Picture this: It’s the year 107 CE and Trajan, one of the most popular and successful emperors of theRoman Empire, has returned from battle against Dacia (modern dayRomania) and decided to celebrate his military victories with 123 straight days of gladiatorial games (yes, that’s over 4 months) in the Colosseum. He has gathered 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators to fight in these games. This is both exciting and dangerous for you, because YOU are a gladiator.
And sure, you perform and battle in the largest of all Roman amphitheaters, the Colosseum, in front of a crowd of 50,000 spectators—but where, exactly, do you practice?
Answer: The Ludus Magnus, the largest of four gladiatorial schools in Rome.
Not many people know about the ruins of the Ludus Magnus, which can still be found on Via San Giovanni in Laterano just east of (and across the street from) the better-known Colosseum. Discovered during building construction in 1937, these remains include a row of gladiator barracks–cramped rooms where the gladiators stayed during training and the games themselves–and the northern end of practice arena. Watching gladiators practice was a favorite pastime of the ancient Romans, and it’s estimated that the practice arena could hold 3,000 people.
Gladiators were most often prisoners of war, condemned criminals, or slaves, with some freedmen choosing the profession for the potential glory and fame. While mostly men, there were even some female gladiators!
So, when you go to visit the Colosseum, don’t forget to check out the Ludus Magnus as well! And if you’re really ambitious, you can actually enter into the Ludus Magnus and check out the training grounds up-close by simply calling 060606 and making an appointment.