Slaughtered in the arena by tigers, or killed by a hammer blow from a fellow fighter, they died to entertain bloodthirsty crowds. Such a savage spectacle is mostly associated with ancient Rome, but historians believe they have uncovered an entire cemetery of gladiators in the North of England.
The 2,000-year-old remains of almost 80 young men, mutilated by horrific injuries, were found by archaeologists as they excavated a residential area of York.
Excavation: Kurt Hunter-Mann, right, a field officer at York Archaeological Trust, examines a skeleton unearthed at a site in York
Buried: The site may be part of the world’s only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery
Their discovery initially baffled experts, who believed the men could have been the victims of a mass execution.
But a team of archaeologists and Waking The Dead-style forensic scientists believe they have solved the mystery.
They claim the men’s injuriesÂ -Â including many decapitations and an apparent tiger bite to one skeleton – suggest they were gladiators who met a bloody end.
The Channel 4 documentary aims to recreate the world of the gladiator in Roman Britain
Like the fighters depicted by Russell Crowe in the hit film Gladiator, they were expected to fight to the death.
Some skeletons showed healed injuries from weapons, and one had suffered a large bite mark which matched the size of a lion or tiger’s incisor tooth.
All the individuals are described as robust and tall. Their skeletons show signs they were heavily muscled from weapons training.
Blood sport: Romans brought gladiator fighting to Britain almost 2,000 years ago
Discovery: Historians believe gladiators used to fight in the north of England
Forensic anthropology lecturer Dr Michael Wysocki said: ‘The presence of bite marks is one of the strongest pieces of evidence suggesting an arena connection. It would seem highly unlikely this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago.’
The team’s research is to be shown in a Channel 4 documentary, which aims to recreate the world of the gladiator in Roman Britain.
Historians believe the excavation is the world’s only well-preserved gladiator cemetery.
Roman Britain: Historians believe men in the north of England would fight in gladiator-style battles, like those depicted by Russell Crowe, left, in the film Gladiator
Romans brought gladiator fighting to Britain almost 2,000 years ago, and built arenas and amphitheatres in important Roman cities including London and Chester.
The remains in York date from the end of the first century AD to the 4th century, when Roman power broke down in Britain.
Kurt Hunter-Mann, of York Archaeological Trust, said the men had suffered many injuries, including hammer blows to the headÂ -Â a known method for a gladiator to dispatch an opponent.
Gladiator cemetery: Forensic Anthropologist Dr Michael Wysocki examines bones unearthed at a site in York
Gladiators ready! A skull unearthed at a site in York, featured in the Channel 4 documentary
Analysis of their bones has shown they came from every corner of the Empire, including Africa and the Mediterranean, suggesting the Romans imported skilled fighters.
Many were buried with honours which researchers believe shows they had built fearsome reputations. The skeleton of one fighter, aged between 18 and 23, was found with the remains of four horses, and some cow and pig bones.