TOP FIVE: Gladiators

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MHM introduces the most fearsome warriors of the Roman arena.

5. Marcus Attilius

Free-Born fighter

Marcus-Attilius_optType of fighter: murmillo 

Attilius was a free-born Roman, who most likely volunteered himself for gladiatorial combat as a way of freeing himself from debt. As a rookie, he defeated the gladiator veteran and champion of Emperor Nero, Hilarus, a respected fighter who had 13 wreaths to his name. He then went on to beat another old hand and fellow volunteer, Lucius Raecius Felix. Attilius’ exploits were recorded in graffiti discovered outside the Nocerian gate at Pompeii, where he is depicted as a murmillo, equipped with a gladius, long shield, and short shin protectors on his legs.

Carpophorus_opt4. Carpophorus

Herculean hero

Type of fighter: bestiarius

According to the poet Martial, ‘Carpophorus could have handled the hydra, the chimaera, and the fire-eating bulls at the same time’. He was perhaps the most skilled bestiarius of the time, dispatching bears, lions, buffalo, panthers, and, most famously, a leopard in the arena. Martial, clearly a fan, goes on to relay how his favourite gladiator apparently killed 20 beasts in one day, comparing his feats of martial prowess to the divine missions of Hercules.


3. Spartacus

Rebel leader

Type of fighter: thraex

Spartacus_optPerhaps the most famous gladiator of all, Spartacus has been portrayed in works of fine art, films, television programmes, literature, and computer games. Although not a huge amount is known about him, most historians agree that he was a captured Thracian soldier, sold into slavery and trained as a gladiator in Capua. He was a strong, successful fighter, who enjoyed many victories in the arena before, in 73 BC, he led 70 of his fellow gladiators (including Crixus) in a revolt against their owner. The gladiators escaped to Mount Vesuvius, where many escaped slaves joined them. As his army swelled, Spartacus campaigned across the whole of Italy. He was eventually cornered and defeated by Crassus. Spartacus was killed on the battlefield, but 6,000 of his followers were captured and crucified.

2. Flamma

Record holder

FlammaType of fighter: secutor 

There are few gladiators who, when offered the rudis (a small wooden sword symbolising freedom), would turn it down in favour of continued combat. Syrian slave and legend of the arena Flamma rejected it on four separate occasions. Of his 34 bouts, 21 were victories, four were missus (a loss, but when the gladiator is spared death by the audience), and nine were stans missus (when both fighters were declared the winner). This went down as one of the most impressive records in gladiatorial history. He lived until the age of 30, when he was killed in the arena.

1. Crixus

Crixus_cutoutThe Gaul

Type of fighter: murmillo

Trained as a gladiator in Capua, Crixus formed part of a small slave revolt in the gladiatorial training school of Lentulus Batiatus, from which about 70 gladiators escaped. The breakout escalated into what became the Third Servile War, a massive revolt led by Spartacus that convulsed the whole of Roman Italy. The slaves defeated a succession of Roman armies. Crixus was a leading slave general throughout. Under attack from the Romans near Mount Garganus in 72 BC, Crixus was killed. Spartacus thought so highly of Crixus that he sacrificed 300 captured Roman soldiers in his honour.

This article appeared in issue 54 of Military History Monthly.


  1. Spartacus was the best overall master of war, noob

    And spartacus is dead, so it’s impossible to say he IS the best gladiator
    He was good, but Theokles was better

  2. Its Flamma. He was not killed or crucified by Romans, but was killed in the arena. Put Flamma and Spartacus in a fight and Flamma would win. Flamma was offered freedom 4 times and turned it down. He was from Syria, and in the Roman empire, Syrians were thought as cunning cowards. I think Flamma would be able to mop the floor with Spartacus any time.

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