It is believed the first gladiatorial games, probably of Etruscan origin, were held in 310 BC by the Campanians. The Romans' first games were held in 246 BC by Marcus and Decimus Brutus in honour of their father, Junius Brutus.
With religious origins, gladiatorial games evolved into defining symbols of Roman culture and became an integral part of that culture for almost seven centuries. They gradually reached spectacular heights in the number of combatants and the venues became monumental.
Most gladiators were condemned criminals, prisoners of war or slaves bought purely for the purpose of gladiatorial combat by a lanista, or gladiator owner. Professional gladiators were free men who volunteered to take part in the games.
Training was undertaken at special schools owned originally by private citizens, but which were taken over by the imperial state to prevent the build up of private armies. Gladiators were true athletes, training hard, receiving three meals each day and medical treatment when needed. They learned the skills of handling weapons such as the war chain, net, trident, dagger and lasso.
Each gladiator was permitted to fight in the armour and with the weapons of his choice. Roman military armour was not permitted lest it gave a wrong impression. Rather, they used things non-Roman and played the role of Roman enemies. They fought in arenas and were paid. If slave gladiators lasted three to five years of combat they were given their freedom.
Authentic gladiator skills can be learned at a school in Rome which was formed a couple of years ago by Mr Sergio Iacomoni, known as Nerone. The Gruppo Storico Romano (Historical Group Roman) re-enacts historical battles as well as staging theatrical productions.
It is along the most famous of Roman roads, the Appian Way, built in 312 by Appius Claudius Cæcus.
It connected Rome to other towns and was the chief highway to Greece and the East. So, the school is surrounded by history and has an 8m x 8m combat arena, a museum with ancient weapons and a building for lessons and meetings.
The instructors are Nero, Spiculus and Pertinax and students are given names such as Morpheus and Spartacus.
In the past, armament varied and was divided into four types. Galli or Mirmilloni carried a sword and small shield, Sanniti wore heavy armour and carried a long shield. The Reziari used a trident and Thracians used daggers.
Student gladiators wear bracelets of iron or leather, gloves, visors, metal collars lined with animal skin and leather tunics, just as they did hundreds of years ago. If blows are delivered to the head, neck or genitals, the perpetrator is immediately expelled. They were probably paid for the same actions in years gone by!
Original rules are adhered to with a few necessary exceptions, and contestants are awarded points by a jury of three, and simulated combat can last 20 minutes.