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By 174 BC, "small" Roman munera (private or public), provided by an editor of relatively low importance, may have been so commonplace and unremarkable they were not considered worth recording: Many gladiatorial games were given in that year, some unimportant, one noteworthy beyond the rest — that of Titus Flamininus which he gave to commemorate the death of his father, which lasted four days, and was accompanied by a public distribution of meats, a banquet, and scenic performances.

The climax of the show which was big for the time was that in three days seventy four gladiators fought. Where traditional ludi had been dedicated to a deity, such as Jupiter, the munera could be dedicated to an aristocratic sponsor's divine or heroic ancestor.

Its popularity led to its use in ever more lavish and costly games.

The gladiator games lasted for nearly a thousand years, reaching their peak between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD.

This is described as a munus (plural: munera), a commemorative duty owed the manes of a dead ancestor by his descendants.

The development of the munus and its gladiator types was most strongly influenced by Samnium's support for Hannibal and the subsequent punitive expeditions against the Samnites by Rome and her Campanian allies; the earliest and most frequently mentioned type was the Samnite.

In 105 BC, the ruling consuls offered Rome its first taste of state-sponsored "barbarian combat" demonstrated by gladiators from Capua, as part of a training program for the military. Gladiator games offered their sponsors extravagantly expensive but effective opportunities for self-promotion, and gave their clients and potential voters exciting entertainment at little or no cost to themselves.

Gladiators became big business for trainers and owners, for politicians on the make and those who had reached the top and wished to stay there.The games finally declined during the early 5th century after the adoption of Christianity as state church of the Roman Empire in 380, although beast hunts (venationes) continued into the 6th century.Long after the games had ceased, the 7th century AD writer Isidore of Seville derived Latin lanista (manager of gladiators) from the Etruscan word for "executioner," and the title of Charon (an official who accompanied the dead from the Roman gladiatorial arena) from Charun, psychopomp of the Etruscan underworld.Tomb frescoes from the Campanian city of Paestum (4th century BC) show paired fighters, with helmets, spears and shields, in a propitiatory funeral blood-rite that anticipates early Roman gladiator games.Compared to these images, supporting evidence from Etruscan tomb-paintings is tentative and late.The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate.

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