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2 terracotta figurines of African boxers
Traditional athletic contest in the Greek tradition played a part in the Roman games. According to classical authors, boxing (pugilatus) was considered the most rigorous and dangerous discipline of all. In the Imperial period, no doubt to please a crowd used to armed gladiatorial contest, increasingly hard gloves were used. These regularly led to severe injuries. Though the death of an opponent was not the aim, fights did often end in death. Boxers fought professionally, and if successful could win great prestige and high prize money.
Like modern boxing, fighters could only use their fists, and nothing approaching wrestling or kicking was allowed. However, the fight had no time limit, no division into rounds, and would continue until one of the fighters was knocked out or capitulated. Even when one had been knocked down, the other could continue to punch them on the ground. The boxing glove, or caestus, was made of interwoven leather straps over a leather base. They were often reinforced with leather or metal knuckledusters.
The potter of these figurines has captured the fighting technique of Graeco-Roman boxing well, with an advanced left leg, a leading left fist, and a much more open stance than that adopted by boxers today. The older, balding boxer is staggering back from an upper cut.