Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile continues to surprise me with interesting claims made as asides during bigger arguments. The following statement appears late in the book:

The great historian Paul Veyne has recently shown that it is a big myth that gladiators were forced labor. Most were volunteers who wanted the chance to become heroes by risking their lives and winning, or, when failing, to show in front of the largest crowd in the world how they were able to die honorably, without cowering—when a gladiator loses the fight the crowd decides whether he should be spared or put to death by the opponent. And spectators did not care for nonvolunteers, as these did not have their soul in the fight.

Is this claim right? Were the majority of Roman Gladiators volunteers?

  • As flagged: Wouldn't this be better off on History?
    – Sklivvz
    Mar 10, 2013 at 15:12
  • @Sklivvz Good question. But I suspect there is a class of contentious claims that would be better dealt with here. Besides, there are many other claims here which might, by the same logic, fit on history, but have done well here.
    – matt_black
    Mar 10, 2013 at 17:31

1 Answer 1


It depends on the time frame involved, and it is generally accepted that initially most of the gladiators that competed were slaves by virtue of being prisoners of war, criminals, or slaves bought for the proposes of being sent a gladiatorial school. However, it is estimated that by the end of the Republic that about half of the gladiators were free men that volunteered, primary for the money and glory involved.

Thus, while the claim might not be entirely accurate, it is possible that at some point there were more volunteers than not; however, over the the history of the gladiatorial games, the volunteers were in the minority.

  • Which period was Paul Veyne writing about?
    – user5341
    Mar 6, 2013 at 19:45
  • @DVK - Not sure, odds are I'd have to try and dig up the original citation to tell for sure.
    – rjzii
    Mar 6, 2013 at 20:06

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