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Three bronze strigils with scenes from the Roman Circus


Length: 25.000 cm (approx.)

Bequeathed by Sir William Temple

GR 1856.12-26.889-891 (Bronze 865)

Room 70: Roman Empire

    Three bronze strigils with scenes from the Roman Circus

    Roman, about AD 50-100
    From Torre Annunziata, Campania, Italy

    Part of a Roman sportsman's kit

    These three strigils or cleaning blades would have hung from a ring (part of which still survives attached to one of the strigils). Together with an aryballos (oil-flask) and a sponge, they probably formed a portable set for the athlete to take to sport sessions. Before exercising or competing, athletes applied oil to their bodies to keep the dirt out of the pores of the skin and perhaps also to avoid sunburn. Afterwards a strigil was used to scrape off the accumulated oil, dirt, and sand from the sports ground. Strigils are often of different sizes and shapes to suit different parts of the body. The action of the strigil probably had a beneficial toning effect.

    This set of strigils is decorated with scenes from the Roman Circus, where chariot-races took place that attracted huge crowds. The scenes were stamped into the metal and inlaid with silver, and show a variety of aspects of the Circus. On one side is an altar with festoons and seven eggs on top, referring to dedications made by those competing; then follows a biga (a two-horse chariot) driven by a charioteer with a cap and holding a stick; and finally three pyramid-shaped markers on a plinth denoting the end of the spina, the barrier down the middle of the course. On the other side are similar markers, a circular domed temple, an altar with a group of the goddess Cybele and a lion, an obelisk and another altar.

    This prestigious set must have belonged to a successful or at least a wealthy sportsman, with a keen interest in chariot-racing or perhaps himself a winning charioteer.

    E. Köhne and C. Ewigleben (eds.), Gladiators and Caesars: the po (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)

    J. Swaddling, The ancient Olympic Games, 3rd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 2004)


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