Helmet for a Gladiator
about 1st century C.E.
33 x 36.8 x 57.2 cm (13 x 14 1/2 x 22 1/2 in.); 5 lb 4 oz (weight)
The John Woodman Higgins Collection
Gladiators engaged in mortal combat against human or animal opponents for the entertainment of mass audiences. Such blood sports evolved from sacrificial combats held at funerals; by the height of the Roman Empire, they were conducted in purpose-built colosseums holding up to 50,000 spectators. Gladiators included criminals, prisoners of war, and highly trained volunteers; they often used weapons and armor loosely based on those of Rome's enemies. Certain gladiators became celebrities, having cult followings not unlike today's more flamboyant sports figures.
Gladiatorial games were held by wealthy families to honor their dead. They were also sponsored by ambitious politicians to win public support. Julius Caesar's rise to power was in part based on his masterful manipulation of the Roman public's thirst for ever more imaginative blood sports.
This helmet, one of only three in the Americas, was once brightly polished and ornamented with a tall horsehair crest. It was probably used by a type of gladiator called a hoplomachus. These fighters used arms vaguely reminiscent of the Greek heavy infantryman (hoplite), including leg defenses, a small round shield, spear, and short sword.
Video: Roman Spectacular Blood Sports
Video from Master Series Third Thursday
Roman Spectacular Blood Sports:
Speaker: Donald G Kyle, Professor of History, University of Texas, Arlington
Filmed by WGBH Forum Network.