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William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Sat 05 Oct, 2019 4:24 am    Post subject: Gladiator Armour         Reply with quote

I'm interested in what Roman gladiators wore for armour and protection. Are there any good books or there? Did the styles change over time and place? The typical gladiator helmet with the wide brim seems quite universal. I hear there were some rare instances of women fighting as gladiators, does anyone know what they wore?

Also, if gladiator gear was that good why wasn't it adopted by ancient armies? Or was it more to do with style and display rather than practicality and protection?

For where thou art, there is the world itself.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,360

PostPosted: Sat 05 Oct, 2019 6:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, gladiators aren't really my "thing", but there are certainly books out there that will help. There's even an Osprey, though make sure you get the revised edition because apparently the first one was SO bad and full of errors that it raised an uproar from readers, so the publishers had it rewritten... (Which kinda sounds like a new low, as well as a hopeful note, for Ospreys...)

Gladiator armor and styles definitely varied over time, and there was a number of different types. The Murmillo was probably what we'd call the classic style, with a brimmed and crested helmet, greaves, armguard, shield and sword. The Thracian or Thraex was similar, but had a small shield and small curved sword (sica). The retiarius had the net and trident, and his opponent was the secutor, whose helmet had no brim so that the net wouldn't catch on it so easily. But there were a number of other types over time. And yes, there are references to women fighting.

Also remember that the gladiators were only part of "the games", which also included animal hunts, including some dangerous predators just for fun.

Gladiator armor was quite specialized, and not designed for military use. The helmets weighed twice what a battle helmet weighed, and often gave limited vision. No problem for short fights in an arena with single opponents, but not something you'd want to lug all over the Empire and use on an open battlefield. Greaves were certainly worn by army officers and some troops, but I don't know if they were functionally much different from those worn by gladiators, or if the latter were simply more decorated in general. The segmented armguards were used by some legionaries, notably in the Dacian campaigns under Trajan. This is often intrepreted as a reaction to the Dacian falx, but since armguards also show up in places like Britain and Spain, where there was no falx, it's not a very solid theory. More likely it was just an optional extra piece of armor worn by some front-rankers, possibly.

Gladiators also had body armor only rarely, for certain types. While body armor for soldiers usually took second place only to a helmet, with limbs usually left unarmored (since the shield was the main defence), gladiators frequently wore one or two greaves and an armguard, plus the helmet (and a shield for most types but not all), but no cuirass. It's as if they wanted to keep open the possibility of a killing blow, with less chance of a crippling injury to an expensively-trained and maintained entertainer.

Does that get you started?

Matthew
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William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Tue 08 Oct, 2019 2:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Matthew, I was hoping you'd reply as you've helped me so much before with my Roman army enquiries. I'll definitely check out the osprey book. I suppose Deepeeka is the way to go for gladiator helmets? Iirc the protective arm armour was also popular. It would be interesting to hear more about female participation but I suppose that was a rare occurrence. Afaik the Romans looked down upon women fighting as it was a barbarian pastime (Boudicca/Amazons etc) and went against the idea of a male dominated society.
For where thou art, there is the world itself.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,360

PostPosted: Tue 08 Oct, 2019 6:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You're welcome! Yeah, Deepeeka has several gladiator helmets, I think, and while they certainly get the impression across I honestly don't know just how accurate they are. You'll certainly find little problems with fit, sloppy welds, that sort of thing. And they have a couple options on the manica (armguard) and greaves. Indian-made greaves are not famous for fitting well, shall we say, but anything that just straps on the front of the leg is going to be much closer to reality and usability than a full wrap-around Greek style!

Just stay away from the movie props...

Matthew
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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Location: upstate NY
Joined: 10 Nov 2005

Posts: 546

PostPosted: Wed 09 Oct, 2019 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As I understand it, much of the armour worn by gladiators was characteristic of cultures around Rome that had been fought (and conquered) earlier in their history, especially the helmets, though probably modified to make them even more protective, but also making facial identification pretty much impossible. A history prof I know who studies historical fencing and Roman history (especially military) quite a bit says that the torso was the only legitimate target, so injuries to other areas were to be minimized as much as possible. They were fattened up to build up enough of a layer of fat that they could take a very shallow wound, which would bleed nicely and be hard to detect from ringside if executed quickly. Our defeated gladiator could then be carted off, stitched up, allowed to recuperate and then be put back out in a different helmet under another name. He does not deny that fights to the death occurred, but that they were not usual, especially for the greener fighters. This, if true, would have saved the owners a lot of money.
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Ralph Grinly





Joined: 19 Jan 2011

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PostPosted: Wed 09 Oct, 2019 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing most folks ignore - A gladiator was an "ACTOR"..( although a lethal one) , Gladiatorial games were *entertainment* for the crowds. Armour was designed to be flashy and to give some protection to enable the event to continue. The object wasn't to kill the oppanent..just to show mastery over him after a good show. Normally the killing was the audience's decision after one side or the other was unable to continue. Also gladiators were *expensive*..and probably not killed as often as Hollywood have us believe. I suspect more often than not..if both put up a good show,,both would walk out of the arena,
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
Joined: 27 Jul 2009

Posts: 33

PostPosted: Fri 11 Oct, 2019 6:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A recent find from Pompeii, showing the process of appealing for mercy. Note the numerous wounds, which fit the suggestion above about most strikes being superficial and to the torso. Also the plumed helmets.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/11/pompeii-dig-unearths-fighting-fresco-gladiators-tavern#img-1

Anthony Clipsom
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William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2019 3:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for all these replies, there's so much I wasn't aware of. I've had a look at the Osprey Gladiator (2003 edition) and the Spartacus revolt. It seems that many of the gladiator types could trace their way back to Rome's enemies and some shows even glorified their defeat with a reference to Claudius displaying a show about the defeat of the Britons.

I'm trying to find some more info about the helmets and it seems that many of them are in bronze rather than steel. Does anyone know why bronze was so popular? Perhaps it has something to do with the tradition of bronze armour from earlier periods? Tho I'd have thought that with the use of steel by the army that steel helmets would become more popular.

Unfortunately bronze replicas are also expensive...

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William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2019 3:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On second thought brass was also used for Roman army helmets, could brass have been used by gladiators too? Unfortunately most of the articles I've read only mention 'helmet' with no reference to the material. So far the museum helmets British/Paris are bronze.

Then there's this guy:


https://www.thoughtco.com/thmb/etTYqrUvpYQMr1Lf7NBl8X168ts=/813x0/filters:no_upscale():max_bytes(150000):strip_icc():format(webp)/detail-of-a-mosaic-of-battling-gladiators-from-torre-nuova-539574374-5bfeb4c2c9e77c0026a2564f.jpg

Is that a steel helmet?

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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,360

PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2019 9:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I *believe* the remains of at least one iron gladiator helmet has been found, but I don't recall much beyond that. Artwork won't necessarily help because brass and bronze were often tinned or silvered.

Copper alloy helmets were being used by the Roman army right into the 4th century AD, right alongside iron ones. Mostly they were brass by Augustus' reign, but I honestly don't know what analysis has been done on gladiator helmets. Bronze was the common alloy for domestic items, while brass was mainly found in coinage and military gear, so my guess is that gladiator gear would fall into the civilian category. I also have a feeling that copper alloy helmets and armor were an Italian tradition, while iron was more of a Gallic realm, so it doesn't surprise me to see bronze gladiator gear.

BUT, beware of labels! Terms like bronze, brass, and even copper are thrown around with no regard to what alloy was actually used--often no tests have been done on a particular item. When you read "copper alloy", at least you know that we don't know!

Matthew
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