History of gladiatorial gamesOriginsEarly literary sources seldom agree on the origins of gladiators and the gladiator games. In the late 1st century BC, Nicolaus of Damascus believed they were Etruscan. A generation later, Livy wrote that they were first held in 310 BC by the Campanians in celebration of their victory over the Samnites. Long after the games had ceased, the 7th century AD writer Isidore of Seville derived Latin lanista (manager of gladiators) from the Etruscan word for "executioner," and the title of Charon (an official who accompanied the dead from the Roman gladiatorial arena) from Charun, psychopomp of the Etruscan underworld. Roman historians emphasized the gladiator games as a foreign import, most likely
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The enemy, besides their other warlike preparation, had made their battle-line to glitter with new and splendid arms. There were two corps: the shields of the one were inlaid with gold, of the other with silver...The Romans had already heard of these splendid accoutrements, but their generals had taught them that a soldier should be rough to look on, not adorned with gold and silver but putting his trust in iron and in courage...The Dictator, as decreed by the senate, celebrated a triumph, in which by far the finest show was afforded by the captured armour. So the Romans made use of the splendid armour of their enemies to do honour to their gods; while the Campanians, in consequence of their pride and in hatred of the Samnites, equipped after this fashion the gladiators who furnished them entertainment at their feasts, and bestowed on them the name Samnites. (Livy 9.40)
Livy's account skirts the funereal, sacrificial function of early Roman gladiator combats and underlines the later theatrical ethos of the gladiator show: splendidly, exotically armed and armoured barbarians, treacherous and degenerate, are dominated by Roman iron and native courage. His plain Romans virtuously dedicate the magnificent spoils of war to the Gods.