Marketing and Advertising

In this section you will learn

  • how the Romans advertised gladiatorial shows
  • what information advertisements for such events shows and thought was important
  • gladiatorial programs

Once you’d hired your gladiators and venatores, you had to advertise them. Various public notices were put up to ensure that people not only knew of munera but who was sponsoring them, from what ludus the gladiators were trained in, and what could be expected in terms of numbers and facilities (in a hot climate like Italy, awnings were very welcome and feature in many of these advertisements). There were also handbooks one could obtain listing further details of wins and losses: these, unfortunately, do not survive. However, because of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, we have several posters (or, rather, hand written notices) advertising shows in Pompeii.

A line-drawn image depicting gladiators with Latin writing
Source: CIL IV, 10237

The above graffiti comes from Pompeii and advertises a munus in the nearby town of Nola. The image shows a Thracian with small shield (right) fighting a secutor, the usual pairing for these gladiators. The text says

At Nola there will be a munus of Marcus Cominius Heres for four days. Princeps of the Neronian ludus fought 13, 10 wins; Hilarius of the Neronian ludus fought 14, 12 victories, Creunus fought 7, 5 wins.

 CIL 4.10237

The following announcements are also from Pompeii and advertise a range of munera. Many of the editors (givers of the games) are mentioned in multiple advertisements and were clearly leading residents of the city:

The gladiatorial familia of the aedile Aulius Suettius Certus will fight at Pompeii on May 31. There will be a venatio, and also awnings.

CIL 4.1189

The gladiatorial familia of Aulus Suettius Certus will fight at Pompeii on May 31. There will be a venatio and also awnings. May Nero be happy in all his munera.

 CIL 4.1190

Twenty pairs of gladiators provided by Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens perpetual priest of Nero, the son of the Emperor, and ten pairs of gladiators provided by Decimus Lucretius Valens his son, will fight at Pompeii April 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. There will be a big venatio and awnings. Aemilius Celer wrote this by the light of the moon.

CIL 4.7795

There will be a venatio and 20 pairs of gladiators belonging to Marcus Tullius will fight at Pompeii, November 4-7.

CIL IV. 3.4 9979

Aulus Clodius Flaccus, son of Aulus, Tribe Menenia,[1] duovir three times (once as Quinquennial), military tribune elected by the People. He presented at the Ludi Appollinares during his first duovirate in the Forum a procession, bulls, bullfighters and their helpers,[2] three pairs of platform fighting gladiators[3], boxers in groups, and games with music and pantomimes and Pylades,[4] and gave 10,000 sesterces to the public during his duumvirate. In his second (Quinquennial) term, at the Ludi Appollinares in the Forum he presented a procession, bullfighters and their helpers, and group boxers; on the next day he exhibited on his own at the spectacles 30 pairs of athletes, 5 pairs of gladiators, and with his colleague he presented 25 pairs of gladiators and the venationes, bullfighting, bull-baiting, wild boars, bears, and other wild animals in various hunts. In his third term along with his colleague he presented games [or dramas] from a foremost group with added music.

CIL 10.1074d

Some posters advertised munera in nearby towns:

Twenty pairs of gladiators provided by Quintus Monnius Rufus will fight. Nola May 1st, 2nd, 3rd. There will be a venatio.

 CIL 4.3881.

Thirty six pairs of gladiators of Constantia (?) will fight. October 31 and November 1-4 Nuceria (?).

CIL 4. 3.

Twenty pairs of Gladiators, belonging to Aulus Suettius Antenio and to his freedman Niger, will fight at Puteoli on the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th of March. There will also be a venatio and athletic contests.

CIL 4. 3.4

We also know that there were programs for the games issued in advance as the following passages show. The first is Ovid’s guide to romance in ancient Rome:

While talking, touching hands, checking the program, and asking which one will win after he’s placed his bed, he groans from his wound as he feels the flying arrow and becomes a part of the show he’s watching.

Ovid, Art of Love, 1.167-171

The philosopher Seneca the Younger, who lived during the era of Nero (he was actually his tutor), mentions programs in several passages:

No man who is desperately running to get a midwife for his daughter in her birth-pangs will stop to read a praetor‘s edict or the order of events at the games.

Seneca the Younger, Letters 117.30

And so they strive for something else to occupy them, and all the intervening time is irksome; exactly as they do when a gladiatorial exhibition is announced, or when they are waiting for the appointed time of some other show or amusement, they want to skip over the days that lie between.

Seneca the Younger, On the Shortness of Life 16.3

The programs contained pairings and the names of individual gladiators as the following very late source shows:

For Gallus Antipater, the slave of honours and the dishonour of historians, composed a preface about Aureolus which began like this: “We have now come to an emperor who was like his own name.” A marvelous thing, for sure, to get one’s name from gold! I, however, know well that among gladiators this name has often been given to courageous fighters. Indeed, only recently your own announcement of games contained in the list of the combatants this name.

Historia Augusta, Claudius Gothicus 5

This graffiti from Pompeii (CIL IV 2508) may resemble the information that was given on such programs, giving the names of the fighters, the pairings, and the ludus they trained at:

? versus Hoplomachus

(missio) …ciens Neronian ludus, 20 [bouts]

(won) Nobilior, Julian ludus, 2….14


Thracian versus Murmillo

(won)  Pugnax, Neronian ludus, 3 [bouts]

(died) Murranus, Neronian ludus, 3 [bouts]


Hoplomachus versus Thracian

(won) Cycnus of the Julian ludus 9 [bouts]

(missio) Atticus, Julian ludus 14 [bouts]


Thracian versus Murmillo

(won) Herma, Julian ludus, 4 [bouts]

(missio) Quintus Petillus….



(missio) Publius Ostorius, 51 [bouts]

(won) Scylax, Julian ludus, 26 [bouts]


Thracian vs. Murmillo

(died) Lucius Fabius, 9 [bouts]

(won) Astus, Julian Ludus, 14 [bouts]

Mosaic at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid showing a retiarius (net-fighter) named Kalendio fighting a secutor named Astyanax. In the bottom image, the secutor is covered in the retiarius’s net, but doesn’t seem to be hindered. In the upper image, apparently the conclusion of the skirmish, Kalendio is on the ground, wounded, and raises his dagger to surrender. The arena employees await his fate from the editor, not pictured. The inscription above reads ASTYANAX VICIT, as well as name of Kalendio followed by the symbol ∅ (null), implying that he was killed by Astyanax.


Media Attributions

  1. This inscription dates to before 3 BCE.
  2. The word I have translated as helpers is succursores, which is of uncertain meaning, so it may refer to some other type of animal fighter. 
  3. The Latin refers to the gladiators as pontarii, which appears to refer to any gladiator who fought from a raised platform.
  4. A famous mime artist; notice he is the only performer important enough to be mentioned by name.


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Spectacles in the Roman World Copyright © 2020 by Siobhán McElduff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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