Painting of a gladiator

The Ephesus Gladiator Graveyard

Discovery of an Ephesus gladiator graveyard has rocked the archaeological world.  We all know gladiators right? They were the sporting heroes of the ancient world who battled condemned criminals, animals or each other for the amusement of the masses.

The graveyard, containing the remains of 67 gladiators, most of them aged between 20 and 30 years dates back to 2 AD, and has provided the world with a unique insight into the life of gladiators.  It is believed that gladiator contests first came to Ephesus in 69BC and became so popular, that the city’s stadium was converted to an elliptical stadium which could accommodate 25,000 in order to better accommodate the contests.

So, what have we learned about gladiators as a result of this discovery?

  • It seems that gladiators fought by strict rules – none of the gladiator remains had multiple injuries which suggests they were not involved in crazy mass brawls.
  • We already know from written history that a gladiator who was considered to be lacking in bravery, or who was considered by the crowd to have shown enough skill was often condemned by the crowd – some of the wounds apparent in the remains found in the Ephesus gladiator graveyard confirms this – they are consistent with paintings from that era which show a man on his knees having a sword rammed down his throat.
  • Gladiators were effectively prisoners – it is believed that they had an obligation to fight for three years, and if they survived this, they were able to retire, and teach others.  One of the skeletons found at Ephesus was approximately 50 years old, which, combined with a grave dedicated by two young gladiators to a trainer named Euxenius confirms this fact.
  • Gladiators were vegetarians – analysis of the bones suggests a diet high in barley and other carbs and no evidence of them having eaten meat.
  • Gladiators were idolised and were portrayed as having an air of mystery, and as being powerful – there has even been some child-like graffiti paying homage to gladiators found in Ephesus which also suggests they were found by children.