Gladiators of Ephesus

Located 300 m from the stadium where they fought for their lives, the gladiators’ mass grave was found to cover an area of about 20 square metres. In it, experts uncovered a three-metre-deep layer packed with over 2,000 bones and 5,000 smaller fragments which are thought to have belonged to nearly 70 men.

Historical sources tell us that Roman gladiators were mostly recruited from prisoners of war, slaves and condemned criminals, and were trained in specialised gladiator schools. There were seven main types of gladiators, each packing a different combination of armour and weaponry. These types were matched to fight in pairs with evenly balanced defence and attack weapons. The sources indicate there was no point system, and fights were pursued to a decisive outcome; generally injury, or even death, for one of the participants.

The first gladiatorial contests took place in Rome in 264 BC as a funeral rite, but they became increasingly popular as a public spectacle throughout the Empire around the time of Julius Caesar. Under the Romans, Ephesus was the capital of their Asian province. The Roman commander-in-chief Lucullus introduced the first gladiator fights to Ephesus in 69 BC and the stadium was then converted to an elliptical arena for the purpose.

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