Gladiatrices (Female Gladiators)

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Gladiatrices (Female Gladiators)

Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sun Apr 01, 2007 2:15 pm

After some discussions with Marius I decided to bring up several topics dealing with gladiators; firstly because I do gladiatorial reenactment for nearly two years, secondly because I had attended this February an International Conference on Amphitheaters in Chester, GB.

I opened this topic because it is a widely discussed issue on other Roman fora and due to my research I have gained quite some information on female gladiators, so I'll copy here posts I have made on Roman Army Talk where I'm registered under my arena name Medusa.
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sun Apr 01, 2007 2:22 pm

Stephen Brunet did in his article "Female and Dwarf Gladiators" Museion XLVIII - Series III, Vol 4, 2004 a classification of evidence of female gladiators as follows:

1. Historical References
Cassius Dio (61.17.3-4) and Tacitus (Ann. 15.32.3) both report that Nero induced women of highest rank to appear in the arena, but not only noble women but also men of the senatorial and equestrian rank. It is not clear if they refer to the games in 59 upon Agrippina’s death or to the year 63. But it seems to have been only one occasion where Nero made upper class women become gladiators.

Martial Sp.6 and 6B and Cassius Dio 66.25.2 mention female venatores at the inauguration games of the Colosseum. Dio praises Titus that the Emperor did not use high class women in this spectacle.

Suetonius Dom. 4.1, Statius Silv. 1.6 and Cassius Dio 67.8.4 testify that Domitian used women for his shows. Statius referring to only one definite occasion while the other two remain vague about the number of shows.

CIL xiv 5381 & 4616 mentions the duumvir of Ostia being the first one to offer the people of Ostia a gladiatorial show involving women. Since in the inscription the word mulieres instead of femina is used we can assume that they were not of high status.

2. Fictional Accounts
In Petronius 45.7 Echion describes that a rather shabby show became a crowd-pleaser because of the appearance of female essedarii.

Juvenal 1.22-23 is about a venatrix named Mevia who has the habit of killing Tuscan boars and holding spears in her right hand with her breast uncovered.

Juvenal 6.246-267 is about Roman matrons practicing wrestling and playing at being gladiators going through their gladiatorial training in full armor and heavy helmet. This is not about them appearing in the arena though.

3. Legal Measures
The notice in Athenaeus (4.154a) mentions a man whose will required that the most beautiful female slaves in his household had to fight as Gladiators although in the end this provision was not implemented because the people forbade it as being contrary to law.

The Senatus Consultum of AD 19 from Larinum forbids the appearance on stage of members of the senatorial and equestrian orders and their participation in certain activities concerning gladiatorial combats. This contemplates that women of the upper class might potentially appear in the arena but it does not prove that they actually did and that it was a comman problem.

Hadrian banned the sale of a slave or maidservant to a pimp or a lanista unless the owner gave a reason for doing so (SHA Hadr. 18.8-9). We can assume that female gladiators came from the same sources as male gladiators, i.e. volunteers but most often by some sort of purchase.

Septimius Severus banned performances by women (Cassius Dio 75.16.1).

4. Artistic Evidence
Here we have only one definite depiction, i.e. the famous relief from Halicarnassos which can be found today at the British Museum showing the two female gladiators Amazone and Achillia who fought so bravely that they got a draw (stantes missio).

It is not clear if the funerary relief from Maastricht shows two female gladiators or if the defeated essedarius is just shown in a womanly manner with his knees together and legs turned in to express his inferiority.

For those of you who know Dutch here's the link:
http://www.ljongma.dds.nl/nl/dossiers/gladiats.html

According to Marcus Junkelmann who did a vast research on gladiators the relief shows two male essedarii, there are no breasts or anything else seen which would imply that they could be women.
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sun Apr 01, 2007 2:24 pm

Tacitus, Annales 15.32.3:
[32] Eodem anno Caesar nationes Alpium maritimarum in ius Latii transtulit. equitum Romanorum locos sedilibus plebis anteposuit apud circum; namque ad eam diem indiscreti inibant, quia lex Roscia nihil nisi de quattuordecim ordinibus sanxit. spectacula gladiatorum idem annus habuit pari magnificentia ac priora; sed feminarum inlustrium senatorumque plures per arenam foedati sunt.

[15.32] That same year the emperor put into possession of the Latin franchise the tribes of the maritime Alps. To the Roman knights he assigned places in the circus in front of the seats of the people, for up to that time they used to enter in a promiscuous throng, as the Roscian law extended only to fourteen rows in the theatre. The same year witnessed shows of gladiators as magnificent as those of the past. Many ladies of distinction, however, and senators, disgraced themselves by appearing in the amphitheatre.

Iuvenalis, Satura 6 246-264
endromidas Tyrias et femineum ceroma
quis nescit, uel quis non uidit uulnera pali,
quem cauat adsiduis rudibus scutoque lacessit
atque omnis implet numeros dignissima prorsus
Florali matrona tuba, nisi si quid in illo 250
pectore plus agitat ueraeque paratur harenae?
quem praestare potest mulier galeata pudorem,
quae fugit a sexu? uires amat. haec tamen ipsa
uir nollet fieri; nam quantula nostra uoluptas!
quale decus, rerum si coniugis auctio fiat, 255
balteus et manicae et cristae crurisque sinistri
dimidium tegimen! uel si diuersa mouebit
proelia, tu felix ocreas uendente puella.
hae sunt quae tenui sudant in cyclade, quarum
delicias et panniculus bombycinus urit. 260
aspice quo fremitu monstratos perferat ictus
et quanto galeae curuetur pondere, quanta
poplitibus sedeat quam denso fascia libro,
et ride positis scaphium cum sumitur armis.


Who has not seen the dummies of wood they slash at and batter
Whether with swords or with spears, going through all the manoeuvres?
These are the girls who blast on the trumpets in honour of Flora.
Or, it may be they have deeper designs, and are really preparing
For the arena itself. How can a woman be decent
Sticking her head in a helmet, denying the sex she was born with?
Manly feats they adore, but they wouldn’t want to be men,
Poor weak things (they think), how little they really enjoy it!
What a great honour it is for a husband to see, at an auction
Where his wife’s effects are up for sale, belts, shin-guards,
Arm-protectors and plumes!
Hear her grunt and groan as she works at it, parrying, thrusting;
See her neck bent down under the weight of her helmet.
Look at the rolls of bandage and tape, so her legs look like tree-trunks,
Then have a laugh for yourself, after the practice is over,
Armour and weapons put down, and she squats as she used the vessel.
Ah, degenerate girls from the line of our praetors and consuls,
Tell us, whom have you seen got up in any such fashion,
Panting and sweating like this? No gladiator’s wench,
No tough strip-tease broad would ever so much as attempt it.

Cassius Dio, 66.25.1
25 Most that he did was not characterized by anything noteworthy, but in dedicating the hunting-theatre and the baths that bear his name he produced many remarkable spectacles. There was a battle between cranes and also between four elephants; animals both tame and wild were slain to the number of nine thousand; and women (not those of any prominence, however) took part in despatching them.

Cassius Dio, 76.16.1
16 There took place also during those days a gymnastic contest, at which so great a multitude of athletes assembled, under compulsion, that we wondered how the course could contain them all. And in this contest women took part, vying with one another most fiercely, with the result that jokes were made about other very distinguished women as well. Therefore it was henceforth forbidden for any woman, no matter what her origin, to fight in single combat.

CIL xiv 5381 & 4616;
from MEFRA 88 (1976), pp.612-620; very fragmentary inscription.
.... Hostilianus .... duumvir, quaestor of the treasury of Ostia, flamen by decree of the city council, curator of the Youth Games .... who first of all since the foundation of the city [gave?] games with .... and gave women to the sword (?). Together with Sabina his wife he made this for himself and ....

A Senatus Consultum of the Year 11 CE states: freeborn men under 25 years and freeborn women under 20 years are not to allowed to appear in the arena.

A Senatus Consultum of the Year 19 CE from Lavinium superceds the previous one: There are additional punishments to the infamia for men and women of the senatorial and equestrian rank should they appear as gladiators.
Cleopatra Aelia
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Sun Apr 01, 2007 2:25 pm

With the aid of Harvard professor Kathleen Coleman whom I met at the Amphitheater Conference in Chester I became hold of the highly interesting article by Stephen Brunet „Female and Dwarf Gladiaors“ (Mouseion XLVIII – Series III, Vol. 4, 2004). I’d like to give you a short summary on his conclusion:

The misconception that women gladiators fought against dwarfs is derived from six passages mentioned by ancient authors. But when having a closer look at what they are writing it says that Emperor Domitian liked to have spectacular games and therefore had munera at torch light and women and dwarfs appearing at his shows. But they were never pitched against each other but only appeared at the same occasion.

Martial Sp. 6B and 6 mentions that Titus had female venatores for his inauguration games of the Colosseum. Suetonius Dom. 4.1 mentions that Domitian held hunts and gladiatorial contests of which some took place at night and some included not just men but also women. Statius mentions in Silvae 1.6 that “women and dwarfs appeared at the same spectacle. As one of the central events female gladiators appeared some time before nightfall and fought with such virtue and spirit that the audience thought it was watching a battle involving amazons.” Brunet interprets the appearance of dwarfs as boxers and that they provided a lighthearted relief to the preceeding bloody display of female gladiators fighting bravely as amazons. Cassius Dio 67.8 also mentions that Domitian liked to hold nighttime games using dwarfs and women.

Combats of female gladiators were a serious undertaking allowing the women to show the courage normally expected only of men, but the ancient authors point out the outstanding martial valor of women gladiators. Amazons wee traditionally the only women able to match men in bravery on the battlefield and this was represented by female gladiators. Matching women against dwarfs would not allow them to demonstrate their real skill with weapons, in fights between gladiators both opponents should have an equal chance. This was also a reason why women weren’t matched against men either because then the chances would have been to the disadvantage of the woman. Therefore women were matched only against other women, or when talking about venatores, against animals such as boars.
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Re: Gladiatrices (Female Gladiators)

Postby Nephele on Wed Apr 15, 2009 1:57 am

A first-class article, Medusa. I have a question: What were some of the "stage names" that gladiatrices used? I remember reading somewhere about one or two names, and I see you mentioned a venatrix named "Mevia." But were there many names of gladiatrices that were recorded in history, that you might know of?

-- Nephele
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Re: Gladiatrices (Female Gladiators)

Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Wed Apr 15, 2009 6:32 pm

The only two names of gladiatrices (a venatrix is a beast fighter hence something different) are Amazone and Achillia, the names attested to the two women shown on the Halicarnassos relief. I didn't want to have as an arenaname a recorded name since there are only two women's names recorded so I had chosen Medusa from the Greek mythology as was very common among gladiators.
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