It’s been said that for a gladiator to die well, he must never cry out nor beg for mercy in combat. The dishonor of defeat and weakness was only deemed noble by spectators though a good death.
You might be surprised to know that back in ancient Rome, Emperors performed as gladiators themselves, such as Titus, Caracalla, and Didius Julianus among others.
Though, their level of risk was far less and more suited for public support than the true gladiators. In reality, for common gladiators, death was imminent by the tenth match or around the age of thirty.
This quote from the gladiator’s oath might put things in perspective as to why, “He vows to endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword.”
In the Amphitheaters like the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, these combatants were the epitome of martial ethics and celebrated with inspired admiration. In fact, as popular entertainers they were often depicted in renowned artworks and prime city sculptures.
However, what might surprise you is that these gladiators weren’t just battling wild animals or condemned criminals, the truth is some were merely volunteers! If there was a truer definition for the word bravery, that just might be it.
Why volunteer? Well, it was a last effort way to improve legal or social standing by risking your life. Not to mention the rewards such as ones from Tiberius, who offered $500,000 (100,000 sesterces). And Nero, who awarded property to those who triumphed in the arena. Others like Mark Anthony, provided paid positions as personal guards.
Take a trip back to ancient Rome with these top 50 best gladiator tattoos for men. Discover masculine amour, weapons, and the aurora of fighting in the amphitheater. You’ll be inspired with the idea of bravery and explore ink designs that showcase it flawlessly.
1. Gladiator Film Tattoos
Starring Russell Crowe and released in the year 2000, Gladiator follows a betrayed Roman general who ends up fighting as a gladiator, eventually upsetting the civil order and clashing with a corrupt Emperor. The dramatic scenes of gladiator combat complete with chariots, tigers, armor and weaponry are perfectly suited for tattoos and these pieces demonstrate what is possible when drawing inspiration from film.
2. Gladiators in Combat Tattoos
By far, the most defining element in the life and philosophy of the gladiator was combat. These warriors—whether captured soldiers, slaves or condemned criminals—were pitted against each other in mortal combat with all the world watching. The images of gladiators swinging swords and plunging spears into the flesh of other is not for the faint of heart, but they certainly make for compelling tattoos, and these black and gray pieces are excellent examples.
3. Upper Arm Gladiator Tattoos
By far, the most defining element in the life and philosophy of the gladiator was combat. These warriors—whether captured soldiers, slaves or condemned criminals—were pitted against each other in mortal combat with all the world watching.
The images of gladiators swinging swords and plunging spears into the flesh of other is not for the faint of heart, but they certainly make for compelling tattoos, and these black and gray pieces are excellent examples.
4. Upper Arm, Shoulder and Chest Pieces
The upper arm is a popular place to get tattoos for a couple reasons. First of all, tattoos here are easily displayed by wearing a short sleeve shirt or tank top, but the placement is not so prominent that it cannot be completely covered either.
People also place tattoos here because the large size of the bicep muscle can create a great canvas on which to apply ink. The aggressive nature of these gladiator pieces is perfect for this large, masculine tattoo location.
5. Gladiator and Roman Helmet Tattoos
While the upper arm is a great location for tattoos, for anyone willing to offer more skin to a design, the arm, shoulder and chest provide an excellent canvas. These tattoos demonstrate the way that an interesting design can stretch across the body, creating a more dynamic tattoo that effectively makes use of the natural lines of the body. As we can see, the developed musculature of the pectoral, bicep and shoulder muscles all work together to help these tattoos look even better.
6. Full Arm Sleeve Gladiator Tattoos
Some people prefer to use their entire arm as a canvas for their body art, and these full sleeve tattoos show just how compelling gladiator designs can be when given room to breathe. Full sleeve work is also notable for the way an artist can use the entire length of the arm to let the tattoo tell a story: a number of concepts can be utilized to draw the observer’s eye up and down the arm, creating a more dynamic tattoo.
7. Gladiators Battling Big Cats Tattoos
Wild animals were involved in the gladiatorial tradition as well. Usually animals would be pitted against each other, being starved and then forced to fight, although sometimes they would battle gladiators in what were called ventianoes, or “wild beast hunts”. These black and gray pieces perfectly capture both the warriors and the big cats involved in these clashes.
8. Greco Roman Classical Tattoos
The photo-realistic effect created through the use of black and gray ink in these tattoos perfectly captures the chiseled lines and dramatic gazes of the warrior’s faces in these classical depictions of gladiators in battle.
9. Gladiator Tattoos
These tattoos use black and gray ink to create designs that capture the intricacies of the armor, weapons and backgrounds of these fierce warriors. From the stylized and distinct helmets of the different gladiator classes, to the rays of light gleaming off their armor, these tattoos demonstrate what a talented artist can do with gladiators as inspiration.
10. Gladiator Tattoos Featuring the Roman Coliseum
The quintessential Roman structure, the Coliseum is a massive limestone amphitheater that was used for gladiator combat, animal hunts and larger scale mock battles like naval exercises. These tattoos perfectly capture the unmistakable fresco of this ancient building that saw unfathomable bloodshed over the course of its centuries of use.
Gladiator Tattoo FAQs
What does a gladiator tattoo symbolize?
While the historical details of these iconic warriors is a bit more complex than was previous understood, the symbolism that gladiators hold is straightforward. While some gladiators did fight for their freedom, the majority never lived to see their 10th fight, with few making it past thirty years old. Thanks to their fearless nature and bravery in the face of certain death, gladiators have come to be powerful symbols of allegiance, loyalty and duty.
These fiercest of warriors battled each other and wild animals, all in the hopes of entertaining the ruling class and perhaps making it out of the crucible alive. Their unwavering loyalty and skill in combat has made gladiator tattoos popular with those in the military and law enforcement, who use the gladiator as a symbol of their own duty to country, community and their fellow soldiers and officers.
Were all gladiators slaves and criminals?
While the common conception of Roman gladiators is that they were slaves and criminals sentenced to battle to the death as both punishment and entertainment, it is only part of the story. Over the course of the 1000 years of the Roman Empire the cultural institutions that shaped society evolved, and gladiatorial combat changed accordingly.
Rome’s endless wars of military conquest provided a never–ending supply of prisoners of war, and for many years these former soldiers were fodder for the gladiatorial process, as well providing manual labor in mines and being sold to the public as slaves. The Romans saw anyone who surrendered or survived combat to have been given an unwarranted gift of life, and becoming a gladiator was a way to regain lost honor.
As time passed and Rome’s wars waned, the combat arena’s use as punishment for crimes became more common. Volunteers also became more prominent and it is believed that by the Late Republic era they may have accounted for half of all gladiators. For the poorest classes, gladiator school offered employment, food, housing and a chance (as slight as it was) at fame and fortune.
As we can see, gladiators were a much more complex and diverse group of people than the criminals and slaves that were previously thought to comprise their ranks.
Did you enjoy these gladiator tattoos but want more sword and sandal inspiration? Click on the galleries below to check out other great ink ideas featuring Romans and warriors:
- SPQR Tattoo Ideas
- Top 103 Warrior Tattoo Ideas
- Spartan Tattoo Designs
- Top 101 Roman Numeral Tattoo Ideas