Did gladiators get killed?

When teaching about gladiators I used to be unable to answer this question satisfactorily. The following, part of a wide-ranging interview given by David S. Potter, Classics Professor at the University of Michigan, to the Litchfield County Times, seems to me helpful.

With that kind of money involved, Romans were as careful of their athletes as are modern-day team owners. “Contests ended with first blood,” he said. “We have a number of texts that talk about accidental deaths of gladiators. It was not a safe sport, but these guys were really expensive to train and to hire. Marcus Aurelius came up with a schedule of fees for paying gladiators, and the top run of slave gladiators were paid 15,000 sesterces to fight-you'd have to be crazier than George Steinbrenner to get them killed. In gladiatorial combat, the death rate was only about 5 percent, and that was usually through accidental injury or poor medical care. One doctor to a gladiatorial troupe in Turkey wrote that none of his athletes died.”

Read the rest of the article for the professor's take on sport, ancient and modern, and why the Roman Empire fell. One more exptract:

It was only when the Roman leadership developed “a fundamental lack of imagination” that things began to break down. “It was not a Nero type of thing,” he said. “It wasn't those guys who brought Rome down. It was the bureaucrats of the fourth and fifth centuries.”


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