For more than 650 years gladiatorial contests were held in those parts of the world ruled by Rome, and thousands of men and women were killed in combat or by animals for the entertainment of the people.
Fights to the death between gladiators seem to have begun as rituals at funerals in Italy. By the second century BC they had become public displays, often organised by politicians looking for votes. Under the Empire people came to expect magnificent spectacles. One show given by the Emperor Trajan lasted for 117 days, with nearly 5000 pairs of gladiators.
Gladiatorial shows usually opened with wild animal hunts and fights. Criminals and also Christians who refused to swear allegiance to the Emperor were often condemned to be killed by animals in the arena. Other events were also staged; successful boxers were almost as popular as famous gladiators. Eventually the cost in lives and money together with objections from the Christian church led to the abolition of gladiatorial contests in about AD 400.