Roman gladiator armor and weapons

Written by nick lewandowski
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Roman gladiator armor and weapons
(Nick Lewandowski personal image)

Roman gladiators were the movie stars of their day, and their props were a veritable cornucopia of death. Not only did gladiators fight with weapons that were traditionally Roman, but also with weapons from conquered territories throughout the Roman Empire.

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The 27-inch-long gladius (from which the word 'gladiator' is derived) was the most famous of the gladiator swords, but more exotic swords such as the scythe-like sica and the single-edged acinaces cavalry sword were also used.


Gladiators used spears for both thrusting and throwing, and supplemented them with multi-pronged tridents, or fascinas.

Weapons With Range

Handmade Roman bows and arrows were common in gladiator matches, along with slings and darts.


Many gladiators carried a pugio (dagger) with them as a backup weapon. These were well-built little weapons, but too small to be of use in anything but the closest of combat.


Shields were essential to Roman gladiators, not only for personal defence, but also for battering opponents.


While some 26 subtypes of gladiator armour were used in all, matches were usually arranged according to strengths and weaknesses. Agile, lightly armoured gladiators would be matched against heavily-armoured, slow-moving gladiators. Who wore which armour was based on weaponry. Gladiators using ranged weapons might only be armoured with leg padding (fascia), arm wraps (manicae) and chain mail (thorax hamata). Gladiators armed with swords would be more heavily armoured, wearing face-guards (Kalkriese), heavy helmets (Spangenhelmen -- borrowed from the Germanic tribes), and plate armour (lorica squamata). In general, most gladiator armour offered surprising freedom of movement, especially when compared with some of the heavy, bulky armour used throughout medieval times.

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