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Part of the Zliten mosaic from Libya (Leptis Magna), about 2nd century AD.

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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.

High status non-Romans, and possibly Romans too, volunteered as his gladiators.

The context of the Punic Wars and Rome's near-disastrous defeat at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC) link these early games to munificence, the celebration of military victory and the religious expiation of military disaster; these munera appear to serve a morale-raising agenda in an era of military threat and expansion.

The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate.

There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BC, and thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life in the Roman world.

Their Campanian allies stage a dinner entertainment using gladiators who may not be Samnites, but play the Samnite role.

Other groups and tribes would join the cast list as Roman territories expanded.

The Paestum frescoes may represent the continuation of a much older tradition, acquired or inherited from Greek colonists of the 8th century BC.

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