Gladiators received money for each victory. A laurel crown was given for outstanding performance. The winner always saluted the public. The greatest prize was a permanent discharge from the obligation to fight. As a symbol of this award, the gladiator was given a wooden sword. Criminals could earn their freedom if they survived more than three years of combat.
Killing a defeated gladiator required a specific ritual. The loser, with one knee on the ground, grasped the thigh of the winner. The victor held the helmet or head of his rival and plunged his sword into his neck or cut his throat. The gladiator was not allowed to ask for mercy or scream when he was killed. All this respected a code of discipline. When a gladiator was defeated and mortally wounded he was executed in a private place and not in front of the public.
The winners and defeated exited the arena through different gates. Victors left through the Porta Triumphalis and losers through the Porta Sanavivari. A special ritual took place after a gladiator was killed. Two attendants impersonating Charon (the god of the dead) and Mercury (messenger to the gods) came near the body. Charon stroked it with a mallet and Hermes verified if the gladiator was really dead putting a hot poker on the body. After the body was taken from the arena through the Libitinarian, attendants spread a fresh layer of sand to soak up the blood.
The gladiator's body was then taken to a nearby morgue. To ensure he was truly dead, officials slit the fighter's throat. Most of the gladiators lived less than 30 years in a time when 50 percent of Roman citizens died, from all causes, before age 25.