|The Gladiatrix in History|
|“Domitian presented many extravagant entertainments in the Colosseum and the Circus. Besides the usual two-horse chariot races, he staged a couple of battles, one for infantry, the other for cavalry; a sea-fight in the amphitheatre; wild-beast hunts; gladiatorial shows by torchlight in which women as well as men took part.”|
That women fought in the arenas of the Roman Empire is irrefutable. Several ancient writers make tantalising reference to the gladiatrix in their commentaries, but detailed accounts so rare as to be non-existent.
The reason for this, in part, is that women were largely unimportant in the male dominated Roman society; certainly, the intelligencia of the day must have felt duty bound to mention female participation in the arena, but the sparse references are indicative of the sexual politics at the time.
Ironically, the lengthiest classical reference to the gladiatrix is a scathing attack on such women by Juvenal:
“Who has not seen the dummies of wood they
slash at and batter
|“Who has not seen
the dummies of wood they slash at and batter
Whether with swords or with spears, going through all the moves?
These are the girls who blast on 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 her 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 great honour it is for a husband to see, at an auction
Where his wife's effects are up for sale, belts, greaves,
Manica 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 are put down, and she squats as she uses the vessel.
Ah, degenerate girls of 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 gladiators wench,
No tough stip-tease broad would ever so much as attempt it."