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Incredibly Rare Statue of Female Gladiator Discovered; Second Such Find in History


A female gladiator is apparently a gladiatrix, plural gladiatrices. There, now that I’ve told you that, I’m free to use the word in the rest of this article.

Archaeologists and classicists don’t disagree on whether or not there were female gladiators in ancient Rome. It’s clear from a number of contemporary accounts that there were. Just how rare they were is another question, depictions of them in physical form are very rare, but mentions of them in writing are much more conclusive. There are a number of recorded laws preventing high class women from training as gladiatrices, or banning female gladiatrices outright, opinionated poems calling on high class women to stop playing soldier by learning the fighting arts because no man would want them, and other casual mentions of their existence. The most visual evidence has, up until now, been a carved relief of “Amazon” and “Achillia,” the stage names of two gladiatrices who apparently both fought in heavy armor and received honorable discharges from the arena.

But researchers have recently discovered what may be the second known depiction of a gladiatrix in history.

Here it is in full:

The bronze statue is almost two thousand years old, and Alfonso Manas is confident that it does not depict a female athlete scraping sweat off her body, as was previously thought, but a topless female gladiator, with typical bandages around the knee, and a posture of victory typical to many depictions of gladiators. In fact, the “precise real-life” details of the statue indicate that it may be based on a real person.

That stance is the first clue that Manas took to support his redefinition: certainly an athlete scraping themselves would be bent over, looking at their body or instrument, rather than staring at the ground (possibly at a fallen opponent) and raising their implement in a typical salute to the crowd. The other is the fact that the statue is topless. Female athletes in Roman society performed with both or at least one breast covered, and to depict them that way would have been disrespectful. Depicting a slave or gladiator, however, as toplessness was entirely accepted: they were among the lowest classes in society. According to Live Science, Anna McCullough, gladiatrix expert, is “cautiously optimistic” about Manas’ redefinition of the statue’s subject.

From LiveScience:

“The gesture is far more similar to gestures of victory than it is to any depictions of athletes actually scraping themselves,” McCullough said. “I think it certainly resembles a female gladiator more than (an) athlete, and I’m kind of happy to tentatively say that it is a gladiator in those terms.”

One potential problem, she points out, is the fact that the “gladiator” is portrayed without a helmet, greaves (shin protectors) or other form of armor.

“The reason for this woman being topless might simply be that whoever made it wanted to sort of emphasize the fact that this is a female gladiator and not a male gladiator,” she said, still “for her to be completely without armor is a little bit odd.”

Manas has proposed that the gladiatrix may have been wearing a shield and helmet. The helmet would be removed in statue, so that the feminine features of her face would be visible, and the shield or helmet may also have been lost from the end of the statue’s broken arm. Manas also says that the gladiatrix may have been depicted topless because gladiatrices held erotic significance for Roman men, to which McCullough disagrees. The authors of contemporary descriptions of gladiatrices simply say that “women fought in the arena and they fought very fiercely and we were excited to see them,” without placing any erotic subtext on the fight. She thinks the nudity of the statue is much more likely to be due to the Roman non-issue of depicting the lower classes and slaves as naked than anything else.

(LiveScience via like a billion tipsters.)

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  • Anonymous

    It makes sense there were female gladiators – The Romans put stuff that they felt threatened by in the arena. Scary wild animals, criminals, enemy soldiers, barbarians, forigners, and women that didn’t act like property.

  • Pauline Mulkerrins

    This is amazing. And as usual, I blame the Vatican for such a cover-up! 

  • Frodo Baggins

    Further evidence for the existence of gladiatrices: 
    http://img.poptower.com/pic-2530/american-gladiators.jpg?d=1024

  • Anonymous

    “There are a number of recorded laws preventing high class women from training as gladiatrices, or banning female gladiatrices outright, opinionated poems calling on high class women to stop playing soldier by learning the fighting arts…”
    It’s a shame that there was such a stigma, but this quote indicates that there were “high class woman” not just lower class who were indeed gladiators or at least interested in being one which, at least to me, is an exciting thought.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tamora-Pierce/1209655487 Tamora Pierce

     Upperclass men were also banned from competing in the arena (unless they were emperors, whom no one would dare actually kill, contrary to popular movies).  Romans were very big on natural citizen Romans having more Romans, thus, no gladiatorial games for them.

  • Anonymous

    Hell yeah, learning swordfighting is on my list for this year!

    (I should point out, it already was; but this is egging me on further!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=602813388 Virginia Jolly

    I want to know what she is holding in her left hand. Looks awfully suspicious…

  • http://twitter.com/theEmmers Emily Holley

    Why would the Vatican cover-up female gladiatrices? I am not being sarcastic or anything, I legitimately want to know what they would gain from doing so, I didn’t see them mentioned in the article.

  • Anonymous

    I’d think,  if there were erotic significance to the statue, that the feminine aspects of her body would be emphasized more than they are. Her breasts are small, her waist-hip ratio is small, her pose is asexual. The nudity seems secondary to the story the statue is telling. She’s standing there, not in a jumping-for-joy way but a tired I-won-damnit way; staring down at the defeated as though looking away – to the crowd - isn’t something she’s prepared to do yet. As though she can’t stop looking at what she just did – a man or woman she killed, the possibility that it could easily have been her there on the ground. But holding her weapon up, showing that she is in fact the victor and alive and that victory is hers to own and the crowd’s to acknowledge. 

    The nudity isn’t the focus here. The focus is her face, the way she’s standing, the acts she’s performed and the circumstances surrounding this moment captured in metal. The gentleman saying she’s a sexual object is obviously someone for whom all women are sexual objects, regardless of other surrounding influences. And there’s nothing in this alte date to say the artist was a man, or was attracted to women, is there? Perhaps he was an artist who wanted to capture the subtlety of arena combat. He seems to have done so – this statue is amazing. I love it and want a replica. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Price/506333006 Carol Price

    Greek Women and the Greek Men who were to come to Rome to compete were often wore nothing and they were nude…low status no…Roman did have female gladiators but they were in full armor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Price/506333006 Carol Price

    The sculpture was to honor the Amazon’s win…created by someone in Rome. The raising of the blade was symbolic of victory and The blade is call A sica which was created in Thrace which is modern Bulgaria.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Price/506333006 Carol Price

    If the woman was a runaway slave, Rome would make certain she did not a victory or a sculpture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Price/506333006 Carol Price

    If she was a criminal, she would not have a victory at all, Rome would make certain she was defended or dead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-Price/506333006 Carol Price

    If she was prisoner of war, Rome would be fair and allow her to have a victory and sculpture to honor and to honor her country.