Gladiator figurine of bone or ivory

Gladiator figurine

Height: 7.000 cm

Gift of Pelham R. Papillon

P&EE 1899 10-10 1

This figurine depicts a gladiator of the heavily-armed murmillo class. He is armed with a large visored helmet, a short sword, a curved rectangular shield, metal greaves to protect his legs, and a padded guard on his sword arm. Appropriately, a scene of gladiatorial combat is carved on the shield.

As is clear from this figure, not all of a gladiator's body was well protected. The head, face and throat were rendered almost invulnerable by the large metal helmet, and the legs and arms protected in different ways by wrappings of leather or quilted linen, or metal greaves. However, with the exception of the mounted equites, all categories of gladiator exposed their naked chests. The only piece of clothing was an elaborately draped loincloth (subligaculum), held in place by a broad belt.

The baring of their torsos demonstrated a readiness to die that was central to the gladiatorial system. If they had been entirely unprotected, the fight would either have been very brief and bloody, or cautious and boring. The juxtaposition of armed and unarmed parts of the body ensured that the gladiators had to use their swords and shields with a certain amount of skill. The erotic effect of contrasting muscular flesh and shiny armour must also have been stimulating to the crowd.

On display: Room 49: Roman Britain