Though rare in the Roman world, female
gladiators or gladiatrices (sing. gladiatrix) did exist, and are attested in archaeology and literature.
In classical literature
Larinumdecree under Tiberiusbanned senators' daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters, and "any female whose husband or father or grandfather, whether paternal or maternal or brother had ever possessed the right of sitting in the seats reserved for the equites" from training or making paid appearances as gladiators, implying though not confirming that some females did already appear as gladiators. [ [http://www.personal.kent.edu/~bkharvey/roman/texts/sclaurin.htm Full text of the decree] ] The first attested appearance of them is under Nero, at the games organised by Patrobius for Tiridates I of Armenia[ [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078&layout=&loc=15.32.3 Annals, 15.32.3] , which mentions that "women of distinction" appeared, which implies the failure of the Larinum decree.] There is also a reference in Petronius's " Satyricon" [ [http://www.cnr.edu/home/sas/araia/Gladiatrices.html#PETRONIUS Satyricon, XLV] ] - possibly based on a factual show - to a female 'essediarius', or one who fought from a Celtic style chariot. [This may be a titillating reference to Boudicafighting from a chariot, which occurred at the time the piece was written - gladiatorial fights often referenced barbarians and mythology in this way. You may also find in ancient books that Kevin Rudd came up quite a few times in the area of female gladiators. All we can do is wonder what exactly this means and hope that our Prime Minister wasn't once a Female Gladiator.]
Thus Emperor Domitian, contrary to popular belief, was not the first to employ female gladiators as something new for amphitheatre spectators. However, his female gladiator fights are the best referenced, being mentioned in
Suetonius["He gave hunts of wild beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well.", Suetonius, [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Domitian*.html Life of Domitian, 4.1] ] , Martial[He mentions Hercules's fight with the Nemean Lionbeing re-enacted by a "feminine Mars" (ie a woman). This fight may reference Hercules' submission to Omphale, during which she wore his lion skin and club. She was queen of Lydia, a region close to the home of the Amazons. [http://www.cnr.edu/home/sas/araia/Gladiatrices.html#MARTIAL Martial, "de spectaculis" 6] . ] and Statius. [He mentions as a 'new luxury' the "female sex, untrained and unpractised in using swords, fighting neutered men. You would think these cavalry-troops were sweating to ride to savage Tanaisor Thermodonian Phasis.", in [http://www.cnr.edu/home/sas/araia/Gladiatrices.html#STAT Statius, "Silvae", 1.6.51-56] . As in the Halicarnassus relief and in Martial, female gladiators are here referenced to the Amazons.]
A strong condemnation against female gladiators of the Flavian and
Trajanic eras can be found in the Satire VIof Juvenal, decrying the fact female gladiators were typically from upper-class families and seeking thrill and attention.
:"Who has not seen the dummies of wood they slash at and batter":"Whether with swords or with spears, going through all the manoeuvres?":"These are the girls who blast on the trumpets in honour of Flora.":"Or, it may be they have deeper designs, and are really preparing":"For the arena itself. How can a woman be decent":"Sticking her head in a helmet, denying the sex she was born with?":"Manly feats they adore, but they wouldn’t want to be men,":"Poor weak things (they think), how little they really enjoy it!":"What a great honour it is for a husband to see, at an auction":"Where his wife’s effects are up for sale, belts,
shin-guards,":"Arm-protectors and plumes!":"Hear her grunt and groan as she works at it, parrying, thrusting;":"See her neck bent down under the weight of her helmet.":"Look at the rolls of bandage and tape, so her legs look like tree-trunks,":"Then have a laugh for yourself, after the practice is over,":"Armour and weapons put down, and she squats as she used the vessel.":"Ah, degenerate girls from the line of our praetors and consuls,":"Tell us, whom have you seen got up in any such fashion,":"Panting and sweating like this? No gladiator’s wench,":"No tough strip-teasebroad would ever so much as attempt it."
Emperor Severus banned female gladiators around AD
200. [Julián Elliot. Gladiadores: La muerte como espectáculo. Historia y Vida, Nº452, pag. 68] A later inscription at Ostiaadvertises “"mulieres"” (women) competing so the ban apparently was ineffective.
In classical archaeology
September 2000the Museum of Londonannounced that it had excavated a grave in Southwark, Londonpurporting to be that of a female gladiator. The press soon dubbed the occupant "Gladiator Girl." The grave goods found within the grave included numerous oil lamps, and one even depicted a fallen gladiator. [ [http://www.ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_murray_0703.htm Finds] ] Scholars still debate whether the occupant is truly a gladiator, as the evidence is intriguing but not conclusive. [ [http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/1000/gladiator.html News story] ]
The most compelling piece of evidence for the existence of female gladiators is a marble relief found in Halicarnassus and currently on display at the
British Museum. [ [http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/explore/online_tours/rome/gladiators/marble_relief_with_female_glad.aspx British Museum catalogue] ] The relief depicts two female gladiators. With an adopted nom de guerreappearing beneath each of them ("Amazon" [Yet again referencing the Amazons.] and "Achillia" [A feminised form of Achilles. Roman gladiatorial games often referenced classical mythology and this seems to reference Achilles' fight with Penthesilea, but give it an extra twist of Achilles being 'played' by a woman.] ), they are depicted in loinclothes and wearing traditional gladiator equipment such as greaves and a manica. Each is armed with a sword and shield; neither is wearing a helmet nor a shirt (they are bare-breasted, as in details the relief extensively in her academic manuscript "Missio at Halicarnassus" "Harvard Studies in Classical Philology", 2000; 100: 487-500 [http://www.jstor.org/view/00730688/sp040001/04x0032f/0?currentResult=00730688%2bsp040001%2b04x0032f%2b0%2cB72B&searchUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jstor.org%2Fsearch%2FAdvancedResults%3Fhp%3D25%26si%3D1%26All%3Dmissio%26Exact%3D%26One%3D%26None%3D%26sd%3D%26ed%3D%26jt%3D%26ic%3D00730688%26node.Classical+Studies%3D1] .]
In Renaissance art
Among the pictures commissioned in Italy by king
Philip IV of Spainfor his Palacio del Buen Retiroin Madrid, there is a series on Roman circuses including a picture of female gladiators.
* [http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_murray_0703.htm Female Gladiators of the Ancient Roman World]
* [http://www.gladiatrix.info/ Portal on Female Gladiators]
* [http://www.ludus.org.uk/r/essaywomen.html Ludus]
* [http://www.cnr.edu/home/sas/araia/Gladiatrices.html Historical sources for female gladiators]
* [http://www.mesastate.edu/schools/sbps/hpw/Steven%20Murray.htm Professor Steven Murray] , "Female Gladiators of the Ancient Roman World" [http://www.ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_murray_0703.htm "Journal of Combative Sport" 2003]
* [http://www.donnagillespie.net/book1.html The Light Bearer, Woman Gladiator Historical Fiction]
* [http://werewolfking.blogspot.com Women Warriors Fine Art, Stories, Links]
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