The Samnite was an early class of gladiator, quite popular during the period of the Roman Republic. It was inspired by the fighting style of the Samnite tribe of south-central Italy, a long-time enemy of Rome.
Rome and Samnium, the community of Samnite tribes, fought several battles over the course of a few centuries. This made the Samnites enemies of Rome, and their fighting style was co-opted for the arena as a way to mock them. The Samnite style of gladiatorial fighting was very popular for a few hundred years, until Rome became an empire.
During Sulla's civil war for leadership of Rome, the Samnites sided against him due to lingering animosity from his harsh campaigns against them and other Italic tribes during the Social War a few years prior. Sulla, who bore a long-standing hatred toward the Samnites, eventually rose to power and ordered a purge of all his opponents, which led to a genocide against the Samnites. This was at the same time when Lucius Caelius's family was murdered and his lands seized by Sulla's forces. The purges saw the Samnite population nearly eradicated and the few survivors dispersed throughout the republic to be assimilated into Roman culture. Some pockets of Samnites survived, but they would never be the cohesive community they once were.
Decades later, under the reign of Emperor Augustus, the region that had been known as Samnium became part of the Roman Empire (all Italians had by this point gained Roman citizenship). Around this time, the Samnite gladiator fell out of favor, probably because insulting the Samnites was no longer seen as acceptable behavior, and the Samnite was thus replaced by similarly armed gladiators, including the Hoplomachus and the Secutor.
The Samnite is armed with:
- Gladius: Roman short sword.
- Scutum: large shield (rectangular or oval; often in the traditional asymmetrical Samnite shape).
- Greave: leg guard (often only worn on the left leg, as was common for Samnite warriors).
- Plumed Helmet.
In addition to this gear, real Samnite warriors wore a cuirass (the traditional Oscan square or triple-disc pectoral) over the chest and carried a shield which tapered at the bottom and flared at the top, to better protect the chest and shoulders.
In the series, the Samnite reflects this by being the only gladiator type seen to wear body armor, adding:
- Cuirass: Protective breastplate/pectoral.
Although individual gladiators of a single class might fight with widely different gear, in general, the Samnite fought in the gear of a warrior from Samnium: a short sword (Gladius), a rectangular shield (Scutum), a greave (ocrea), and a helmet. The helmet had a crest,a rim, a visor, and a plume (galea); this last element gave "an imposing appearance". The Samnite's greave was worn on the left leg and reached to barely below the knee. It was made of leather and sometimes had a metal rim. He also wore an ankleband on the right ankle. The Samnite's sword arm was protected by an arm guard (manica); this became a common piece of equipment for most gladiators. The sword was the Samnite's most common weapon (the word gladiator comes from the Latin gladius, "sword"), but some seem to have fought with a lance instead.