Gladiators were pitted against other gladiators with different styles of fighting, but their equipment was more or less standard to try to level the playing field. Most contests were between fighters from the same Ludus. The best of the gladiators who had the favour of the Emperors wore expensive equipment such as silver, gold, or inlaid amber and their clothing had golden threads intertwined. This fancy equipment was only used at opening ceremonies and was changed for more practical attire for the actual fight.
Taken as prisoners, these gladiators have initially been from Gaul. Their weapons consisted of a shield, a sword and a helmet. These fighters used brute force in their attacks. When Caesar beat the Gauls, and they became vassals, it became unseemly for gladiators to come from allied countries, so those trained as Gallus were taken in by different schools and they adapted to that school’s styles.
The Thracians carried a shield, a sword and a helmet. The protection was round, and the sword curved. The crowds enjoyed the Thracian gladiators above the other styles, and the Thracians would oppose the Gallus fighting style. Caligula trained as a Thracian, which, of course, and in close fights, decisions were always in favour of the Thracians! He also once had a winning gladiator killed for beating a Thracian favourite.
The Samnites were the original gladiators, and theirs was the only style of fighting. They wore heavy soldiers armour consisting of a shield a greave (usually on the left leg), a helmet with apertures for the eyes. The masks were embellished with large crests with mounted feathers (plumes). On the right arm, they had protection, and they also carried a sword or a lance.
The Rest of the Best
- The Retiarii carried little in the way of protection. Their weapons were a net and a trident. They were considered second rate fighters as throwing a net was not very stylish, and even their schools and accommodation were inferior.
- The Hoplomachus carried long spears and round shields. They also had a dagger with a long blade under their belts, and their helmets sported a crest, and they had greaves in two parts, upper and lower leg.
- The Secutor, meaning chaser, the task was to chase down their opponents. All they carried was a gladius (as in the Roman army) a small shield and a back-up dagger. Their helmets varied and were unique to the wearer.
- Women could also fight as gladiatrix and could choose any style. Not much was recorded about them but is thought that they were there purely to entertain the crowds and were “good for a laugh”, but they also fought other gladiatrixes.
- These gladiators fought in the style of the Roman soldiers using the same heavy shields and short sword, the gladius. They wore heavy greaves and body armour and must have been very strong to carry all this paraphernalia. They used their strength and size to bully and intimidate their opponents.