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Weapons collection (armamentarium)

    Warriors fighting in arenas used to have very varied equipment. In the beginning, when Gladiatorial Games (munus) were only ritual human sacrifices offered at funeral ceremonies, the opposing fighters (bustuarius) used weapons owned by the family of the dead or seized from hostile nations, such as the Etruscans.
   Later on, in the days of the Republic it was usual to present the armament of hostile nations living outside the boundaries of Italia at the Games, partly for educational purposes and partly to introduce novelty to the audience knowing Roman weapons only too well. It was also common to set a warrior wearing the equipment of Roman regular troops against another in foreign armament.
   In the Imperial Era, however, there was much wider variety than that to the weapons used. On the splendid occasions at the amphitheatres warriors wore exquisite masterpieces of silversmiths and blacksmiths. Almost every part of their equipment, but most of all the shields and helmets were ornamented with reliefs and mounted with rare metal. Efficiency often fell victim to looks so many of the weapons and armour shown was beautiful but too heavy and vulnerable at the same time, virtually fit to use only once. Rulers and aristocrats holding Gladiatorial Games tried to outbid each other, coming up with newer and newer ideas concerning the colour, form, material and ornament of the weapons. For example there is an anecdote about Drusus, son of Emperor Tiberius, who was said to have developed a new kind of sword, capable of causing particularly painful wounds, exclusively for gladiatorial purposes. This sword became known as drusus, after the name of its inventor. It is no wonder then that the vast majority of these new weapons sank into oblivion after the first few shows, while others could remain in use for over centuries. It often happened that new weapons were tested in the arena first and then made part of the equipment of legionary soldiers.
   In the early times Romans did not know how to mould iron so weapons for both the gladiators and the army were made of bronze. The technique of smelting and moulding iron was passed down to them only after the conquest of the Etruscan city-states, and they could widen their knowledge of it even further during the second Punic war (218-201 B. C.). At this time the Roman Empire managed to capture the Sardines, Corsica and the Eastern coastline of Hispania accompanied by rich iron ore mines located there. Only from this time on were they able to draw iron on a large scale and make iron weapons and armour for the legions. This was also the time of iron introduced to the arenas. Gold, silver, bronze and copper, however, remained in use as decorative elements all throughout the history of the Games.
   Having over-ornamented equipment, in fact, characterized only those appearing in the arenas of rich cities in Italia. Aristocrats living in far-off provinces of less significance could not afford such splendour to be wasted in the amphitheatres so they equipped their warriors with simpler but more practical armament, which fit the needs of their less well-off audience including mainly soldiers and commoners the best.

Now let us see a detailed list of the weapons and armour of the gladiators.

   Melee weapons (tela)

gladius_k.jpgGLADIUS: This short double sword with Hispanic pattern spread out to the whole of the Empire only after the second Punic war. It had a wide, straight blade with a massive crest forged on it in the full length, fit to thrust and parry better than to cut. Roman privates wore it on the right, hanging from a cross-belt. It being short, they could draw it with their right hand easily. The very name gladiator (swordsman) refers to the fact that at the time of the spreading of the Games, the majority of the warriors used gladiuses. Later on with the differentiation in the armament it belonged mainly to gladiators using body-shields (secutor, myrmillo, hoplomachus), and also to the dimacheris who used two of them. Interestingly enough, wooden swords (rudis or rudius) used for trainings looked exactly the same.

sica_k.jpgSICA: Thracian gladiators were made popular in the arenas by the dictator Cornelius Sulla, so it happened that sicas, the traditional swords of this Balkan nation became widely used. This is a sword best fit to cut, with a blade bended in a blunt angle, usually with a single edge on the inner side. Its centre of gravity was closer to the tip by nature so a heavy pommel was attached to it to balance the sword. It was virtually unfit to thrust but its ability to get behind the shield and cause serious cut wounds there made up for it.

copis_k.jpgFALCATA or. KHOPIS: Originally being the traditional weapons of the Macedon and the Illyrian, this sword had the shape of an asymmetric leaf and was edged only on the inner side again. On the side of the edge usually there was a chain or a plate to protect the hand. Its hilt could be made of bone or iron covered with leather. It was rarely used in the arenas but if so, it was brandished mostly by the Thracian.

acinaces_k.jpgACINACES: A single edged sword of Parthian origins for the cavalry, with an arched blade fit both to thrust and cut. It could take up different shapes from the slender sinuous to the wide Turkish dagger-like. Only the dimacheris brandished them, in couples, of course, but they never become really popular.

hoplita_k.jpgGLADIUS GRAECUS: This classic sword having the shape of a leaf originally belonged to hoplites wearing heavy armament. It was typical in the early days of the Empire used by the bustuarius. Later it grew to be a curiosity in the hands of the hoplomachus.

spatha_k.jpgSPATHA: A long straight sword with single or double edge introduced for close combat use in the Roman army before the gladius. Later it remained in use only with some of the services such as cavalry which used it all throughout the history of the Empire. Similarly to this, it was solely used by gladiators fighting on horseback (equites) in the arenas.

pugio_k.jpgPUGIO: Pugio: A short dagger with a wide blade, fit to thrust mainly. Legionary soldiers carried them as spare weapons and in the amphitheatre it was used for execution by gladiators fighting with polearms (veles, retiarius, laquearius). Occasionally it could take the place of a primary weapon, then both of the adversaries were armed with fist shield (pugnum) and dagger.

Polearms (Tela longa)

hasta_k.jpgHASTA: A lance of 1.8-3 meteres of length, consisting of a metal point attached to a beechen or ashen shaft. On the other end of the shaft usually a metal barb or counterweight was mounted which made the style of the warrior fighting with it more varied and effective. In the early days the Roman army used it as a primary melee weapon, then after the military reform of Marius, however, the heavy javelin (pilum) took over completely and hastas were restricted to arena use by the veles and the laquearius.

trident_k.jpgTRIDENS: The trident is one of the widest known weapons in the arena, used by the retiarius, alongside with the net. A fork-like iron point on one end of the broad wooden shaft, while on the other end there was a counterweight making it weigh 3-4 kilograms the most. It was difficult to use because warriors could only spare one of their hands for it, carrying the net in the other. After casting the net, they could use both hands for tilting and the triple-pointed end made it possible to wrench away the sword or the shield from the enemy`s hand. It was never applied with regular troops because it did not fit mass-use.

pilum_k.jpgPILUM: A heavy military javelin mentioned above, almost 1 metre of spit-like metal point mounted on a wooden shaft 1.5 metres long. There was a wooden peg attached where the point and the shaft met. This peg broke at incidence so the enemy could not throw the javelin back at the legionaries. The use of pilums was demonstrated in the arena as well, only occasionally, though.

VENABULUM: A light javelin for hunting, 1-1.5 metres long with a little iron point at the end. It was usually carried by venators fighting against wild animals and sometimes gladiators driving their horse-drawn chariots (essedarius) against a group of enemies were armed with several of them.

Other melee weapons

RETE or IACULUM: Used by the retiarius, this net was made of strong hemp-rope, with small blades or leaden balance weights attached to the sides to be able to spread out when thrown in the air and cause painful wounds when cast at the enemy. It was woven into a circular shape and there was a stronger thread running round the perimeter so that, once cast and hit the mark, the user could tighten it around the secutor. It was fastened to the fighter`s wrist with a separate thread to make retrieval easier. Iaculum in Latin was an umbrella term for all weapons to be flung at the enemy, such as sweep-nets, lassos, javelins and slings, whereas rete stood for a simple fishing-net.

LAQUESUS MISSILIS: Served as weapon to a special gladiator type, the laquearius. A lasso made of leather or extremely strong rope which the warrior tried to noose round the enemy`s neck or limbs. The laquearius had a great deal nastier job to do than the retiarius even if they had lances as secondary weapons.

ARCUS ET SAGITTAE Bow and arrow, used by the sagittarius fighting on foot or from horse-drawn chariots in the arenas presented as a rare speciality. They used short bows of Parthian origins.

Weapons for defence (Arma)

Shield forms and sizes of the widest variety appeared in the amphitheatres. Some of them were used in the legions as well while others came along as traditional weapons with captured prisoners of war.

scutum_k.jpgSCUTUM: A rectangular wooden body-shield of large size (about 60x90 cms), usually covered with leather or canvas, ornamented with painted motifs. It was given a metallic framework and a great boss of the same material (umbo) put in the middle. Usually gladiators fighting as hoplomachus and secutor used them, although the body-shield used by the myrmillo, similar in size but oval in the shape, was called the same.

parma_k.jpgPARMA: A traditional Thracian round buckler, made of metal or sometimes of wood (about 60 cms in diameter), worn on in the arena after the owner had been captured. In the most pompous Gladiatorial Games they were ornamented with reliefs or painted motifs. Sometimes it happened that Thracian gladiators appeared with rectangular or octagonal wooden bucklers similar to scutums but much smaller in size, still called parmas to our knowledge.

clipeus_k.jpgCLIPEUS: This large wooden body-shield, round or oval in the shape, was used by the regular army before the time of Caius Marius, which means that it must have been the most popular type of shields in the arenas as well until about 100 B.C. Later on it was ruled out by scutums in the armour of the secutor, the hoplomachus and the myrmillo until its use became restricted to the equites fighting from horseback. It also remained in use with the cavalry of the regular army.

PUGNUM: A rarely used weapon for defence. In the middle of this small fist shield (about 30 cms in diameter) forming a hemisphere was often mounted a barb of metal, darting forward. Unlike other shields, it provided greater mobility to the user, however, of course, at the expense of losing much of its defensiveness.


 sisak1_k.jpg sisak3_k.jpg  sisak5_k.jpg  sisak7_k.jpg 
 sisak2_k.jpg  sisak4_k.jpg  sisak6_k.jpg  sisak8_k.jpg

CASSIS: It is an umbrella term for all helmets made of metal. All the gladiator types had their own helmets most fitting their fighting techniques, having developed throughout the years of history (except for, of course, the laquearius and the retiarius who never used to wear helmets). For example the veles and the dimacheris wearing light armour usually had plain helmets, fitting tight to the head. On certain occasions gladiators paraded in the arenas in all types of helmets used by the Roman regular army and conquered nations within and outside the boundaries (limes) of the Empire. It may be fitting to mention some helmet-types which were designed and forged exclusively for amphitheatre use and later on became memorials for the Games. The most widely known two types of them are the helmets of the Thracian and the secutor. They existed in excessively different forms but all of them had distinctive common features.
   The Thracian, the most popular celebrities ever in the arenas, wore the helmets seen in the picture. The helmet always had a brim (margo) running round in a bend with multiple breaking and a tall metallic crest (crista) starting out from the nape, overarching the top of the head. Both of these parts fulfilled a function of defence and distraction as well as improved the looks, which was considered almost of the same importance. The head part and the crest were rich in ornaments and made the warrior an aggressive and fearsome, but at the same time venerable sight. Thracian helmets were prepared with either open or closed visors (os cassis). In their shapes they resembled the helmets of the myrmillo.
   Perhaps the helmets of the secutor are the best examples of the excessive awareness of the enemy`s armour and fighting techniques when designing weapons for defence. This type of helmets lacks all kind of ornamentation, as all protruding parts had to be avoided to prevent the warrior from getting caught by the net of the retiarius. It had a sleek, chamfered surface with a nape plate fitting tight to the back of the neck and a closed visor (os cassis) hanging down below to protect the face and the neck from tilts. The only decorative element which could be found at the top of the head part was a level fish figure referring to the mystic opposition of the retiarius as the fisherman with the net and the secutor standing for the fish.

GALEA: A light helmet made of leather, without a visor, thus protecting only the upper part of the skull. It was used by gladiators wearing light armour because it spared their mobility, the ultimate weapon against warriors with heavy body shields.


MANICA: A brassard resembling a sleeve made of coarse cloth, leather, chain or metal plates or a combination of these, worn on the right or without shields both of the arms. A long plate protruded from the wrist to protect the hand or in some cases the warriors wore separate fencing gloves (digitabulum).

GALERUS: A piece of armour to protect the shoulder, typical of the retiarius and the laquearius, worn on the left. At the upper side there sat a vertical plate bending away from the body to protect the head from flank cuts as these warriors did not wear any helmets at all.

LORICA: A sleeveless leather breast-plate. It was used in the arena only now and then.

ocrea_k.jpgOCREA: Shin-guards made of leather and strengthened with metal plates, or forged entirely of iron upon the Greek example. Gladiators fastened them with leather straps on their left or both legs. Shin-guards used by warriors with body-shields or polearms were shorter and protected the leg only from the ankle to the knee, whereas Thracian shin-guards reached as far as the middle of the thigh, their shields being smaller.

thorax_k.jpgTHORAX: A breast-plate of Greek origins, usually made of bronze. Fitting tight to the trunk its shaping followed the pattern of muscles so it was also called muscle armour. In the Roman regular army these were parts of the armour of the upper rank soldiers but in the arenas they were reserved for special occasions when warriors in heavy armour wore them.

lorica_hamata.jpgTHORAX HAMATA: A chain mail reaching down to the thigh, fastened with a belt at the waist. At the age of the Republic it was regularly used in the army and in the amphitheatre by the widest range of gladiators as well.

cataphractes_k.jpgCATAPHRACTES Originally Parthian or German warriors wore this kind of armour at war. It is a leather armour to which small metal scales are attached close to each other to cover all the surface. Later on Roman soldiers started to use it and it remained the armour for some of the auxiliary troops for centuries. In the amphitheatre it was worn by a special gladiator type, the cataphractarius, covered in scale mail from head to toe, using body-shield and sword.

fasciae_k.jpgFASCIAE: Straps of leather, wound tightly near one another, serving to protect limbs without armour. It was worn on the upper arm, thigh or shin, for instance by the myrmillo, who, apart from their body-shields, had almost no armour at all.

Other equipment and pieces of clothing

cingulum_k.jpgCINGULUM: A wide leather belt, often strengthened with metal plates. Its primary function was to protect the warrior�s belly from being hurt and, at the same time, it was spectacular. Similarly to those found in the equipment of legionary soldiers, cingulums often had studded leather straps hanging from the front to protect the loin.

SUBLIGACULUM: This piece of clothing, typical of slaves in Mediterranean areas, is a loin-cloth made of white canvas. Gladiators appeared in the arenas wearing loin-cloths of the widest variety of colour and ornament.

TUNICA: A shirt-like piece of clothing, only it is sleeveless, hanging down as far as the thigh, fastened with belt at the waist. Warriors wore tunics mostly in the gladiator-training school. In the Northern provinces, however, the climate being much colder, they appeared in tunics also in the arena.

PTERYGES: Taken over from Greek battle equipment, this so-called �battle skirt� was made of leather, usually strengthened with metal plates to protect the warrior�s thighs and waist from every direction.

CALIGA, SOLEA: Regularly gladiators appeared in the arena barefoot, but it happened sometimes, mostly when they wore shin-guards with sharp lower ends which might have hurt their feet, that they were allowed to put on saldals or boots usually used by legionary soldiers in the army.

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