"Pollice Verso" or 'Thumb Down', painted in 1872 by Jean-Léon Gérôme, is a well known historical painter's researched conception of a gladiatorial combat. The painting, owned by Phoenix Art Museum, shows the gladiator fight as we all know it. The ruler of the day who decides about life and death, simply by using his thumb.
Like chariot racing, contests of gladiators probably originated as funeral games; these contests were much less ancient than races, however. The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome occurred when three pairs of gladiators fought to the death during the funeral of Junius Brutus in 264 BC, though others may have been held earlier. Gladiatorial games, or munera since they were originally "duties" paid to dead ancestors, gradually lost their exclusive connection with the funerals of individuals and became an important part of the public spectacles staged by politicians and emperors. The popularity of gladiatorial games is indicated by the large number of wall paintings and mosaics depicting gladiators. Many household items were decorated with gladiatorial motifs.