The Romans were entertained by some pretty gruesome violence. And while gladiatorial combat didn’t originate in ancient Rome, that’s where we think of most of it taking place.
Gladiators were either born poor or were being punished for something. The most famous gladiator, Spartacus, had served as a soldier until a mistake got him imprisoned and enslaved and sent to train as a gladiator (prisoners had no choice – they could either train or be easily killed in the arena).
But if everything you know about gladiators comes from Spartacus or Russell Crowe’s turn in the arena, then you might be surprised to learn that every now and then, Romans could catch a glimpse of women in the arena fighting for their lives.
Referred to as gladiatracies (or Amazons, colloquially), they found topless, and there was an erotic element to their skillset. They weren’t pitted against men but other women or, occasionally, dwarves. It all depended on the predilections of that particular emperor at the time.
In fact, the memorably unstable emperor Nero put Ethiopian men, women, AND children in the arena together, presumably to shock and (for some) delight.
There were female gladiators in ancient Rome. They were rare, but we know gladiatrices existed partly because they were viewed as symptoms of a corrupt society and officially banned in 200 AD.
After all the scandal of seeing women this way, Septimius Severus (the emperor after the also-unstable gladiator-loving Commodus) decided that people had seen enough debauchery from women in the arena and banned female gladiators in 200 AD. – WTF fun fact