The Gladiatrix in History
Amazon and Achillia

Aside from the commentaries of ancient writers, the most enduring evidence of the gladiatrix is a stele found in Halicanarssus during the nineteenth century.

“(It details) two gladiatrices facing each other in a fighting stance, and they are heavily armed with these oblong curved shields. The left-hand gladiatrix is wearing an arm guard (manica), which is composed of wrappings of leather around the length of the arm. She’s also got a short sword, and so has the right-hand gladiatrix.

Remarkably, the breast is showing that this protagonist is clearly female. Unfortunately there is damage at breast height on the right-and figure. The figure on the left has a very feminine hairstyle with a braid around the forehead and a bun at the nape of the neck. But the inscription at the bottom tells us incontrovertibly that these are both women because they are named Amazon and Achillia, the feminine form of the name Achilles, the name of one of the great Greek heroes. Amazon of course is the word for an Amazon in Greek.”

Kathleen Coleman, Harvard

Inscribed above the combatants is the Greek word “apelythesan,” referring to their honourable retirement from the arena. From this, we can garner that “Amazon” and “Achillia” (these were almost certainly stage names) were not autocrati, but slaves who had won their freedom by excellence in the arena. It was not unheard of for the sponsor of the games to bestow freedom on gladiators if they had preformed exceptionally well; more often than not this gesture was made in response to calls from the crowd, with whom the invariably aristocratic sponsors wished to remain popular.

Aside from the bared breasts of the gladiatrices (which was probably done to ensure titillation for the largely male audience of the games), their attire does not differ greatly from their male counterparts. Interestingly, their helmets are resting on the ground near their feet. Kathleen Coleman, a Harvard Professor and Classicist offers an explanation.

“You can see the crown, the brim, the visor and the neck guard, and these are presumably the helmets worn by the two women and they have taken them off. The question is: Why? One of the things that signifies either the admission of defeat or at least the admission of having reached a stalemate is to remove part of one’s armour, either the shield or very commonly the helmet.

You will notice that the helmets are resting the right way up, and they have obviously not fallen off, and they symbolise for the illiterate view the admission of a stalemate, which generates the result of a reprieve for both combatants. These women are being depicted as full scale, paid up gladiators.”