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2012 | 34 | 9-28

Article title

Female Gladiators at the Roman Munera: a Fact or a Fantasy?

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The subject of women fighting as gladiators at the Roman arenas is covered with a cloud of neglect. Despite literary evidence and archaeological data, there has been no consensus among the scholars regarding female participation in the gladiatorial games. The fact that women took part in combats functions more often within a sphere of the twentieth century movie fantasy then in the works of academics. The problem has been treated marginally mainly due to scarce evidence, although there are seven ancient writers who provide short excerpts regarding women involved with the munera. Archaeological artefacts, on the other hand, are so far limited to two known examples, the Halicarnassus relief and a statuette from Hamburg. However scanty our information is, the evidence of women-gladiators proves that female fighters did exist and that their popularity was undeniable. It was the attractiveness of watching female gladiatorial combats that elevated the splendour of the regular Roman games. It was also the fascination with women-gladiators which, had a direct impact on high-class Roman women to get actively involved in the munera, which resulted in two decrees forbidding women to take part in arena combats. Having analysed ancient written texts, this paper aims to present the general attitude that the Romans had towards women who were involved with the munera. The main argument focuses on the presentation of an oil lamp with a discus which holds an image of two female gladiators. Careful study of this lamp supports the thesis that women fighting at the arena could take part in both regular combats as well as mock battles and that their presence at the arena, although not quite so regular, was supposed to enhance the glamour of the munera. The paper presents the analysis of the scene with two female gladiators, whom I believe to be performing roles of the Amazons; additionally, it provides a comparison between this image and the iconography of gladiatorial themes on other oil lamps. With new archaeological evidence in mind, the paper further examines reasons for the limitation of archaeological data on female gladiators. The aim of this paper is to prove that the combats between women-gladiators were unique, highly popular and had an immediate impact on the female part of the audience.







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  • The University of Sydney Museums: The Nicholson Museum, NSW 2006, Australia


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Publication order reference


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