It Wasn’t So Fun for the Gladiators!

Contributor: Ryann Maginn. Lesson ID: 12928

What's your favorite sport? Do you like action? Who do you like to cheer on? Ancient sports fans cheered for murderers and even animals that killed people! Learn about one man who stood against it!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What kind of people were the Roman gladiators?
  • Were they soldiers? Heroes? Criminals?
  • Were they as glorious as movies make them seem?

A gladiator was an armed fighter whose sole purpose was to entertain audiences in ancient Rome.

The fights were first held in the fourth century B.C. and began as a celebration of victories in wars. Many times, the fights the gladiators took part in were very violent. Sometimes they fought other gladiators, and at other times they were up against wild animals!

Roman gladiators were usually criminals or slaves. They fought with deadly weapons, with some fights ending in death. The winners of these fights became crowd favorites.

During this time, the audience in the stands cheered enthusiastically for this gruesome sport, just as easily as any audience member at a football or basketball game would do today.

gladiator battle

Below is a picture of the Colosseum, where the gladiator battles were held.


Sometimes elephants, lions, alligators, and rhinos were added to the arena and forced to fight against each other or be killed by hunters. The more unique and exotic the creatures in battle, the more the crowd loved it.

Before each fight, the animals were beaten and not given any food. This tactic was a way to make them incredibly angry and irritable when up against the gladiators. Most times, the gladiators won these battles, but when the animals won, people were ecstatic.

gladiator fighting tiger

These gladiator games, as they were known, were at their peak during the last days of the Roman Republic — this was a time when the people of the city ran the government. When the Roman Empire took over — when the city was ruled by one emperor — gladiator games declined because more money was going toward war rather than entertainment.

  • Interested in learning more about gladiators?

Borrow the book listed under Suggested Reading in the right-hand sidebar from your local library, or watch the video below.

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  • In our society today, do you think it would be appropriate to have gladiator games?
  • How do you think people would react if we took criminals from jail and made them fight each other or wild animals?

As you consider these questions, continue on to the Got It? section to read a surprising story about one famous gladiator, Spartacus, who stood up for his freedom.

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