Were Roman gladiators ever enlisted into the actual Roman military? I have heard of Roman soldiers becoming gladiators but not the other way around.

I imagine this would only happen if the Roman generals were desperate, sorely needing men for a campaign, as I doubt that gladiators were trained to fight like actual Roman soldiers.

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    I'm not sure how common this was, but Marcus Salvius Otho fielded a unit comprised of gladiators at the First Battle of Bedriacum.
    – Comintern
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 23:51
  • Good question! I always understood, and read recently, that gladiators were no equal/match for trained soldiers, but en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladiator suggests a much more complex relationship between gladiators and the military. Be interested in a definitive answer.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 0:55
  • I think it happened in troop shortages i remember reading an account of an Emperor arming gladiators and slaves,lol the scribe some aristocrat wasn't impressed.
    – turinsbane
    Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 1:59
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    From Wikipedia article about Gaius Marius: "Once it became obvious that Sulla was going to defy the law and seize Rome by force, Marius attempted to organize a defense of the city using gladiators. Unsurprisingly Marius' ad-hoc force was no match for Sulla's legions. Marius was defeated and fled Rome."
    – Brasidas
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


The training was too expensive. A gladiator, especially a good one, was a commodity; a valuable asset to his owner. For the duration of their gladiatorial careers, gladiators were viewed as their owners property, and few owners would give them up to the army just like that. The gladiatorial version of martial arts emphasized visual effects: more like stage combat than actual combat. Also, it was believed that a layer of fat can protect a gladiator (somewhat) against deep wounds. Soldiers were trained to be quick and efficient killers; gladiators were trained to be showmen. Few gladiatorial fights ended in death or even just injury: again, they were assets, too expensive to waste.

About twenty years ago a former heavyweight champion decided to join the Marines. He asked to be honorably discharged after about a week.

There were, of course, some exceptions.

The Wikipedia article on gladiators has a great deal of fluff despite its brevity, but here's the link anyway:


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    I don't buy this - particularly the expense part. Roman battle losses, except against other Romans, were rarely significant unless they lost badly. Legionnaires expected to survive the full 20 year enrollment and retire to a nice farm. Also Spartacus didn't have much difficulty dealing with poorly led Legions - it was only after the Romans sent competent commanders that the command weaknesses of Spartacus' army were revealed. There are undoubtedly differences between the training of a gladiator and a Legionnaire, but they are much less than between an untrained civilian and either. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 3:24
  • @PieterGeerkens: Seriously? Ever see a fencing tournament? How long does it take a fencer to get hit, or hit the opponent? Three seconds, tops. How long does it take an average movie musketeer to dispose of an adversary in a one-on-one fight? There's your answer.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 4:25
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    I love fencing, though it is not on basic cable much. Fencers aren't equipped with either of shoulder to knee shields or a gladius - because that makes for very different contest, more of strength and endurance than of skill and agility. Remember that the shield was truly a legionnaires primary weapon; not the gladius which was primarily reserved for killing blows much like a modern matador's estocado with his vedugo. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 4:36
  • @PieterGeerkens: That's not the point I'm trying to make here. The legionnaire's job was to dispose of the adversary as quickly as possible. The gladiator's job was to prolong the fight as much as he could, and, if possible, to spare the adversary. A ludus typically rented out gladiators to this or that circus, and the organizers were responsible for each and every gladiator - it cost a lot to rent them, let alone to pay when one got killed or damaged. A gladiator typically fought about three times a year. That's one hell of an expensive man-toy. Legionnaires were largely disposable.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 4:46
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    @PieterGeerkens (and at Ricky) Both of you are using extremely large generalizations that sound largely based on popular perception / lay sources rather than academic research. Each of your points are both true and false depending which era in the Roman Republic/ Western Roman Empire ~600 year history you are looking at. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 18:06

Yes, they did at times. During the 3rd Servile war lead by none other then Spartacus of Thrace. Yes, roman soldiers were trained to kill more proficiently but they were not trained in the art of an arena fighter. They enlisted aged gladiators that were once champions, to train the Romans against the threat. Even Crassus himself hired gladiators to train him in the arts.

How else do you expect nothing but 70000 slaves and gladiators, against constant legions, to last 3 years with nothing but the scraps they picked up on the road? They would have made it to Rome, if Spartacus's right hand man Crixis hadnt split the army in half and lost half his force in one battle on a ambush. Yes, Roman's did enlist gladiators to fight along side and even during the days of Hannibal horde.

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