The Overlap Between the Gladiators and Modern Football

There are plenty of things we can thank the Romans for. Without them, we wouldn’t have plumbing, newspapers, or arches, to name just three Roman contributions that have helped to shape the modern world. And we even see Roman life in the sporting world, too.

If you go to a New York Giants game, you probably don’t think about the Romans, but there’s much more overlap between modern sporting culture and ancient Roman culture than you might think. Is football the modern-day equivalent of the gladiators? You can make a strong case that the answer is a resounding yes (of course, there are plenty of striking differences too). In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the similarities between the two.


Athletes as Celebrities

People naturally admire professional football players. And it was in the same situation two thousand years ago when successful gladiators were viewed as celebrities. Like now, they were role models to the working classes, who would typically have their own favorite warriors, much in the same way that football fans have their favorite players today. A famous Gladiator that walked the ancient Roman streets would be mobbed by fans, and today’s fans would do the same if Saquon Barkley or Nathan Barkley were walking down the street.

Broader Culture

Some things change; some things stay the same. Sports fandom has developed a lot in the two thousand years since the gladiators; it’s developed a fair amount in the past twenty years, in fact. Still, there are undoubtedly some similarities between the fan culture of ancient Rome and the modern-day United States. For fans in both periods, the appeal of the activity extends beyond just the action on the pitch. Both sets would discuss possible outcomes, find like-minded fans to spend time with, and bet on the outcome — sports, after all, is a major part of the present, history and future of gambling. They would also both agree that their chosen hobby is about much more than just a hobby: it’s a way of life.

The Arena

A lot of the similarities between gladiator battles and modern football are circumstantial. They just naturally happened, rather than modern football being inspired by gladiators. However, there’s one aspect of modern football that was clearly directly influenced by the battles of Rome: the stadium. Take a look at the Colosseum in Rome, and you’ll find that it bears more than a striking resemblance to the MetLife Stadium.

And that’s largely unique to American football. Unlike other sports, which often have stadiums with square sides, football stadiums are circular, which is just like, yep, the Colosseum. There’s very much an "arena" feel to both these stadiums. For certain, if gladiator battles became a thing today, they’d use stadiums such as MetLife.


The Athletic Overlaps

Finally, there’s the whole matter of the physical and athletic overlaps between both "sports." Of course, the actual content of the activity is pretty different: the Gladiators were fighting to the death (or until someone had a severe injury), whereas football players just have to get the pigskin into the opposition zone. But there are overlaps between the skills and athleticism that are required to achieve the goal.

Strength, speed, agility, and a fighting spirit were essential in ancient Rome. And they are pretty paramount in the NFL, too.


For certain, football is the modern sport that most closely resembles the ancient Roman gladiators. But thankfully, the similarities aren’t that extensive — Gladiator battles could be pretty gruesome, whereas severe injuries in football are fortunately kept at a minimum.

If you ever find yourself in Rome, be sure to take a tour of the Colosseum!

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