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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Part II – The life of Gladiatrix

Bronze statue of a female gladiator raising her sword in victory.
So, last time we were introduced to the idea of female gladiators and now we’ve got over the shock, we can start examining them in greater detail.

As I said last time, female gladiators may have fought with lighter equipment, but that doesn’t mean that their equipment was light. In fact it was probably very heavy and therefore our female gladiators, Amazon and Achillia, must have had some training.

But where? No ludus or gladiator school had facilities for women. It’s possible that ex-gladiators trained their daughters at home if they had no sons, but this is a very specific set of circumstances which doesn’t correlate with the number of female gladiators.

An alternative lies in the collegia invenum. These were youth societies for young aristocratic males which would have had all the appropriate training equipment.

This solution becomes even more palpable when it is considered that most female gladiators were wealthy ladies drawn in by the fame and glamour of the arena. The law of 22B.C (and several subsequent laws) appears to have done little to stop them competing. Indeed, the fact that such laws had to be rewritten and reintroduced several times over implies that they were constantly flouted.

It’s unlikely that there were many, if any, slave female fighters as it’s hard to imagine a female slave being sold to a ludus when there were other more ‘feminine’ options readily available. Therefore, most female gladiators were probably wealthy ladies and wealthy ladies were a common sight in the collegia.

So, that answers the questions of who they were and where they trained, but how many of them were there and how were they viewed?

There are a few preserved programmes of the games which mention female fighters and an inscription at Ostia highly praises its organiser for displaying them. In most cases the women were scheduled to fight in the late afternoon, otherwise known as the Roman ‘top spot’.

Placing them in this position suggests a measure of popularity. The Romans were great fans of novelty and probably hugely enjoyed the spectacle of female fighters.

This is, of course, only the common opinion. Wealthy authors have a great deal to say on the scandalous nature of female fighters. But then, they have a great deal to say on the scandalous nature of male gladiators too and yet the games remained immensely popular.

The surviving programmes coupled with scattered literary mentions also provide clues as to how many there were. The short answer is; few enough to be considered an unusual and spectacular event, but not so few that any appearance of them warranted a lengthy treatise on the genius of the organiser.

So, in summary, there were probably a fair few, they probably trained in the collegia invenum, were reasonably popular, and were mostly wealthy women.

Emma P.


Coleman, C. (2000) ‘Missio at Halicarnassus’ Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 100, 487-5000

Kyle, D. (2007) Sport and spectacle in the ancient word. Oxford.

Murray, S. (2003) ‘Female gladiators of the ancient Roman world’, Journal of Combative Sport, (Electronic journals: http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_murray_0703.htm)

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