Austria's Underground Ancient Roman Gladiator School

They lived in cells barely big enough to turn around in and usually fought until they died. This was the lot of those at a sensational scientific discovery unveiled Monday: The well-preserved ruins of a gladiator school in Austria.

Gladiator Overview

A gladiator (Latin: gladiator, "swordsman", from gladius, "sword") was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator City

The Carnuntum ruins are part of a city of 50,000 people 28 miles (45 kilometers) east of Vienna that flourished about 1,700 years ago, a major military and trade outpost linking the far-flung Roman empire's Asian boundaries to its central and northern European lands.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator CGI

Mapped out by radar, the ruins of the gladiator school remain underground. Yet officials say the find rivals the famous Ludus Magnus -- the largest of the gladiatorial training schools in Rome -- in its structure. And they say the Austrian site is even more detailed than the well-known Roman ruin, down to the remains of a thick wooden post in the middle of the training area, a mock enemy that young, desperate gladiators hacked away at centuries ago.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator Building

The gladiator complex is part of a 10-square kilometer (3.9-square mile) site over the former city, an archaeological site now visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. Officials said they had no date yet for the start of excavations of the gladiator school, saying experts needed time to settle on a plan that conserves as much as possible.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiators Now

Digging at the city site began around 1870, but less than one percent of it has been excavated, due to the enormity of what lies beneath and to the painstaking process of restoring what already has been unearthed.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator Bird's Eye

Neubauer said an unusual and unexplained "white spot" on an aerial photograph led experts to scan the area with state-of-the-art radar that shows a three-dimensional image of what lies underground.

"(It's) a clarity we normally find only in the field of medicine," he said Monday. The same machines have been used at Britain's Stonehenge and other European archaeological sites.
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Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator Colloseum

"A gladiator school was a mixture of a barracks and a prison, kind of a high-security facility," said the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, one of the institutes involved in finding and evaluating the discovery. "The fighters were often convicted criminals, prisoners-of-war, and usually slaves."

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiators Fighting

Still, there were some perks for the men who sweated and bled for what they hoped would at least be a few brief moments of glory before their demise.

At the end of a dusty and bruising day, they could pamper their bodies in baths with hot, cold and lukewarm water. And hearty meals of meat, grains and cereals were plentiful for the men who burned thousands of calories in battle each day for the entertainment of others.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator Side

Thick walls surround 11,000 square meters (13,160 sq. yards) of the site, and the school and its adjacent buildings stretch over 2,800 square meters ((3,350 square yards).

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator Back

The complex also contained about 40 tiny sleeping cells for the gladiators; a large bathing area; a training hall with heated floors and assorted administrative buildings. Outside the walls, radar scans show what archeologists believe was a cemetery for those killed during training.

The institute said the training area was where the men's "market value and in end effect their fate" was decided. At the same time, it gave them a small chance for survival, fame, and possibly liberty.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Gladiator Sunset

"If they were successful, they had a chance to advance to 'superstar' status -- and maybe even achieve freedom," said Carnuntum park head Franz Humer.

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology/Archaeological Park Carnuntum

Austria's Underground Ancient Roman Gladiator School

They lived in cells barely big enough to turn around in and usually fought until they died. This was the lot of those at a sensational scientific discovery unveiled Monday: The well-preserved ruins of a gladiator school in Austria.

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