According to Roman tradition, the first gladiatorial combats in Rome took place at the funeral of D. Iunius Brutus in 264 BC when his sons Decimus Iunius Brutus and Marcus presented three pairs of gladiators in the Forum Boarium (Edmondson, 1996)…
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The first century BC historian, Nicolaus of Damascus, claims that the Romans borrowed the custom of gladiatorial combat from the Etruscans, and Suetonius preserves a tradition which held that the Etruscan king, Tarquinius Priscus, was first to introduce the spectacle to Rome (Futrell, 1997). G Ville in ‘La gladiature’ has argued that gladiation was of Osco-Samnite origin and then was adopted by the Etruscans at the end of the fourth century or early third BC from whom the Romans imported the custom (cited in Futrell 1997). Futrell, however, has criticized Ville's thesis and tentatively renewed the argument in favor of an Etruscan origin, while other have suggested that the Greeks in Campania may have influenced the development of Italian funerary games, including armed combat. But it is unlikely that gladiation came to Rome from a single source (cited in Futrell 1997). Furthermore, once adopted in Rome, the institution underwent significant changes and evolution. Whatever its origin or origins, roman gladiatorial combat was not a desperate and chaotic spectacle of killing and dying. Body For the last two hundred years of the republic, gladiatorial combats were presented in association with the funerals of great men. Tertullian states that these funerary gladiatorial combats evolved from actual human sacrifices at the tomb....
Indeed, that Tertullian perceived gladiatorial combats as a threat indicates their religious significance. But the origins and nature of g1adiation were debatable even in antiquity, and there is little reason to suppose that we can uncover them today. We have already seen that conflicting opinions placed the source of g1adiation in either Campania or Etruria; likewise in antiquity there seems to have existed a debate over whether or not gladiatorial combat was a form of human sacrifice. For example, a passage in the Historia Augusta provides the two sides of this debate: there were some who believed that gladiatorial combats given before a military campaign were a form of human sacrifice meant to appease Nemesis and ensure victory in the impending war, while others believed that the sight of combat, wounds, and death were primarily intended to desensitize the soldiers and prepare them for battle (Versnel, 1996; Futrell, 1997). Some scholars have renewed the argument for gladiatorial combats as a form of human sacrifice (Versnel, 1996; Futrell, 1997). The truth, however, probably lies somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, it is difficult to deny the religiosity of gladiatorial combats; during the republic, they were fought in connection with the funerals of great men, while during the empire they came to be associated with the imperial cult. In this connection, we may also consider the ritual significance of a gladiator's blood (Futrell, 1997). On the other hand, the bloody and often fatal nature of gladiatorial combat readily lent itself to interpretation-or reinterpretation-as human sacrifice, especially by those who would attack the institution, and this ought to rouse our suspicions. Rives has shown
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