The Death of a Gladiator - the Spoliarium
A gladiator could be killed by another gladiator or, in the case of the animal fighters, by a wild beast. Badly wounded , but still living gladiators (these were the noxii, who had been sentenced to death in the arena), would receive a fatal blow to the head with a massive hammer inflicted by a man dressed like Charon, the Ferryman of the Underworld. The bodies of the noxii gladiators would then be dragged from the arena sometimes by hooks in their heels, to make this chore easier. Their dead bodies were dragged through the Gate of Death called the Porta Libitinensis, This name derives from Libitina who was the goddess of funerals. The corpses of the gladiators were then taken to the Spoliarium.
The Death of Trained and Free Gladiators - Auctorati and the Veterani
Some Roman citizens, often those in debt, sold themselves into gladiator schools for money. These free gladiators were called auctorati. There were also experienced and trained gladiators, referred to as veterani (veteranus), who were extremely valuable assets. The auctorati and the veterani were therefore treated completely differently to the noxii. A wounded veterani or auctorati would be afforded some dignity and care and would be carried from the arena on a stretcher. Only backstage would someone check if a veterani or auctorati gladiator was really dead.
Once a gladiators body reached the Spoliarium it was stripped of weapons and armor. These valuable items were returned to to the dead gladiatorís lanista (trainer and owner) or to the Armamentarium. The Armamentarium would have been located near the Spoliarium and this was where the gladiator's arms and weapons were stored. No writers of the Roman period has actually documented the full horror of the Spoliarium. One can only guess at the terrible scenes were dead bodies must have been piled up surrounded by the stench and blood from the dead bodies. Dead animals were also disposed of via the Spoliarium.
The Spoliarium - What happened to the dead bodies?
No one can know for sure. Certainly many of the dead animals would have been sold to butchers of Rome and sold to the people of Rome or used to feed live animals which were to be shown in the Colosseum. But what happened to the dead bodies of the gladiators? It has been said that Romans believed that the blood of a dead gladiator had healing properties and could give greater sexual vigor. There is also the terrible possibility that their bodies were also fed to the animals (to give wild animals the taste for human flesh). Another method of disposal would be for the gladiators to be thrown into mass graves or into the River Tiber. The bodies of the veterani gladiators might be reclaimed and given a proper burial.
Excavations at Ephesus (in modern day Turkey)
Excavations at Ephesus in modern day Turkey have uncovered a gladiator's cemetery where a body would be laid in a sarcophagus that rested on the ground. The cemetery was discovered by accident in 1993. Epitaphs were very basic but occasionally detailed the fights a gladiator had won.