Cunning Plan 149.1: a Year 7 lesson on Gladiators

Teaching History journal feature

By Nicholas Flynn, published 4th January 2013

Who were the Gladiators?

This seemingly straightforward question will prompt correspondingly straightforward answers from your mixed-ability Year 7 class, such as ‘they were slaves who fought with swords until one of the men died for the crowd's entertainment', as one of my pupils answered. Scratch the surface, and almost every word in this response proves problematical. Our seemingly ‘straightforward' question turns out to be a winner.

While researching for an enquiry entitled, ‘What can Roman entertainment reveal about Roman society?' I uncovered innumerable permutations of gladiatorial fighters with diverse weapons and armour. I also learned that some became fabulously wealthy, that some were women, and that even some Emperors entered the arena to fight. How was I to get my pupils to see this nuanced reality of gladiators' experience?

The enquiry question was geared at the second-order concept of diversity. I therefore needed my pupils...

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