This quintessential Roman past-time strikingly encapsulates the key facets of Roman civilization: hierarchy, nepotism and the experience of war. Given its “Romanness” it is not surprising that munera were ubiquitous in Roman society. They were present in literature, art, graffiti, letters, household objects and children’s games.1 As the gladiatorial games were such an important institution in Roman society, they are inevitably a well-studied topic but, as a review of the contemporary and ancient literature will demonstrate, several significant aspects of the games remain unsatisfactorily addressed. Why did the Roman elite burden themselves with importing exotic animals and foreign captives to the amphitheatres of the empire, only to have them destroyed? Why did professional gladiators mimic the costumes and fighting styles of Rome’s enemies? What was the link between the games and war? This article postulates that the Roman elite sought to recreate the atmosphere and experience of imperialism within the amphitheatres in Rome and across the empire. In a time of poor communication and transportation, the gladiatorial games allowed the state to demonstrate its power and to stimulate excitement for war and imperialism.