ver centuries there have been many theories and speculations defining the presence of females in the gladiator scene. Although most female slaves at the time were forced to hard labor, those that presented violent behavior were seen as the perfect candidates. During 264 BC the first gladiator “games” were introduced to the Romans as a form of entertainment.
Over the years this entertainment, although still very acclaimed, was hit by stagnation as the population (especially wealthy people) wanted something different. That is why female gladiators were introduced to this scene of violence. It is stated in old texts that women gladiators would only appear in special events, keeping the female warriors more exclusive to make them more attractive to the public.
Evidence of Female Gladiators
Something very interesting is that in 200 BC Emperor Septimius Severus enforced a new law that forbade fights between women within the coliseum. This implies that the female gladiators were already fighting within the coliseum for entertainment purposes.
Besides old texts, there had been some physical evidence found in the year 2000 by the London Museum. Archeologists found the burial ground of a gladiator which from the carbon analysis dates back to the first century BC. After some more in-depth analysis, it turns out that the remains are of a female!
As mentioned before in one of my previous articles, the life expectancy of a gladiator was very short, however, the gladiators had a very special place within Roman society.
The same thing was observed with the remains of this female gladiator as she was barely in her late 20s from the analysis. Additionally, her bone structure showed that her body endured a lot of physical training and combat.
Although they were slaves, they were seen as celebrities and by some people even divine warriors with special abilities. This is shown by the various myths going around the society at the time, one of them being that the blood of gladiators had enhanced healing as well as aphrodisiac powers, therefore it was very valuable.
Dio Cassius who was a very popular Roman historian described a particular event where female gladiators were noted by him. When Nero’s (the fifth emperor of Rome also known as Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) mother died he had a big ceremony in her honor where the entertainment was provided by a male as well as female gladiators that would hunt wild animals and fight criminals to death.
Cassius also mentions that female gladiators were quite a big thing in Rome at the time. The fights between female gladiators would only be held during the afternoon or at night, making it the main event presented at the coliseum.
Female gladiators were not commonly mentioned as they were quite a rare sight. Not many women were up for such an intense career and with the nature of the job, only a handful would make it through the so-called “trial period” of a gladiator.
We can see some more prehistoric evidence of female gladiators carved in stone. This implies their importance and once again their exclusivity within the gladiator scene, really making them a remarkable sight as mentioned by many other historians.
The fury of female gladiators
Do not think that just because they are female that these gladiators were not as or even more vicious than male gladiators. In many other writings, female gladiators are presented as being less merciful and a lot more cunning than their male counterparts. Due to their exclusivity, they were even more praised than male gladiators but we can also argue that due to the majority of the public attending such performances being male they found them also attractive.
In a book written by historian John K. Evans entitled War, Women, and Children in Ancient Rome the author acknowledges the existence of female gladiators and mentions the sort of lifestyle they had to endure as women in such difficult conditions, assuming that female gladiators followed the same intense routine of training and dieting as male gladiators.
Another interesting point is that some of these women may have volunteered to become gladiators. It is mentioned in many various texts that whilst most gladiators were slaves, some actually volunteered as they liked the nature of the job and the fame that came with being a gladiator. The same factors could have most probably applied to female gladiators that volunteered.
The corpse that was found buried in 2020 by a female gladiator was in a quite luxurious burial ground for the time. In some cases where gladiators would become very famous and notorious through a prolonged career or simply surviving many battles when their time came, they would be honored with a luxurious burial ground in memory of their sort of fruitful career as gladiators.
This would therefore justify that the corpse found of a female gladiator was of a quite popular gladiator with a good career and probably many kills to bring such honor upon her death. From this, we can speculate that female gladiators were indeed more respected by Roman society rather than male gladiators.
Acknowledging their existence is very important as this is another example of how women are equal to men and that professions are a glove made to size and not sex.