September 2011: The well-preserved ruins of a gladiator school in Austria was mapped out by radar in the Austrian city of Carnuntum. The ruins are part of a city of 50,000 people 28 miles (45 kilometres) 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.
The ruins of the gladiator school remain underground. Officials state the find rivals in its structure, the famous Ludus Magnus, the largest of the gladiatorial training schools in Rome. The Austrian site is 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. They lived in cells barely big enough to turn around in and usually fought until they died.
Digging at the city site began around 1870, but less than one per cent 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. “If one has a major injury then you first do a series of CT scans before you let a surgeon do his work,” explained Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Bolzman Institute for Archaeological Prospecting and Virtual Archaeology. Neubauer stated 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 stated. The same machines have been used at Britain’s Stonehenge and other European archaeological sites. A virtual video presentation of the former Carnuntum gladiator school showed images of the ruins underground shifting into what the complex must have looked like in the third century. It was definitely a school of hard knocks.
“A gladiator school was a mixture of a barracks and a prison, kind of a high-security facility,” stated 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.”
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.
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). Inside, a courtyard was ringed by living quarters and other buildings and contained a round, 19-square meter (23-square yard) training area, a small stadium overlooked by wooden seats and the terrace of the chief trainer.
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 stated 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.”If they were successful, they had a chance to advance to ‘superstar’ status and maybe even achieve freedom,” stated Carnuntum park head Franz Humer.
The gladiator complex is part of a 10-square kilometre (3.9-square mile) site over the former city, an archaeological site now visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. Officials state they had no date set for the start of excavations of the gladiator school, stating experts needed time to settle on a plan that conserves as much as possible.
The archaeological park Carnuntum stated the ruins were “unique in the world in their completeness and dimension.” “(This is) a world sensation, in the true meaning of the word,” stated Lower Austrian provincial Governor Erwin Proell.