Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
Sign in to follow this  

The Lanista

Recommended Posts

A man on the same social level as a pimp once described himself as a Negotiator Familiae Gladiatoriae - the Business Manager of a Gladiatorial Troupe - an attempt to give himself some respectability. He was a Lanista, an owner/trainer of gladiators, a man who profited from death without risk to himself.


The truth is that the gladiators were stock in trade for a lanista. If possible, he would prefer to avoid any of his possessions dying. His investment in time and effort with his slaves was considerable. Men who had volunteered, been bought, or been condemned to the arena needed to be housed, fed, equipped, trained. The cost of this was often too much. There are references to 'hack troupes' of gladiators wandering from town to town performing much the same way as the circus of recent times. The lanista of a hack troupe had no permanent premises.


However, the more affluent lanista did. Yet it wasn't until the time of Caesar that the schools were becoming purpose built with professional facilities for its inmates, although the region of Campania may well have had such facilities earlier, especially since we know that in 73BC Spartacus and his band escaped from the school of Lentulus Batiatus in Capua, a noted center of such activity. Its also worth mentioning that despite the desperate origin of many of the trainees, perhaps as many as a hundred, the security of his school is dubious. One escape attempt had already occurred and yet another was succesful - leaving one wondering about the possible carelessness demonstrated.


Following the two year campaign of Spartacus, things were to change in the gladiatorial world. Lanistas stepped up security and discipline by several notches. Men speaking similar languages were seperated for instance, and facilities included prisons for the recalcitrant few (as if the dark and damp quarters weren't prison enough). These security arrangements were to remain in place until the decline of arena combat. The success of this system is also illustrated by the fact that gladiators wanted to please their owners. An esprit-de-corps all of its own, and there are indications that the familiae were indeed close knit groups of men, despite the fact that they usually fought between themselves and at times would have to execute a friend.


There was a difference in treatment between enforced and volunteer gladiators. Volunteers under contract, although technically enslaved too, were often allowed to leave the ludum (Gladiator School) for rest and relaxation - something denied to those bought or condemned. There was also the relative status of gladiators to consider. A lanista would allow succesful fighters better quarters as a reward for his service, besides the profit he brought in, and during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD may well also need to provide quarters for female fighters.


Recent evidence shows that Hadrian found it necessary to restrict the bad behaviour of socialising gladiators. Its worth reminding ourselves that although a popular fighter had celebrity status, he belonged to a class of men officially regarded as scum. Despite this, there were roman women hoplessly attracted to these men as examples of fearless masculinity, so perhaps the lanista also profitted from regulating visits from the public. There is also references to some women who practised as gladiators without signing on as fighters. Is this evidence that lanistae offered training at a price to the public? If the women were so entranced by gladiatorial combat, its a fair bet that there were men who did so too. Its believed the number of volunteers for the arena reached as many as 50% of gladiators present by the 2nd century AD.


It isn't clear when the lanista first emerges. The first known gladiatorial bout took place in a cattle market in 264BC to mark the funeral of Brutus Pera. Three pairs fought simultaneously. It is fairly obvious that such bloodletting had been going on discreetly already - the tradition of honouring the dead with blood sacrifices had been a feature of the greek/etruscan world. Nonetheless, at this time the lanista wasn't the independent entrepeneur he was to become. He would have been an expert hired or bought by a wealthy man for the purpose of ensuring his slaves put up an exciting fight for the well-wishers at a funeral, if indeed the wealthy man hadn't trained his slaves himself.


Things were to change. There was a change of emphasis over the late republic from a funeral combat sacrifice to strictly controlled contests of skill and corage for public entertainment. By 174BC a funeral munus displayed seventy-four pairs on a three day event. As the desire to impress began to inflate the gladiatorial world it naturally spawned men who wanted to profit from it. Thus the lanista makes himself known, a man who has bought and trained men purely for hire to those requiring fighters. Not necessarily for munera, but also as bodyguards or even as army units on rare occaisions. He is also a man who deals with a dangerous trade without personal risk, a source of contempt in the mindset of romans who valued personal courage.


The excitement of these fights was such that in 165BC the playwright Terence was dismayed to see the audience of his popular play disappear when news of a gladiator fight spread. This is precisely the enviroment in which entrepeneurs can flourish. During Caesars earlier political career, he was able to summon as many as five thousand gladiators for a performance that was hastily restricted by a worried senate. In the reign of Tiberius a dead centurion was held 'hostage' by townsfolk of Pollentia until the family of the deceased had paid for funeral games - the army was called in to settle the dispute. Apart from the occaisional funeral, gladiators were displayed during the Saturnalia festivities in late December. As the popularity of arena combat escalates even further more festivals attracted games, and emperors were later to stage events to please the crowd. Caligula for instance was in a procession through Rome and heard an onlooker cry out for a day of games. He got his wish. Compare that with the celebrations staged by Trajan lasting four months, in which its believed ten thousand men fought, many of them prisoners of war. Inevitably, lanistas must have been called upon to supply men for such events. In fact, these itinerant trainers were the last remnant of the gladiatorial world as it became offically banned and in decline early in the fifth century AD.


However, during the reign of Augustus, changes taken place. Government officials (Procuratores) took over the duties of the lanista in the imperial sponsored ludii in Rome, and under the franchise system of Augustus, no doubt towns operated similarly on a smaller scale. There must have been independent troupe leaders still around picking up smaller contracts, perhaps for wealthy men seeking social diversions or protection, whilst the provinces saw same itinerant troupes earning a speculative living.


As an independent entrepeneur, the lanista was able to hire experts to train on his behalf. Indeed, given the increase in trade and the sizeable school populations it was necessary to do so. The lanista himself was often an ex-gladiator, a successful fighter who already knew his business. He might promote experienced men as doctores, expert fighter/trainers. With the rapid increase in volunteer gladiators by the reign of Augustus, the doctorii were often chosen from men within a year or two of completing their contract. After all, they were successful fighters and their experience was a valuable asset to a lanista - totally lost if the gladiator should receive a bad review from the crowd. It probably should suprise you to learn that a death in the arena brought healthy compensation for his owner. Not so for gladiators set free by the games editor. Since many gladiators returned to the ludii after freedom because they either failed to make their way in the world or they simply preferred the life they knew, a lanista would accept his former charges back within his fold.


The list of staff he employed goes further. He may have personal slaves, masseurs for the fighters, cooks, medics, even craftsmen. Those lanistae training arena huntsmen and women may well have needed provision for animal handlers too. Some of these people might even have been gladiators permanently injured in training and unable to compete, if they had not been sold off. Its worth noting thats there's apparently no record of gladiators deliberately causing themselves permanent injury to escape fighting for real - and we do know that novice gladiators were sometimes so desperate as to commit suicide. Was this a success of security? The average lanista must have created a very harsh regime to enforce behaviour and prevent undesirable activity.


The regime is best illustrated by the traditional gladiator oath to his owner, sworn by all men entering the ludum as fighters regardless of origin. Uri, vinciri, uerbarari, feroqque necari - To endure burning with fire, shackling with chains, to be whipped with rods and killed with steel - This was the world run by the Lanista.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire