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5 Famous Ancient Roman Gladiators

Before ancient Roman gladiators fought grisly battles in rowdy public arenas like the Colosseum, they squared off in much more solemn venues: funerals.

Early gladiator fights began in the 3rd century B.C.E. as ritual blood offerings to the spirits of recently departed nobles. That changed around 27 B.C.E., when Augustus took power in Rome, says Michael J. Carter, a classics professor at Brock University in Ontario: “He detaches gladiatorial combat from its purely funerary context and makes it into a regular part of the entertainment cycle in Rome.” The shift gave rise to some of the most famous gladiators today: Spartacus, Spiculus, Marcus Attilius and more.

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