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Did The Roman Gladiators Fight Rhinos & Sharks In Real Life?

Beyond horses — which featured in chariot races in Rome’s Colosseum — the famous arena played host to exotic animals all the time, but they weren’t initially a part of gladiator battles. At first, animal hunts (which were … exactly what they sound like) were popular events that were separate from the gladiator battles, and they actually were big draws in their own right before the Colosseum kicked off its official preceedings in 81 A.D. (A lot of elephants were, unfortunately, slaughtered for sport during that time.) As early as 186 B.C., a Roman general named Marcus Fulvius Nobilor brought big cats like lions and panthers into the mix, which went over swimmingly … so it makes sense that this new tradition escalated from that point on.

It was Emperor Antoninus Pius, who ruled Rome from 138 to 161 A.D., who seriously diversified the animal offerings in the arena, giving gladiators referred to as “venatores” (who also trained the animals they’d go on to kill) the chance to slay lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) as well as rhinos, giraffes, and elephants. (These animals were pretty expensive, so less-pricey options like dogs, stags, bulls, and wild boar were also a part of these games.) So how did the original “Gladiator” bring animals into the mix?

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