Were Roman children allowed to watch bloody gladiator fights?

Modern people always have something to entertain themselves with. We have smartphones, huge TVs, game consoles and so on at our fingertips – there’s simply no time to get bored. But in more ancient times, people had much fewer ways to have fun. For example, in ancient Rome, people had to wait months for gladiatorial fights, which were the main source of thrill. These battles involved specially trained gladiators, who could be ordinary people, criminals and prisoners of war. Sometimes they fought among themselves, but there were also fights with wild animals. Every gladiator fight was a cruel and bloody spectacle. It would seem that only adults should attend such performances. But a recent archaeological find showed that children could easily get into gladiatorial fights.

Were Roman children allowed to watch bloody gladiator fights? Gladiator fights in Ancient Rome were entertainment not only for adults. Photo.

The fact that ancient Roman children were allowed to watch the bloody fights of gladiators is evidenced by drawings on the walls found in the ruins of the city of Pompeii. This settlement is famous all over the world for the fact that in 79 AD it remained under layers of lava from the Vesuvius volcano. It was located on the coast, so it was a very important commercial and cultural center of Ancient Rome. The exact number of people who died from the eruption of Vesuvius is unknown, but it is assumed that about 2,000 people remained under the layers of lava. Also, houses and other structures were lost underground. The city of Pompeii was rediscovered only in 1748.

Finds in ancient Pompeii. Ruins of ancient Pompeii. Image source: tripadvisor.ru. Photo.

Ruins of ancient Pompeii. Image source: tripadvisor.ru

The drawings found by archaeologists were painted on the walls of the courtyard of the Casa del Secondo Cenacolo Colonnato (House with the Colonnade of the Second Last Supper). In the images you can recognize the figures of two fighting gladiators. Scientists believe that the images were scratched by children aged 5 to 7 years. This is hinted at not only by the style of drawing, but also by the presence of a small handprint next to the image.

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Gladiatorial fights in Ancient Rome

The discovered “graffiti” indicates that children knew very well what was happening at gladiator fights. Perhaps the parents themselves took them to amphitheaters and saw nothing wrong with their children watching cruelty. For children, gladiators could be heroes just like modern comic book characters. They could also easily play “gladiators” in the yard. But archaeologists have no evidence for this, and this is our assumption.

Gladiatorial fights in Ancient Rome. Children's drawing with gladiators. Image source: iflscience.com. Photo.

Children's drawing of gladiators. Image source: iflscience.com

The authors of the scientific work, the results of which were published in the journal Degli Scavi di Pompei, believe that early exposure of children to cruelty could negatively influence their behavior in adulthood. There are many studies that show that violent scenes negatively affect the psyche of children. In 2022, the scientific journal Science Daily said that the effects can appear in adolescents as young as 3 years old.

Gladiator fights in Ancient Rome. A child's handprint next to a drawing of gladiators. Photo source: iflscience.com. Photo.

A child's handprint next to a drawing of gladiators. Photo source: iflscience.com

It is possible that going to gladiator fights had such a strong influence on children that decades later it affected the future of Ancient Rome. For example, after growing up, boys and girls who saw cruelty may themselves become more cruel than their parents were at their age. Again, this is just speculation and scientists have no evidence for this. But in the course of future research, this evidence may be found.

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How gladiator fights were carried out


Gladiatorial fights have always been brutal, without any exceptions. It is believed that they originated a very long time ago and were originally a kind of sacrifice. Only over time they became more spectacular and turned into public performances. The first gladiator fight mentioned in ancient documents took place in 264 BC.

How gladiator fights were held. Sometimes several people took part in gladiator fights at once. Image source: goodfon.ru. Photo.

Sometimes several people took part in gladiatorial fights. Image source: goodfon.ru

As mentioned above, anyone could become a gladiator. Sometimes they were criminals, and in some cases they were ordinary people who were offered a lot of money. Gladiators were trained in the use of different types of weapons. Murmillo gladiators were armed with a short sword, while retarius gladiators fought with a trident. At the end of the battle, the victorious warrior either killed his opponent or left him alive – it all depended on how the audience voted and the emperor decided.

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Finally, it is worth noting that this is not the first time that archaeologists have found drawings of gladiators in Pompeii. In 2019, we did not find another image on this topic, but it was clearly made by a professional.