Friday, September 5, 2014

When in Rome... Learn to Fight at Gladiator School

Learning the art of gladiator fighting

Wandering around the Colosseum in Rome, you try to imagine what it must have been like in ancient days. The roar of the crowds. The clanging of swords. Being swept up in the excitement of a gladiator fight. Would you be brave enough to enter that arena and battle it out? No need to just imagine it. Head out to the Gruppo Storico Romano (Historical Roman Group)'s Gladiator School on the Ancient Appian Way, don a tunic, pick up your weapon, and learn to fight.

The few hours we spent at Gladiator School were easily the kids' favorite part of our trip to Rome. They loved that they were actually doing  something, not just looking at old buildings. (They must have also wondered why the same mom that keeps telling them to quit arguing was happily snapping photos as they thumped on each other in front of an audience.)

Our visit began easily enough with a tour of the Gruppo Storico Romano's museum. We learned about gladiators as well as the military strategies of the Roman legion from siege engines to battle formations. The Romans were often outnumbered and had to rely on their smarts, not just brute strength, when conquering the world. They were well-organized, disciplined, and willing to adopt other army's weapons when they found instruments of war that were superior to what they had been using. Since the museum was overflowing with weapons, armor and small scale models of fortified Roman camps, our instructor had an abundant supply of visual aids which she was completely willing to demonstrate on guests.

One interesting tactic that came up was how Romans would dip their swords in poo so that infection would kill the enemy if they didn't bleed out immediately. Note: No actual poo was used during the demonstration.

Pinched fingers is NOT a good defense against a Roman gladius sword.

Each kid really enjoyed getting to try on helmets and shields. Luckily, they weren't required to handle the 27 kilograms (60 pounds) of armor and equipment typically carried by Roman soldiers. One type of battle formation was the testudo or tortoise formation where soldiers marched closely together with their shields facing outwards or upwards like a turtle shell as a defense against incoming missiles. Imagine a group of kids practicing that one.

She showed us a pilum, a type of Roman javelin. It was constructed in two pieces — a soft, iron shank with a pyramidal tip connected to a wooden shaft. The soft iron would bend upon impact, preventing the enemy from merely picking it up and flinging it back at the Romans. The pyramidal tip made it difficult to remove from a shield, thus forcing the enemy to discard the shield rather than waste time pulling it out. After the battle, surviving Romans could walk through the battleground, collect the discarded pilia, then attach a new iron shank to the wooden shaft. Clever, aren't they?

Demonstrating the pilum (javelin), helmet and scutum (shield)

Finally, it was time to head outside to begin their training in how to fight like a gladiator. While hubby and I chose to relax in the stands, many parents joined their kids in the training arena. There were only families in our group, but I'm sure that all-adult classes must be common, too.

What's the best footwear for this activity? Gladiator sandals, of course!

Come ready for a workout for this is gladiator bootcamp. Everyone was raring to start hitting each other with swords, but agility and strength training came first. Is this how Russell Crowe started out?

Dodging swinging sandbags

The students ran through an obstacle course around the arena. Zigzagging between swinging sandbags, hopping back and forth over ropes, somersaults and pushups were all a part of the training. What a way to work off all that pasta and gelato.

Gladiator school is not for wimps.

When everyone was panting and looking a little beat, it was at long last time to learn how to fight. It reminded me a lot of martial arts with prescribed attack movements and defensive maneuvers.

The students practice the cross-body, downward sweep with their rudis (wooden sword).

Our class ended with one-on-one battles. Points were given for each permissible strike and subtracted each time a gladiator stepped out of the circle drawn in the sand. Hubby kept asking when the lions would be released, but alas, that never happened. Not even a large house cat.

Tip: Be nice to your sibling before attending Gladiator School, or else he/she may decide this is the perfect time for revenge.

This is definitely a fun 2-hour activity for people visiting Rome. If you would rather not learn to battle it out yourself, an evening dinner and show is another option. Those who are here long term can join the Gruppo Storico Romano and really delve deep into this historical reenactment society. They have multi-month gladiator training programs and, for those who are interested in quieter activities, a social anthropology group.

These ladies practice twice a week. Is this what it means to "fight like a girl"?

Would you want to learn how to be a Gladiator?


  • For more information about the 2-hour Gladiator-for-a-Day program, see their website.
  • I booked our tickets on Viator for US$73.53 per person. No discount for children. Choice of dates and times listed. 
  • Other guests in our group booked via their hotel concierge. 
  • Minimum age is 6 years old.
  • Wear clothes that you don't mind getting sweaty and dirty.
  • Spectators can sit in the shaded stands or at covered picnic tables.
  • Free bottle of water with each lesson, but you may want to bring extra, especially during the hot summer months.
  • No convenient public transportation near the school, so plan on taking a taxi here. The school can call one for you at the end of the lesson. About 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the Colosseum.

Related Posts:

This post is part of the following linkups. Be sure to check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. OMG...this make me laugh! I'd be a lousy gladiator, but I'd love to sit in the stands. :)

  2. I bet your kids did love bashing into each other with Mum's approval. Life is funny isn't it. Maybe you should try doing it at home and you can photograph them there, lol. Your kids sure get to do fun things.

  3. This looks like so much fun!! I tried to talk my girls into gladiator school before our trip to Rome and neither of them had any interest at all!

    1. Their Social Anthropology group should set up an experience for those who are interested in history but not fighting. On their website, I noticed that they meet to work on authentic clothing and shoes, hairstyles, jewelry and food. I can totally see your two girls wanting to do that.

  4. Wow, what fun, a fantastic experience to live like a gladiator, what a great idea for children to experience!

  5. This sounds like so much fun! Looks like the kids really enjoyed it too :)

  6. I'm impressed with the training they went through before they got to bash their siblings. The video of the gals fighting made our gender proud. Great videos to give a first hand look at what it was like to be a gladiator like Russell Crowe.

  7. I can see why this gladiator school was your kids' favorite part of the trip. It definitely looks like a lot of fun for them. I'm glad Keith didn't think of this; otherwise he would drag me into it and I'd make a fool of myself. I think I rather do the anthropology group. That tactic of dipping the sword in a poo sounds yucky but genius.

  8. This is awesome! We saw this on the TV show The Amazing Race too and thought it was cool how the contestants participated. I can totally see why this would be the kids' favorite activity. My kids would enjoy this and would probably be somewhat therapeutic for them. So happy that your kids got to experience this and one they probably won't forget for a long time. Who knew poo could be used as a killing accessory? ;-)

  9. This looks like a lot of fun :) great post.... love the GIF ;)

  10. Thst looks like awesome fun, not just for children! I'm Italian and I've visited Rome dozens of times, yet I didn't know about this Gladiator Camp!

  11. This is so much fun! My girls would have loved this when we were in Rome, but we were too busy playing "tourist" and trying to hit as many of the key sites as possible. Thanks for sharing.

  12. This is AWESOME! I would totally do this (and, uh, don't have any kids!;-) Sometimes it's nice to take a break from sightseeing, and this gives you the opportunity to role play a small taste of what it must have been like back in the gladiator time!

  13. Your kids must have really liked that, Michele. I wish I knew about that when we visited Rome with my son some years ago.

  14. Gosh what a wonderful thing for the kids to do. My son would have loved it at that age. I would be quite happy to watch and dream of being in Roman times though! Fascinating that such opportunities exist.

  15. I have to say the only reason I would take the kids to this is so that I ould have a go too. Although clearly they would enjoy it too.

    The sound of metal on metal in the fighting vid is quite disconcerting! Cool!

  16. This looks like so much fun, for kids and adults! :)

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  18. This is SO cool! Looks like it was a lot of fun.

  19. Damn, damn, damn, damn, daaaaam !! How did I not know about this when I was there? I have to go back that's for sure. Big thanks for linking up with us for #SundayTraveler again.

  20. AS SOON AS my son is 6 we are going here! I have never heard of this place! Can you believe that they used to carry 27 kilos of armour...ok that just got me daydreaming about hunky gladiators!

  21. Wow, what a great thing to do in Rome!


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