Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum

QM Gladiators Heroes of the ColosseumFeaturing more than 110 artefacts unearthed from the amphitheatres of Rome and Pompeii, Queensland Museum’s new exhibition, Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum is set to take visitors on a fascinating journey back in time.

The exhibition will give visitors a taste of life in Ancient Rome by exploring four themes: Origin and development of gladiatorial games; Gladiators; The Colosseum and the amphitheatre of the Roman Empire; and One day in the Arena.

The Roman Empire: The first theme explores the development of Rome from a village on seven hills to one of the powers of the ancient world – the Imperium Romanum – that would conquer and culturally shape large parts of the world as it was known at the time.

The Roman Empire was among the most powerful economic, cultural, political and military forces in the world of its time, and one of the largest empires in world history. At its height under Trajan, it covered 5 million square kilometres and ruled over an estimated 70 million people, at that time 21 percent of the world’s entire population.

Through conquests and wars, Rome’s sphere of control came to include the European and North African Mediterranean area. Thousands of prisoners of war were brought into the empire, most of who ended up as slaves or gladiators.

Rome and the Colosseum: The Colosseum is regarded as the most famous and greatest arena of antiquity. Considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world, the Colosseum is a symbol of the extraordinary world of gladiators and paramount expression of Roman engineering.

The Colosseum took 10 years to build and was officially opened in 80 AD. It was Rome’s first and only permanent and public amphitheatre and was constructed as part of a large scale building program started by the Emperor Vespasian. Construction required perfect planning, excellent organisation, inventiveness and at least 100,000 workers, many of whom were slaves.

The opening of the Colosseum was celebrated with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. During this time over 9,000 wild animals and 2,000 gladiators were slaughtered. Explore the lives of the gladiators and the colossal stage upon which their fate was determined, the Colosseum. Theirs was a world of specialised training, discipline, regulation, and peril, but also of hope, of fame, redemption, and if they survived; wealth and freedom.

Who are the Gladiators? Unearth the training techniques of these ancient athletes, learn how they prepared themselves for the battles ahead and the different gladiator fighting styles, armour and weapons used. The first recorded gladiatorial fight was staged in 264AD by Marcus and Decimus Brutus to honour their father, Junius Brutus Pera, and was held at a local cattle market.

Romans believed that human sacrifice at the dead person’s funeral would appease the Roman gods and ensure a satisfactory entrance into the afterlife. Three pairs of slaves were chosen to fight at the funeral and as this was the funeral of a prominent aristocrat, the event was likely to have drawn a large crowd. So the beginning of gladiator history and combat started with a funeral.

Many of the gladiators were prisoners of war; healthy, robust captives sold into slavery and purchased by a Lanista (an owner or manager) of a gladiator Ludus (school). Others were criminals or slaves condemned to the arena as punishment for their crimes. There were nearly 30 different types of gladiator. Fighters were placed in classes based on their physique, ethnicity, skill level and experience, and then specialised in a particular fighting style and set of weaponry.

Gladiators were seen as valuable commodities and were well fed. Their diet consisted of meat or fish, bread, cereals and vegetables. Other types of food included barley, dry fruits, cheese, goat milk, eggs and olive oil. The gladiators drank only water. For all the strict training undertaken by the gladiators they only fought a few times a year and a single bout probably lasted between 10–15 minutes, or 20 minutes at most.

Successful gladiators gained thousands of supporters, enjoyed lavish gifts, and could even be awarded freedom if they’d tallied up enough victories. However, as fights were usually to the death, gladiators had a short life expectancy.

A Day at the Arena: Gladiator contests and hunting parties had their heyday in the first three centuries AD. These day-long total spectacles were organised by representatives of the state and financed by tax revenue. Emperor Augustus seized upon gladiator games and animal hunts as a propaganda tool. They were a way of demonstrating his generosity. Augustus had more than a thousand gladiators ‘appear’ at each munus.

It was in this period that the spectacles acquired their definitive form. They lasted all day with animal fights in the morning, executions and comic intermezzos at midday, and gladiator duels in the afternoon. The rules of gladiatorial combat were laid down in law. Each class of gladiator had his own distinctive armour and weapons. More and more amphitheatres were built for the spectacles. The largest was in Rome where the Colosseum opened its many gates in 80 AD.

Queensland Museum CEO and Director Professor Suzanne Miller said Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum would give visitors the chance to view artefacts never before displayed in Australia, reinforcing the museum’s reputation as an international destination for history aficionados, educators and families.

“The gladiator has become an icon of Ancient Rome, but what we know about them is limited and sometimes misconstrued in blockbuster films,” said Professor Miller. “The immersive exhibition, featuring original artefacts from across Italy and on loan from the Colosseum and other Italian institutions, will transport Queensland visitors back to Ancient Rome.”

“This captivating exhibition will give people much greater insight into gladiators’ lives, from their intensive training regimes and armour, to their medical treatment and diet, and the arenas in which they battled, including the world’s most famous amphitheatre – the Colosseum.”

Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum is produced by Expona and Contemporanea Progetti and features artefacts from eight Italian museums and institutions, including Bologna, Museo Civico Archeologico; Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale; Roma, Colosseo; Roma, Museo Nazionale Romano; Paestum, Museo Archeologico Nazionale; and Civitavecchia, Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum
Queensland Museum, South Bank Cultural Precinct, South Brisbane
Exhibition continues to 28 January 2018
Admission fees apply

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum (supplied)