• Imagining History

Roman Gladiator Types - A Beginners Guide for Key Stage 2

Updated: 3 days ago


Weight Class:

The Murmilllo wore a lot of heavy armour, so they were well protected but slow. Their big 'fish like' helmet was made of bronze and had a grill on the front so the Gladiator could see but would also be safe from bladed attacks to the head.

On their arm they wore what can best be described as a very long washing up glove, one that ran from their hand all the way to their armpit. This was called a Manica and was usually made from leather. The Manica could be used to block an opponent's strike.

The Murmillo had a large rectangular shield, similar to a Roman Legionnaire, that was called a scutum.

Finally they worn shin guards made of metal, these were called Ocrea and were really helpful in preventing the Gladiator's feet from getting chopped off.


The Murmillo's weapon was a Gladius sword. This was a very short blade, best used for jabbing rather than swinging.

Usually Fights Against:

The Thraex or Hoplomachus. Being a Gladiator was all about putting on an entertaining and very violent fight for the audience. To this end different different Gladiator types would be pitted against each other to put on the most interesting contest.

Did You Know:

The Murmillo was also known as the “Fish Man” because of his stylised and very fishy looking helmet.


Weight Class:

The Retiarius was a light fighter, they wore little armour so would have to be agile to avoid getting any limbs lopped off. All a Retarius had to protect their delicate bits was an arm guard, a Manica, and a shoulder protector, called a Galerus.


Two famous Gladiator weapons: A trident and a net.

Usually Fights Against:

A Secutor (an adaptation of the Murmillo gladiator, wearing a smooth helmet to avoid getting caught in the Retiarius’ net). The Secutor was very well protected with lots of armour, so the Retiarius would have to use their agility and their net to trap their opponent - the Roman crowds loved these bouts as they were usually very exciting!

Did You Know:

The Retiarius would trap their opponent in their net before finishing them off with their trident. They were one of the few gladiators to fight without the protection of a helmet.

A Thraex with a curved sword & square shield
A Hoplomachus with small round shield

Thraex & Hoplomachus:

Weight Class:

Both the Thraex and the Hoplomachus were light fighters, they were very agile but at the cost of being ill equipped.

Weapons and Armour:

Hoplomachus had a crested helmet, small round shield, a spear and a Gladius sword. Thraex were armed with a curved sword and a curved shield. Both would have to get very close to their opponent to have a chance to land a hit, with so little armour one lucky swipe would be enough to bring these Gladiators to their knees.

Usually Fights Against:

The heavily armoured Murmillo (everyone love a David VS Goliath tussle) or each other for a fairer encounter.

Did You Know:

Both were made to look like soldiers from Ancient Greece (Hoplites and Thracians). The battles would re-enact Rome’s wars in Greece for the entertainment of the crowd - usually the Romans would ALLWAYS win as that's what the people wanted to see.

A Bestiarii defeated by a tiger
A Venator performing tricks with a leopard

Bestiarii & Venator:

Weapons and Armour:

The Venator would be fully equipped, well armoured, and would wield a sword and shield. The Bestiarii on the other hand fought naked with no weapons whatsoever. They were very brave or very stupid. Or both!

Usually Fights Against:

Animals. The Venator specialised in animal “hunts” and tricks in the arena. Whereas the Bestiarii were often criminals who were sentenced to death in combat with the beasts. They would fight all sorts of different animals, including lions, bulls and rhinos. The more exotic the beast the better, the crowds loved to see unusual animals.

Did You Know:

Bestiarii & Venator aren’t technically “gladiators” as they fought against animals, not other men.

This Provocator seems to have mislaid his Gladius!


Weight Class:

Very heavy, the Provocator was well protected but slow. They wore even more armour than the Murmillo. These tough gladiators were lucky enough to wear a chest plate to protect their vital organs. They also wore a large piece of armour on their leg called a greave. This was made from leather and padded cloth. The Provocator would rest their shield on their protected leg, presenting an imposing wall of armour to their foe.

Weapons and Armour:

Helmet with visor, rectangular shield and Gladius sword.

Usually Fights Against:

Other Provocators in a fair and tactical fight. Think of a Provocator duel as being similar to two top football teams going up against each other in the Premier League - just with more blood!

Did You Know:

They were the only gladiators to be protected by full breastplate armour and were originally designed to look like the Roman Legionary soldier.

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