I was writing a story about gladiators and wanted a word to describe what gladiators do (besides fighting), as in the phrase "X isn't just...". Arena fighting sounds too long and gladiation, which was the other option I came up with, doesn't sound like a word, even for a neologism. Preferably it should capture the fact that it took place in Ancient Rome.

Proof this isn't a duplicate

  • @Robusto: I dunno. The UK popular press today often seem to be obsessed with what professional footballers get up to what they're not footballing. May 23, 2015 at 11:41
  • We would need to see the second half of your sentence.
    – TimR
    May 23, 2015 at 11:41
  • @FumbleFingers: Same with American footballers, I suppose. OK, I retract my comment.
    – Robusto
    May 23, 2015 at 11:44
  • @Robusto: Aw, Dang! Now my slick aside (we don't even have a proper word for what footballers do) is orphanned! May 23, 2015 at 11:48
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    The obvious choice, I think, would be die. May 24, 2015 at 1:26

7 Answers 7


Gladiators gladiate. Yes, it is a word and it is mentioned as a back-formation from gladiator in Wiktionary. It is a noun-to-verb derivation, originally from the Latin noun gladiator ("swordsman"), from gladius ("sword"). (However, it is also used in botany and means "sword-shaped").

Gladiation is also in Wiktionary and defined as a combat between gladiators. These derivations don't appear in most authoritative dictionaries but they are used as a neologism.

We no longer go to the Colosseum to watch gladiators gladiate each other into oblivion. We haven't since Constantine the Great made such contests illegal in A.D. 325.

Why Michael Couldn't Hit, and Other Tales of the Neurology of Sports By Harold L. Klawans

If you want a common word, you can consider swordfight. (It is also related to the origin of gladiator: gladius "sword").

You didn't prefer long phrases but another option is gladiatorial fight which is the most precise term.

  • 7
    Dang, I was going to make up this word as a joke and add it as a comment. +1 to you, sir.
    – JeffSahol
    May 23, 2015 at 16:20
  • Gladiators gladiating sounds like humor to me.
    – Dronz
    May 23, 2015 at 16:54
  • @Dronz: It can be if you want.
    – ermanen
    May 23, 2015 at 17:01
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    A swordfight is not accurate. Although gladiator is derived from gladius, a short sword, various gladiators used a net/trident combination (retiarus), a lasso/dagger combination (laquearius), spears (velites and venator), dagger (arbelus), bow and arrow from horseback (saggitarius), and even a mailed boxing glove (cestus) May 23, 2015 at 19:46
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    Thanks to this answer I realized that the flower Gladiolus has the same origin as gladiator, since it is sword-shaped.
    – ccpizza
    May 24, 2015 at 19:48

Combat seems good:


1 Fighting between armed forces:


1.1 archaic Engage in a fight with; oppose in battle:

The combat of gladiators in the colosseum satisfied the blood lust of Romans.

From Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

This severe reformer shews no more indulgence to a tragedy of Euripides, than to a combat of gladiators

From Dunford's Rome: The Mini Rough Guide:

Gladiatorial combat as a Roman tradition was a direct import from the Etruscans, who thought it seemly to sacrifice a few prisoners of war or slaves at the funeral games of an important person.

Since combat is of Latin origin, it seems particularly approptiate:

combat (n.)

1560s, from Middle French combat (16c.),
from combattre
(see combat (v.)).

1560s, from Middle French combat (16c.),
from Old French combattre (12c.),
from Late Latin combattere,
from Latin com- "with" (each other) (see com-) + battuere "to beat, fight"
(see batter (v.)).

"strike repeatedly, beat violently and rapidly," early 14c.,
from Old French batre "to beat, strike" (11c., Modern French battre "to beat, to strike"),
from Latin battuere "to beat, strike," an old word in Latin, but almost certainly borrowed from Gaulish,
from PIE root * bhau- "to strike"
(cognates: Welsh bathu "beat;" Old English beadu "battle," beatan "to beat," bytl "hammer, mallet").

Wikipedia uses the word combat in reference to the activity of gladiators:

In the earliest munera, death was considered the proper outcome of combat. [Emphasis added]

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    I suppose one might suggest "duelling". On the one hand, Roman gladiatorial fights were one-on-one, not melees; on the other, you'd need context making it clear that we aren't talking "ten paces turn and fire" or Heidelberg sabre scars. I reckon the metaphorical usage of duelling is pretty standard, though.
    – David Pugh
    May 23, 2015 at 14:43
  • 1
    Suggest using as 'gladiatorial combat' or 'mortal combat' May 23, 2015 at 14:55
  • 1
    @DavidPugh Duelling can definitely be with swords. However Roman gladiators also did group combats.
    – Dronz
    May 23, 2015 at 16:52
  • @Dronz: mea culpa, I was thinking about the days when they had twofers of sword versus net. In what period did they do group combats? Still not melees like the medieval tournaments (real, not Ivanhoe)?
    – David Pugh
    May 23, 2015 at 17:20
  • @DavidPugh I'd have to search to see if I can find a first group combat date, but I think it was early or even from the start. They were different from medieval tourneys in that those were mostly non-lethal sport for knights, as opposed to public entertainment mostly by a gladiator class, captives and slaves, and in that they were arranged matches. While some high-status Romans chose to enter the arena (even some emperors!), they tended to do so in matches with very good odds. There were also recreations of histoic and mythic battles in the arena, even naval battle...
    – Dronz
    May 23, 2015 at 17:45

What about "compete" or "perform"?

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    Welcome to the ELU :-). Those are good suggestions, but how about some references to corroborate them? ;-)
    – Lucky
    May 24, 2015 at 19:45

verb 1. take part in a violent struggle involving the exchange of physical blows or the use of weapons.

  • Perfectly straight forward and correct answer.
    – dwjohnston
    May 25, 2015 at 0:33

The best single-word summary that comes to mind of what gladiators do would be

2. the savage killing of a person

TFD Online

  • Good answer, but not quite what I was looking for. Thanks anyway. (and I'll upvote when I can)
    – timuzhti
    May 23, 2015 at 12:30
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    Slaughter implies a one-sided act. If a gladiator slaughters someone, it wasn't much of a fight.
    – Dronz
    May 23, 2015 at 16:53
  • @Dronz: The end result is the same. It's the savagery that counts.
    – Robusto
    May 23, 2015 at 17:45

arena combat (a noun phrase, not a single word, sorry)

  • No problem, I handed in my assignment already anyway. :)
    – timuzhti
    May 24, 2015 at 12:59
  • @Alpha3031 "Are you not entertained?"
    – smci
    May 24, 2015 at 14:43
  • If you wanted to turn this into a verb, you could say something like 'perform arena combat'.
    – dwjohnston
    May 25, 2015 at 0:33
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    @dwjohnston: sure, but it's less clunky to just say "Being a gladiator isn't just arena combat"
    – smci
    May 25, 2015 at 2:36

Assuming the goal was to kill the other contestants ("In the earliest munera, death was considered the proper outcome of combat." - Wikipedia), the term deathmatch, common in video gaming, seems to fit:

Normally the goal of a deathmatch [or Free-For-All] game is to kill ... as many other players as possible until a certain condition or limit is reached - Wikipedia

(admittedly using a term coined in the 1990s to describe an activity popular in the 0000s would be an anachronism, but then so is using any English)

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