July 2020

Funerary relief of a gladiator

Funerary relief of a gladiator (ΜΘ 28158). © Ministry of Culture - AMTh

The relief (inv. no. 28158) was found during the excavations on Konstantinou Melenikou Str., near the eastern wall of ancient Thessaloniki and is dated in the second half of the 2nd c. AD (150-200 AD)

It belongs to the category of the so-called gladiatorial monuments, monuments that have been erected in honour of gladiators and other arena professionals. In this case, the gladiator is depicted frontally, alone, with the weapons on his side, in the so-called "glory" type.

Although not entirely intact, the excellent colour preservation on the surface of the relief carries us to the vivid world of the arena and illuminates details of clothing and equipment that are difficult to distinguish in most stone reliefs.

The gladiator wears a folded loincloth (subligaculum) and a wide belt (balteus) that is wrapped around his waist three times. A padded arm guard (manica) that is attached to the body with a leather strap (telamon) covers his right arm and shoulder. A greave (ocrea) protects his left leg, while on the right a ribbon tied at the knee and the straps of the shoe that leaves the toes free are painted in red. The man holds a short sword (gladius) in front of his chest and rests his left hand on his shield. To the right of the figure, on a high base, is a round helmet with a small neck-guard and two small eyeholes. The features of the gladiator's face are vividly rendered: the large almond-shaped eyes are highlighted in black, while the brown hair is rendered in brown, as well as the short curly beard with the thick moustache.

The defensive and offensive equipment of our gladiator indicate the fighting-style category he belonged to. He is a secutor (meaning ‘chaser, pursuer’). The secutors are heavily-armed gladiators who usually fought against net-fighters (retiarii), agile, fast-moving opponents, who hold a net and a trident.

Few surviving letters of the inscription

Π [- - - - - - - - -] / τ [ῷ ἰδίῳ ἀνδρὶ] / μ [νήμης] / χά [ριν]

allow us to assume that the tombstone was erected by the gladiator’s wife, whose name, like that of the deceased, would refer to the first verses. The relationship between them (τ [ῷ ἰδίῳ ἀνδρὶ]: to her husband) would be mentioned in the next line and the dedication would end up with the typical phrase (μ [νήμης] / χά [ριν]: in the memory of).

This relief, as well as the other gladiatorial monuments (funerary steles and reliefs, sarcophagi, altars etc.) that have been found in Thessaloniki alongside the epigraphic and literary testimonies, shed light on the organization of the gladiatorial games in the city. Extremely expensive, the munera gladiatoria were almost exclusively associated with the imperial cult and were widespread in the 2nd and 3rd c. AD in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.