Using cutting edge ground-penetrating radar technology, archaeologists from the Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute have discovered extensive remains of a large gladiator school under the Roman legionary city of Carnutum, 24 miles east of Vienna.
The site was first surveyed with ground-penetrating radar in 1996. Evidence of structures was detected, but the technology wasn’t keen enough to give researchers a clear idea of what was under there. This latest and greatest radar was attached to the front of a tractor and relayed real-time three-dimensional images of what was underground.
It’s the first gladiator training school found outside of Italy and it appears to be excellently preserved.
The Vienna institute team has been able to make detailed images of the gladiator school. They reveal that its centre was dominated by a circular arena equipped with wooden benches.
The school houses a heated training hall which combatants would have used during cold central European winters. There are also a bath house, administrative offices and small cell-like rooms for the gladiators themselves.
The school complex spread over 2,800 square meters (3,350 square yards) and was surrounded by a thick wall. Outside the walls was a cemetery. The tombs are elaborate, far more so than in a nearby cemetery from around the same time. The fancy burials could indicate that this was a cemetery set apart for gladiators killed in the games. Gladiators were slaves and were on the social fringes, but success in the arena made them popular heroes, so after their gory deaths gladiators would be buried in style.
Inside the walls there is a courtyard with a small 19-square meter (23-square yard) stadium where the gladiators could practice and put on show fights for visitors and trainers. When it was too cold outside, they would train in the hypocaust heated hall. Don’t be fooled by the heated floors and baths. The gladiators were hardly living in the lap of luxury. Their sleeping cells — because calling them bedrooms would be far too generous — were tiny, just five feet square. There were 40 of these sleeping cubicles in the complex.
The school was right next door to one of two amphitheaters in town. One amphitheater was part of the army garrison and reserved for the legionaries’ blood sport enjoyment; the other, part of the civil town. The school was adjacent to the civil amphitheater, the remains of which are still visible today and are, serendipitously enough, host to a summer gladiator training school.
There are no plans currently to excavate the remains. Only a fraction of the Carnutum site has been excavated so far, and the success of the radar scans will allow archaeologists to make a detailed model of the complex without having to touch spade to soil.