A fighter in the gymnasium or arena. Gladiatorial contests were an aspect of Roman life which was intensely hated by the Jews. In Greek a gladiator is called ἀϑλητής or μονομάχος, meaning a single fighter, and he is also so called in rabbinical literature. A gladiator, on being successful at his first appearance, received as a testimonial a little tablet with the inscription "Spectatus" (=" Observed"); hence the Midrash says: "Be among the observers and not among the observed" (Greek, ϑεωροί; Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, 191b). The blowing of a horn announced the entry of the gladiators into the arena (Tan., Wayiḳra, Emor, 18). Such a contest, which ended with a palm for the victor (Palma gladiatoria), is also mentioned in Tan., ib.; Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, 180a; and Lev. R. § 30.
Emperors used to be present at such spectacles; and a gladiator who was wounded might appeal to the monarch for pardon. Thus it is recorded: "Two athletes fight before the emperor. If the emperor wishes to separate them, he separates them; if not, he does not separate them. If one is defeated, he cries, 'I appeal to the emperor'" (Gen. R. § 22).
In the decadent period of the Roman empire the emperors themselves entered the arena as gladiators; at least in the Midrash this is mentioned of the son of an emperor (ib. § 77). Sometimes the contest was unequal: one athlete was strong, the other weak (Ex. R. § 21). Since gladiators were usually slaves, it is said with justice that a gladiator could make no will (Tan., Wayeḥi, 8), and a similar rule may be found in the Syriac laws published by Land in his "Anecdota Syriaca," i. 196 (see Fürst, "Glossarium Græco-Hebræum," p. 131).
In Jewish annals the most remarkable example of the life of a gladiator is that of the eminent amora Simeon ben Laḳish, who at one time sold himself to the "ludarii," those who arranged for gladiatorial contests (Giṭ. 47a). Other Jews did the same thing from necessity, being paid large sums (Yer. Ter. 45d). In the Talmud it was commanded to ransom such persons, since they were not criminals (Yer. Giṭ. 46b).
The gladiators had a special diet; thus the Talmud mentions the meal-time of the ludarii (Shab. 10a; Pes. 12b), and a kind of pea (Sagina gladiatoria) which was their food (Tosef., Beẓah, i. 23, according to the correct reading). In this respect, also, the rabbinical sources display an intimate acquaintance with ancient Roman life. Gladiatorial contests are mentioned much less often than the circus, although under Titus Jews were forced into fighting with wild beasts. In the Hellenistic cities gladiatorial contests were frequent (Schürer, "Geschichte," 3d ed., ii. 45).
- Sachs, Beiträge zur Sprach- und Alterthumskunde, i. 120;
- Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., iv. 240;
- Jastrow, in R. E. J. xvii. 308;
- Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. i. 342.