Archaeologists have discovered a Roman gladiator school. The ancient training school was part of the Roman garrison town of Carnumtum, an outpost 100 miles south of the Danube River. Carnumtum has been studied by archaeologists for over 100 years. What has been excavated is currently part of an archaeological open air museum. The buried remains of the gladiator school were found using remote-sensing instead of the traditional means of excavation. Archaeologists with the University of Vienna have yet to set a time frame of when a dig at the site will begin.
Previous digs of the ancient city have unearthed an amphitheater, which the gladiator school was nearby. It was not unusual for camp followers and family members to accompany Roman legionnaires when they set up permanent bases. Soldiers needed shoes, clothing, food, wine, and other necessities that the camp followers supplied.
The gladiator school, or ludas, covered 30,138 square feet. University of Vienna archaeologist Wolfgang Neubauer found the most prominent feature within the ruins was a courtyard with a free-standing circular wooden structure that served as a spectator stand. In the middle was the foundation with a palus, a wooden pole used to administer blows with a sword or body slams with a shield.
At the southern wing of the complex where archaeologists discovered a Roman gladiator school, were cell blocks measuring 32 to 75 square feet. These were believed to be holding cells for gladiators to prevent their escape. Such training school designs are similar to the Flavian amphitheater in Rome. Other rooms at Carnumtum’s gladiator school were more spacious and reserved for the highest ranking gladiators and instructors. The site also contained the living quarters of the school’s owner or lanista, along with a bathhouse used by gladiators.
The city of Carnumtum first appeared in historical records in the first century A.D. when Tiberius made the town a base of operations in his northern campaigns. At its height in the third century A.D. the city served as a Roman outpost to check barbarian incursions. To date, only .5% of Carnumtum has been excavated.
Romans and the local populace needed entertainment. Romans enjoyed watching blood sports from a safe distance. Gladiators were thieves, slaves, and sometimes professional fighters who competed against each other for prizes and their eventual freedom should they survive. Such a school as the one discovered would be owned by a private Roman citizen and later taken over by the state to prevent the training of private armies.
Gladiators trained like professional athletes learning how to use various weapons such as the trident or chain net. They wore armor, but never the battle dress of a legionnaire. Wearing Roman armor would give the wrong impression to the spectators. A gladiator might dress as a Samnite and use a large shield known as a scutum. He might be faced against someone dressed as a Thracian. The findings at the gladiator school have yet to reveal the training school’s armory. However the archaeologists who discovered a Roman gladiator school at Carnumtum now have a better understanding of how patrons of the ancient city sought their entertainment.
By Brian T. Yates
Archaeological Park Carnuntum