The Truth About Gladiators: They Were Just Highly Paid MMA Fighters

By | August 16, 2019

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Chariot racing in the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome, 100BC. (Photo by: Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Today's top athletes earn incomes that one could argue aren't entirely proportional to the work they do. It's easy to chalk this up to modern "athlete worship," but what if we told you that the highest-paid athlete of all time did not live in this century? Or the last one? In fact, to find the most highly paid athletes, we would have to go all the way back to antiquity--to the days of the Roman gladiators and charioteers. You may be surprised to learn that sports was big business to the Romans. There are a lot of gladiator myths out there, so let's take a look at the lucrative world of sports in ancient Rome. 

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Ancient Romans had a love of physical fitness, strength, and sports. Source: (

The Romans Loved Their Sports

Romans loved sports and displays of athletic strength and endurance. They were originally private affairs held in the indoor gymnasiums and outdoor arenas on the estates of the wealthy elite. The ability to hold such events was a sign of the wealth and privilege of the upper classes. Under Emperor Nero, not usually thought to be a man of the people, these sporting events became public. First, public gymnasiums were constructed, then enormous arenas and amphitheaters. These facilities were large enough for epic gladiator fights, Olympic games, and Ben Hur--style chariot races.