholes as either a secutor (also called a samnis or Samnite) or a murmillo. Both types of gladiator were usually matched against a retiarius, who wielded a trident and net. Such a pairing mimics the contest between a fish and a fisherman (a parallel that was emphasized in the case of the murmillo by the fish motif that ornamented the helmet).
A single pair of gladiators typically fought at one time in the amphitheater, sometimes (but not necessarily) to the death. Contests in which there was no possibility of reprieve for the loser were banned by the emperor Augustus, and an inscription recording a gladiatorial spectacle in which eleven combatants out of eleven pairs lost their lives suggests that this fatality rate was worthy of note, and therefore unusual.
Gladiators were organized in schools, owned and trained by a lanista. Gladiators could be slaves, bought for the purpose, or free men, often of low social and economic status, who bound themselves to the lanista by an oath. Prisoners of war and condemned criminals could also be compelled to fight as gladiators. The well-known revolt led by the gladiator Spartacus in 73–72 B.C. began in the gladiatorial school at Capua, near Pompeii.