There were female gladiators in ancient Rome.

  • Roman Colosseum
Roman Colosseum
Christine_Kohler/ iStock

If you learned everything you know about gladiators from a certain Ridley Scott movie, there’s a lot left to discover about the ancient Roman blood sport. Most compelling, perhaps, is the fact that there were female gladiators. Details of their exploits are scant compared to those of their male counterparts, but scholars and historians agree that gladiatrices had their share of glory in the arena. Though most came from lower classes, including enslaved women, some middle- and upper-class women also took up the sword and sandal, despite their lifestyle being frowned upon by Roman society, where they had far fewer freedoms than men and were defined in relation to them.

As for why women of means would choose to enter the arena, the University of Michigan’s David S. Potter offers this timeless explanation to “It’s exciting. It’s different. It pisses off their parents.” Though these female fights were relatively rare and mostly presented as novelty acts, literary and archaeological evidence suggests that a select few women received as much reverence as the men did. The most famous example is a bust depicting two gladiatrices using the stage names Amazon and Achillia, who fought to a noble draw — proving what we do in life really does echo in eternity.

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