Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings for the funerals of wealthy aristocrats. At the height of the sport, the fighters were mostly made up of prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals, but they could even be pitted against animals like tigers or crocodiles.
The Coliseum in Rome was even home to aquatic battles, when the arena was flooded and fighters attacked from boats.
They lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as their training and prison grounds. Reportedly, after Spartacus led an uprising in 73 B.C., the empire began to regulate the gladiator schools to prevent further rebellions.
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.
During the games, each gladiator fought with various weapons and levels of armor.
A "Secutor" was a heavily armored fighter who competed using a short sword. A "Retiarius" battled his foes wearing light armor, a trident, and occasionally a weighted net. The "Vremea" wore a helmet with a stylized fish on the crest.
The gladiators ate a high energy diet consisting of barley, beans, oatmeal, dry fruit, and ash, which was believed to fortify the body. Very few of them fought in more than 10 battles or made it past the age of 30 before getting killed.
The Roman empire housed more than 400-arenas and displayed over 8,000 gladiator deaths per year. Learn more about their fighting in the video at the top.