An Analysis of the Purpose of Gladiatorial Contests in Ancient Rome

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After the fall of Carthage in 201 BC, the Roman Empire embarked on a dangerous period where gladiatorial fights were all the rage. The article “Murderous Games: Gladiatorial Contests in Ancient Rome” by Keith Hopkins discusses the fights and how they were used for entertainment purposes, where war was considered “fun”. And at the time, the Roman Empire consisted of 50 to 60 million people, which was one-fifth or one-sixth of the world’s population. The Roman Empire was a warrior state where animals and people were sacrificed. People of all backgrounds were sacrificed for funerals and for entertainment purposes. In this analysis, I will discuss their purpose, the animals involved, and Rome’s presence ever since that time period.

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The purpose behind the gladiatorial fight was pure entertainment. Rome was a cruel place where people were used for dangerous malpractices. At the time, gladiatorial fights were acceptable in their eyes, but in today’s society, they are considered unethical. People worshipped the gladiators like pop stars. They were famous and considered the greatest people in Rome; they were considered heroes by the public.

People also supported the gladiatorial fights due to fear, and if they objected, they were soon faced with the same dilemma as the gladiators: death. And when people went to the arena as the audience, one time there were not enough criminals to be condemned to death, so instead they killed a crowd of people with the wild animals. The emperor was the one who made the decisions. He made that decision because, sometimes, things did not go the way he would have liked them to. On many occasions, the audience would object and ask for favors, such as lowering their taxes, giving them food, or ordering the execution of a different person. But sometimes the people who were shouting were going to suffer the consequences. During this time period, the emperor made the decisions, and the people’s lives were in his hands.

Animals were also involved in this cruel sport. A large number of animals were used as entertainment and later put to death. Some of the many animals involved included elephants, ostriches, lions, and much more. Criminals, animals, slaves, and other people were put inside the arenas to fight, and many of them did not survive; no one actually comes out alive. On a given day, there were 3,000 people who fought (including men and women) and 5,000 animals that were killed in the arena. That shows how big the arena was, which also included more room for 50,000 people to watch.

One of the biggest shows was the one put on by the Emperor Trajan to celebrate his defeat against Dacia. The fight lasted for 123 days, with 9,138 gladiators fighting and 11,000 animals killed. The emperor later started to introduce more animals, like crocodiles, rhinoceroses, giraffes, and tigers. At one point, the number of hippopotamuses started to decrease more and more until one was brought from Europe through a steamship from London. Wild animals seemed to have been decreasing over that time period due to the tremendous amount of fighting.

Rome has changed ever since those time periods, making it an important part of history. People of all backgrounds were killed—criminals, slaves, Christians, and even people from the crowds—and for the emperor’s entertainment. Rome was a cruel society where cruelty was a way of life. People died for the public’s selfish needs for entertainment. There were no laws against those actions that brought brutality into the lives of the Romans. Many people looked up to the people who did not show them the true meaning of being a hero, and instead they looked up to gladiators who harmed others, many of whom were innocent.

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An Analysis of the Purpose of Gladiatorial Contests in Ancient Rome. (2023, Mar 09). Retrieved April 2, 2023 , from

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