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Marble relief with female gladiators
According to several contemporary eye-witnesses, women also performed in the arena. According to the biographer Suetonius, the emperor Domitian (reigned AD 81-96) made women fight by torchlight at night.
This marble relief was carved on the occasion of the missio (honourable release) of two women fighters, 'Amazon' and 'Achilia', who had probably earned their freedom by giving a series of outstanding performances. They are shown with the same equipment as male gladiators, but without helmets.
Women made up a part of the audience as well, though they did have to sit separately from men in the top rows at the back.
The satirist Juvenal (Saturae 6, 110 ff.) describes the amorous feelings of a lady called Eppia for a fighting hero. His many wounds did not trouble her, for after all he was a gladiator. The satirist adds: 'What these women love is the sword.' The excavators of the gladiatorial school in Pompeii found a richly adorned woman, obviously of high social status, among the gladiators. Had the eruption of Vesuvius brought a clandestine love affair to a terrible end?