Vivid depictions of gladiators fighting on a clay vase are the first concrete evidence that these fighters took it in Roman Britain, according to new research.
The vase, known as the Colchester vase, is well known to researchers. it was discovered in a Roman-era tomb in Britain in 1853 and holds the cremated remains of an individual. However, nothing was known about the deceased and it was unclear whether the vase had been made in the region or in continental Europe, where gladiatorial contests were known to entertain audiences in Roman Empire.
A subsequent study, however, revealed that the vessel was made with local clay as a memento of a specific match in the 2nd century AD, giving researchers unprecedented insight into sporting events on the outskirts of the empire.
Related: Bloodied, defeated gladiator drips mud in gruesome fresco uncovered in Pompeii
The town of Colchester, where the vase was found, is located in southeast England, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from London. In Roman times, it was known as Camulodunum (opens in new tab) and had three theatres, as well as Britain’s only chariot track. By the second century AD, Camulodunum was a large city with a thriving pottery industry.
Standing 9 inches (23 cm) tall and weighing over 2.2 pounds (1 kg), the Colchester vase depicts three gladiatorial scenes with three types of combatants: human-human, human-animal, and animal-animal. In one scene, the “bestiarii” (beast fighters), named Secundus and Mario, fight a bear, while in another, Memnon and Valentine fight as “secutor” (hunter) and “retiarius” (net man). , a match that put a bone. a lightly armored man against one with trident and net, as a metaphor for the fisherman and his prey. Valentine is described as being in the 30th legion, which was in northwest Germany, and Memnon is marked with the Roman numerals VIII, meaning he fought and survived nine times.
Due to the complexity of the decoration, it has long been thought that the vase it could not be done in Britain (opens in new tab). However, a growing body of evidence for the pottery industry in Colchester allowed the research team to identify the vessel as a local vessel dating from AD 160-200.
Close examination of the inscription, previously thought to have been created after the vessel was fired, “shows that it was done when the clay was soft, after the decoration had been applied.” John Pierce (opens in new tab)research team member and senior lecturer in archeology at King’s College London, told Live Science in an email.
The vase was probably created as a type of commemorative cup that was later reused as a funerary altar.
The detailed reproduction of the gladiator scenes on the Colchester vase reflects “the selection of a key moment in the process,” Pearce said. “The inscription helps make this a distinct memento and likely echoes the kind of hype that characterized the build-up to the fight, such as placards paraded with fighter names.”
Scientific analysis of the cremated bones revealed that they are the remains of a robust man who was over 40 years old when he died. His teeth indicated that he did not come from Colchester but rather from the south west of England or possibly the British Isles. But he was not one of the gladiators mentioned on the jar. “We don’t think there’s a serious case for making the remains an artist,” Pearce said.
Steven Tuck (opens in new tab)professor of history and classics at Miami University in Ohio who was not involved in this study, told Live Science in an email that “the cremated person could have been a fan of gladiators in general or a particular gladiator.”
The use of gladiator vase as an urn, however, may suggest an even more personal connection. “I think it’s more likely that it was connected to this event in some way,” Tuck said. “Since we know some of the trainers were former gladiators themselves, it could easily have been a retired gladiator still participating in the spectacle.”
With its gladiator themes and local clay, the Colchester pottery is a remarkable example of Roman-style games taking place in a distant part of the empire. Given the lack of written accounts of events like these in Britain, the Colchester pottery provides compelling evidence that gladiatorial contests took place there and that people took souvenirs of their adventures.
“Finding evidence that gladiatorial combat probably took place here in Colchester 2,000 years ago is incredibly exciting,” said the Colchester councillor. Pam Cox (opens in new tab) he said in a statement. “We are grateful to all the researchers who helped uncover this and other secrets from the jar.”
Colchester pottery will be featured in one exhibition about gladiators (opens in new tab) at Colchester Castle from 15 July.