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Gladiator Revolt

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"I'm Spartacus!"

A staple of Sword and Sandal and Lost World stories, the hero is captured and forced into the gladiatorial pits as a slave. He will be trained as gladiator (giving him a justification for becoming a badass warrior if he was not one already). He will win numerous bouts, becoming a favourite of the fans and winning the respect of his fellow gladiators. He will then incite his fellow gladiators to rise up and break out of the slave pits, leaving the hero at the head of a ready-made army of highly trained warriors with which to overthrow the Evil Overlord who condemned him to the pits.

Subtrope of Gladiator Games as well as Slave Liberation. The main alternative for captive heroes is in a Slave Galley.


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    Comic Books 
  • The real-life revolt of Spartacus and his fellow gladiators is told in a flashback in Alix: Le Fils de Spartacus.
  • In Fantastic Four #91-93, the robot gladiator Torgo leads a gladiator revolt on the Skrull controlled planet of Kral, after the Fantastic Four arrives to rescue the captive Thing from the gladiator pits.
  • The Planet Hulk storyline.
  • Barbarian Hero Sláine from 2000 AD orchestrated a revolt amongst the Cythron's human gladiators.
  • Mongul once captured Superman and forced him into Gladiator Games. Superman became champion and eventually defeated Mongul.
  • In Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #159, the magical gem the Star of Cathay causes Jimmy to travel back in time and relive one of his past lives; that of Spartacus. Naturally, he leads a gladiator revolt which is crushed by a young Julius Caesar (and historical accuracy be damned).
  • Grand finale of the Suske en Wiske album Het Geheim van de Gladiatoren.
  • In the IDW Transformers Generation 1 continuity, Megatron began as a successful gladiator who recruited the greatest gladiators on Cybertron to revolt against their oppressors.
    • It's a recurring theme in Generation 1; he also led such a revolt in the Dreamwave comics, and the original cartoon has an unsuccessful gladiator revolt against the Quintessons in the Transformers' early history.
  • The Warlord: Early in his career, Morgan is captured and spends time as an enslaved gladiator. He earns his title leading his fellow gladiators to freedom.

    Comic Strips 
  • Modesty Blaise does it in the "Those About to Die..." arc, where an insane millionaire kidnaps Modesty, Willie and other elite athletes and warriors and is forcing them to compete in a Deadly Game.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Dornian Heresy, Angron's backstory as the leader of one of these is almost how it is in the canon Warhammer 40,000 universe. However, Horus Lupercal was able to convince the Emperor that teleporting Angron to his flagship and leaving his comrades to be slaughtered would only make Angron resent his father. Instead, the Emperor and the Luna Wolves supported Angron's revolt, making the slavers flee instead of fighting.
  • Star Wars fic Gladiatorial Jedi. Luke is captured and forced to fight, and a woman who befriends him helps him and the rest of the prisoners fight back.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Gladiator: After sold into slavery in the arena, Maximus attempts to lead his fellow gladiators and those in the army still loyal to him in rebellion against the emperor.
  • Spartacus which is, of course, based on the real life version of the Spartacus revolt. (Downer Ending included, if you consider Spartacus et al to be the good guys.)
  • The Sakaar portion of Thor: Ragnarok adapts some of Planet Hulk's storyline. Hulk is initially content to keep working off his rage as the grand champion, but Thor manages to convince him to join a revolt that's been brewing for a while but lacked the muscle the heroes provide.


  • Subverted in the Alien Chronicles novels. Ampris uses her fame, traveling and combat experience as a gladiator to lay the foundations for the Abiru Freedom Network, but her fellow gladiators never find out about her activities or go on to play any role in the rebellion. By the time the Freedom Network is in a position to make a difference in the third book, Ampris is no longer a gladiator and her old team doesn't make any appearance in the story.
  • Bazil Broketail: At the end of the first book, the characters are being held as prisoners in Tummuz Orgmeen where they're made to fight enemy soldiers. When their side wins (not without losses) against all odds, the city authorities give them the chance to join their side. After they refuse, they're ordered killed and attacked, but manage to fight out of the arena, sparking a slave revolt and eventually winning.
  • The Spartacus incident also happens in The Death of Kings, the second of Conn Iggulden's Emperor series. In this case, since Julius Caesar is the protagonist, it's a more upbeat ending than that of Spartacus.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Gods of Mars, John Carter charges into the arena when women are threatened with great apes, and another prisoner leaps to join him, shouting they should all come, and they do.
    • In Chessman Of Mars: the hero infiltrates the game of the title, where the pieces are living swordsmen, and fights; he wins and leads a revolt.
  • Gor has this a few times.
  • The Hunger Games, especially the third book, could be seen as a post-apocalyptic version of this, with Katniss and other Hunger Games winners becoming major figures in the rebellion.
  • The Kregen Planetary Romance novels by Alan Burt Akers do this a few times. It's a staple of the genre.
  • Thrall's backstory in Lord of the Clans, explaining his martial skills.
  • Happens in The Nevernight Chronicle after Leona tries to sell most of her Gladiators to stay afloat.
  • In Rakuin No Monshou, Orba discovers a revolt being planned for a major festival where the gladiators intend to kill the Emperor and the nobility. Unknown to the gladiators, their backer is a noble who plans to seize power during the chaos before killing the rebels. Orba blackmails the gladiators into obeying him and uses the failed revolt to expose the noble.
  • Tarzan stages one in the novel Tarzan and the Lost Empire.
  • The Telnarian Histories by John Norman. The setting of the novels is a galactic realm closely parallel to the later history of the Roman Empire and its wars with Germanic barbarians. The ruling family of the empire is human, but extraterrestrials exist, while individuals pursue destinies of freedom and slavery. As such, gladiator revolts play a significant role.
  • Tennis Shoes Adventure Series: Harry starts one in The Sacred Quest, when he rescues Marcos and Gidgiddonihah.
  • In E. E. "Doc" Smith's Triplanetary, the last significant attempt to save Roman civilization was a Gladiator Revolt — and failed utterly.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Grey Knights novel Hammer of Daemons, Alaric and a fellow captive Grey Knight are forced in fight in Gladiator Games to celebrate the putting down of a Gladiator Revolt. The other Grey Knight dies. To avenge his friend, Alaric instigates another gladiator revolt as part of instigating a full blown Enemy Civil War, thereby destroying an entire Khorne Daemon World and sabotaging a Black Crusade. Do not annoy Alaric!

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happened in an episode of Angel where the titular hero was captured and put into demon gladiator fights. Angel eventually breaks out and leads a gladiator revolt. Unfortunately, after the successful revolt, when the demons are freed and walking into the Los Angeles night, one of his human teammates questions if they just loosed a dozen bloodthirsty and deadly demons onto the streets of LA.
  • Much the same plot occurred on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, except Herc deliberately got himself captured in the hope of rescuing one of the gladiators.
  • Rome. When Titus Pullo is sentenced to death in the arena, Pullo instead goes on a rampage and kills several of the gladiators. His friend Lucius Vorenus, stuck in a dilemma To Be Lawful or Good for his friend, eventually decides to stand with him.
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand follow the life of Spartacus, the gladiator who lead a rebellion against the Romans. From his time as an ally of the Romans, to his betrayal and becoming a gladiator, to the rebellion he leads and its ultimate outcome.
  • "The Gamesters of Triskelion" from the original Star Trek. In the episode, Captain Kirk and his companions are abducted into slavery and trained to fight as gladiators for the gambling entertainment of three disembodied beings. Kirk winds up fighting for the freedom of all the enslaved thralls.

  • "Trial of Champions" by 3 Inches of Blood was inspired by the Fighting Fantasy game book of the same name, and features a similar plot in which an enslaved gladiator fights his way to victory, and ultimately kills the emperor.
  • The plot to "Warrior" is this but with Masked Luchador wrestlers and Kimbra being held captive as the singer for a mariachi band.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The first module for Dark Sun featured this. North of the Tablelands lie a string of cities made up of ex-slaves.
  • Forms part of the history for the city of Cartago in the Lands of Mystery supplement for the Justice, Inc. roleplaying game.
  • The backstory of Angron, primarch of the World Eaters, in Warhammer 40,000. He grew up in the gladiator arenas of a barbaric planet and eventually led his fellow slaves to escape to the mountains. When the Emperor arrived to give Angron command of his Space Marine legion, the primarch refused, choosing to die with his brothers-in-arms, who were facing annihilation at the hands of a massive coalition. The Emperor ignored this and teleported Angron away in time to watch his comrades get slaughtered, and though the primarch would agree to lead the World Eaters, there were repercussions later.

    Video Games 

  • Gurral the Smasher: The main character, Gurral, was genetically engineered by the alien Arena Lords to be the ultimate gladiator monster and blackmailed into fighting to sate his addiction to the mineral Impervium, but grows tired of fighting for them and eventually rebels, escaping to Earth.

    Western Animation 
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: With a little help from Hiccup and the others, the captured dragons are freed and proceed to attack their jailers and their audience in "Stryke Out".
  • Justice League's "War World" put Superman on Mongul's titular War World. He rose to become champion, beat Mongul on interdimensional TV and overthrew his rule.
  • Samurai Jack: In "Episode XVI: Jack and the Smackback", Jack is captured and thrown into a battle area, where he must fight numerous champions in order to survive the Dome of Doom.
  • Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea. Spartakus (as might be guessed from his name) is an ex-gladiator who escaped slavery following a revolt.

    Real Life 
  • The Spartacus rebellion is the Trope Maker.
    • And, amazingly for a modern reader, the only known example of a gladiator revolt that lasted longer than one day. That's right, folks: armed, desperate, relatively freely moving professional fighters did nothing worse than occasionally grumble over bad food.
      • And Spartacus celebrated several of his victories by holding gladiator games... which makes him a very strange freedom fighter.
      • It's worth noting that while gladiators are taught how to fight, they are not taught how to be part of an army. Gladiator rebellions would look more like a rampaging horde than real rampaging hordes. Individually, they were likely very good fighters, but they only rarely knew how to set up a good formation or enforce discipline in the ranks, let alone apply tactics on the scale of a battle or even have an actual chain of command. "Successful" gladiator rebellions were generally done with the intent of getting better conditions, and largely consisted of holding a rich man hostage until he agreed to grease the wheels to get them what they wanted.
      • Whether or not Spartacus could qualify as a freedom fighter is a matter of considerable debate among historians, given that his motivations are entirely unknown and we're left with nothing but the speculation of Roman historians who were projecting their own societal fears and cultural biases onto the rebellion, and modern historians trying to gleam intent from Spartacus' rather baffling troop movements (which aren't consistent between the various roman historians). While popular culture and folk lore remembers Spartacus as a freedom fighter, if one with a taste for Pay Evil unto Evil, there's as much or more evidence that he was simply trying to get the hell out of Italy, or worse, that he was simply a warlord who escaped slavery to Rape, Pillage, and Burn. Whatever the case, considerable Values Dissonance applies.


Kargath Bladefist

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