The Roman gladiators were the sport stars of ancient Rome. They were commonly recruited among slaves and legionaires, but this task was in periods so coveted that even sons of noblemen tried as gladiators. Gladiator means "Swordsman" after the Roman sword "Gladius" (Who incidentally also was the a calling name of the male “limb”). When he had completed his 25 professional fights, he could get, if a slave, a Rudius - a wooden sword as a symbol of being a free man. But it didn’t necessarily mean that he left the gladiator profession. On the contrary, he could earn a lot of money from here on, and become a very rich man.
Gladiators were real stars, and their names and pictures graced many things like lamps, jewellery and other merchandise. Rich wives would pay large sums to the Gladiators owner, the Lanista, for spending a night together with these popular and virile guys. A gladiator fight was rarely a fight to the death, as movies tend to show it. If a Gladiator had to be killed, a sponsor had to pay the expenses and there weren’t that many sponsors.
A Gladiator fight was like a set of matches between the different "classes". There were for example the Retirarius, "the fisherman", who fought with a net and was armed with a Trident; which was put up against the Secutor, the "fish", a bit heavier armoured swordsman with a helmet which limited his vision. The idea was that the different classes had advantages and disadvantages, which gave different fighting styles. Retirarius was light armed, but quick. Secutor was better armed, but had bad vision. A popular feature was the sexy female Gladiatrix, who gave this otherwise very masculine game, a totally different erotic angle for the eroticism happy Romans. What about those who were killed? A typical Gladiator show consisted of several shows. A "NOXI", an afternoon performance, could consist of a "starter" where condemned prisoners were led into the arena (the name comes from the word Harena -which means Sand), where they were supposed to fight to the death with each other. Or they were closed in with wild animals that would peel them. Only after this "appetizer" came the "main course" - very professional, sponsored gladiatorial games, which were controlled and determined by a match referee. Only rearly to the death.