About Ludus Magnus
The Ludus Magnus was ancient Rome’s largest and most prestigious gladiator training school, built by the Emperor Domitian in the 1st century AD.
Often forgotten and overshadowed, both literally and figuratively by the impressive Colosseum, the Ludus Magnus has a rich history and was only discovered in 1937.
Today, any trip to the Colosseum is not complete without stopping to overlook the remains of the Ludus Magnus, imagining what it would have been like as gladiators trained for the brutal yet popular games.
Ludus Magnus history
Originally built between 81 and 96 AD by Emperor Domitian, it was used as a training school for the gladiators who were to fight in the Colosseum. The Ludus Magnus was one of 4 such ludi that Domitian built to support the Colosseum, and functioned as the leading school in Rome.
Later rebuilt by Emperor Trajan between 98 and 117 AD, the complex was originally made up of a central training arena, a few stands for limited spectators, barracks and storage rooms for equipment. There was also a tunnel that would have run between the underground chambers of the amphitheatre and the training centre, making travel between them speedy for the next round of gladiators.
Romans would have stopped by to watch the gladiators training in a precursor to the spectacle itself next door. However, with the outlawing of gladiatorial games in the 5th century, the school and Colosseum went largely out of use except to house a small cemetery.
Ludus Magnus today
Still visible today are the foundations of the spectator stands, gladiator barracks and one side of the arena itself, attributed to the building period under Trajan. Visitors can view the cells gladiators would have been held in and the water fountains they would have drunk from before and after they trained: only 1 has been restored in the northwest corner.
Peer down into the ruins from the pavement of Via San Giovanni where informative signs will describe the view. Alternately, enjoy a drink at one of the many cafes lining the other side of the complex, giving fantastic views onto the remains of the school.
While you cannot enter the complex, it is possible to walk around all 4 sides and due to its sunken nature, the entirety of the restored ruins is visible from any point. With the Colosseum rising behind the Ludus Magnus, this is the perfect spot to learn about the history of gladiatorial combat and the intense physical training they undertook.
Getting to the Ludus Magnus
The ruins of the Ludus Magnus are easily accessible from Via San Giovanni, running parallel to Via Labicana, the wide roman road that runs from the Colosseum down to Basilica di San Clemente.
The closest public transport stop is Colosseo on the MEB and MEB1 lines, serving buses 51, 75, 85, 87 and 117. Trams 3 and 8 also stop at Labicana, a few minutes in the opposite direction down the Via Labicana.