GLADIATOR, professional fighter in Roman public games. Little information is available about the gladiatorial contests held in the Middle East under Roman imperial rule. The performances were arranged by the authorities of cities with a predominantly Hellenistic culture; in Judea, for instance, they were sponsored by *Herod in *Caesarea. The Jewish sources make mention of Jews in this connection, and it was common knowledge that gladiators were bought for "large sums" (TJ, Git. 4:9, 46a–b). Rabbinical opinion was in general opposed to providing a ransom for a man who had sold himself as a gladiator, although an opinion is expressed that he should be ransomed since his life was in danger (Git. 46b–47a). "It is the accepted custom that a gladiator does not make a will," since he might be killed at any moment (Gen. R. 49:1, ed. by Theodor and Albeck, 1200). Some Jewish gladiators deliberately infringed the dietary laws to annoy their coreligionists and lived in Roman style (Git., loc. cit.). Others, however, were obliged to sell themselves out of financial stress "in order to exist" (TJ, loc. cit.). The expression "meal for gladiators" denoted an early repast consisting of an enriched diet (Pes. 12b; Shab. 10a). It is related of the amora Resh Lakish (see *Simeon b. Lakish) that he sold himself as a gladiator but that by combining courage with guile he managed to outwit the promoters of the contest and kill them all (Git. 47a). The rabbinical attitude toward the gladiatorial contests is clear from their association in the Midrash with brothels, gaming, and sorcery (Tanh. B., Gen. 24).
Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19074), 60f.; Krauss, Tal Arch, 3 (1912), 114f.; S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), 148f.
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.