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"It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago."
June 9, 2010 10:32 AM   Subscribe

One arm was bigger than the other in many remains—a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand. Archaeologists discover the world's best-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery in York, England.

Known among its Roman occupants as Eboracum, York stood as the capital of Britannia Inferior from 71 AD to 415 AD. Because the Ninth Legion settled in the city's northeast bank and British tribes inhabited Eboracum's southwest territories, York provides fertile grounds for both civilian and military ruins. [PDF]

Related: A massive gladiator graveyard discovered in Ephesus offers forensic evidence of the life and death of a Roman gladiator.
posted by zoomorphic (42 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love stuff like this. I find it interesting in the article that the scientists speculate that a bite from a large carnivore could only have happened to a gladiator in an arena. What about the poor guys who had to get that lion/tiger/bear from Africa to England and then get the animal to and from performances? Were they so good that there was no collateral damage behind the scenes? And also, what criteria do they use to differentiate the signs of a gladiator from a regular old soldier (like Titus Pullo?)? Wouldn't a solider have to be big and strong and tote around heavy weapons and have healed and unhealed wounds? Or by that time were the soldiers in not as good shape as the gladiators?
posted by amethysts at 10:44 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Are you ready for the horror of HUMAN FIDDLER CRAB?
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Everyone knows Yorkshire men are tough - you could run over one with a thresher and he'd still be good for a pint.
posted by The Whelk at 10:48 AM on June 9, 2010


"It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago,"

Depends on the pub, don't it?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on June 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


And also, what criteria do they use to differentiate the signs of a gladiator from a regular old soldier...?

The NPR piece left room for doubt, but basically said it was the wound types (hammers to the head, etc.) and the bone growth.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2010


One arm was bigger than the other in many remains—a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand.

Or it could be from bowling and self-abuse.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:55 AM on June 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


One arm was bigger than the other in many remains—a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand.

Matthias Schlitte is the only thing that comes to mind. Hehe. (prev)

posted by lazaruslong at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2010


Wouldn't a solider have to be big and strong and tote around heavy weapons and have healed and unhealed wounds?

This is wholly speculation based on watching movies and such, but I'd imagine the weaponry of soldiers versus that of gladiators would be different, with gladiators intended to put on a good show for a large crowd (thus large weapons), whereas soldiers would be intended to make quick work of the enemy (smaller and more agile).

"It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago"

I'm not sure about pubs, but car dealerships can be dangerous. I'm not sure if the Parking Lot Tiger were native only to Southern California, or if they could be found elsewhere in the world.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:59 AM on June 9, 2010


Are you ready for the horror of HUMAN FIDDLER CRAB?

Maybe. Is it 100% anthropologically accurate?
posted by adipocere at 10:59 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or it could be from bowling and self-abuse.

A friend of mine is a professional bowler and his left thumb is like four times as big around as his right thumb.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:01 AM on June 9, 2010


Or it could be from bowling and self-abuse.

A friend of mine is a professional bowler and his left thumb is like four times as big around as his right thumb.


A friend of mine is a professional onanist and his left ... nevermind.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


that's why you gotta switch hands people.

Or lend a helping hand.

I'll see myself out
posted by The Whelk at 11:07 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder why they forgot to mention of Tony Robinson and Phil Harding? Surely they're involved in there, somewhere.
posted by crunchland at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


One arm was bigger than the other in many remains—a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand.

Tennis academy perhaps?
posted by fuzzypantalones at 11:13 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know something is a good post when you click on the first link and start reading and then a few minutes later you're thinking, man, I've got to post this to MetaFilter.

Cool stuff.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:16 AM on June 9, 2010


I will hold out for arm wrestling. Or maybe a lot of awkward, one-armed hugs.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:19 AM on June 9, 2010


If I could have gone back in time to invent the "tap-out," I would have been rich!

Or quickly conscripted into the gladiator corps.
posted by Danf at 11:22 AM on June 9, 2010


I learned about it this yesterday (obligatory bragging), and thought it was pretty cool. It always takes one by surprise by just how far reaching the Roman Empire was and to the extent that they transferred their culture onto the locals. As a personal aside, I took Latin in public high school in Virginia. My family then moved to England, a place where Latin was a spoken language and Roman ruins can be visited. I had to switch over to Spanish, as it wasn't offered in my new school. Go figure.
posted by Atreides at 11:23 AM on June 9, 2010


I'm just waiting to hear that they found frickin' lasers on the heads of the tigers.

Throw me a bone here people...
posted by qwip at 11:24 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I could have gone back in time to invent the "Tap-Out clothing," I would have been rich the world's first douchebag!
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:37 AM on June 9, 2010


Also, I'm thinking about the economy where it makes total sense to ship a lion to York.
posted by The Whelk at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the whole "one arm longer than the other = gladiator" hypothesis stems from the younger age that gladiators would start their fairly intensive training. If I recall my history correctly, the Roman age of majority was 15, which meant you couldn't join the Legions until then. Now, if I recall my physical anthropology correctly, by 15 most of the epiphyseal plates would have already started fusing. Gladiators, essentially being slaves, would have started their training before the fusing, meaning that their bones would have been more plastic. Also, while the life of a legionary may have been pretty tough work, it takes a substantial investment of time and repetition to start getting "human fiddler crab" type disparities to show in the osteology. Which is not to say that life for the 6th Legion was easy, but that it probably involved a lot of sitting in the barracks, dicing, and occasionally digging a ditch or building a wall. Certainly the legionaries would have been training, but the Roman Legions were all about coordination and discipline, the training wouldn't have had the single-minded "hit this, now hit this again" of a gladiator. So the gladiator hypothesis kinda makes sense in that light.

That being said, it was a long walk to get to that hypothesis. Why don't we wait an see what the material remains say about the context?
posted by Panjandrum at 11:46 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another fairly recent discovery in York. (The original study is in the March 2010 Antiquity Journal if you have access; includes more sciencey science and a bonus weird, speculative composite image)
posted by oinopaponton at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2010


Gor blimey! That's a lot of Spaniards, mate!
posted by jonp72 at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2010


"It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago,"

"Depends on the pub, don't it?"


I'd say: depends on how much they had to drink. White elephants anyone?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2010


Also, I'm thinking about the economy where it makes total sense to ship a lion to York.

There were lions native to continental Europe up until about AD 100, so they may not have been shipped as far as you might think.
posted by jedicus at 12:59 PM on June 9, 2010


Also, I'm thinking about the economy where it makes total sense to ship a lion to York.

We're not talking economics here, we're talking sports.
posted by tommasz at 1:36 PM on June 9, 2010


Shipping in big cats for public spectacle wasn't rare, even if Cicero wasn't too big on the idea:

"As to M. Octavius, I hereby again repeat that your answer was excellent: I could have wished it a little more positive still. For Caelius has sent me a freedman and a carefully written letter about some panthers and also a grant from the states... As to the former request, I have said that it is inconsistent with my character that the people of Cibyra should hunt at the public expense while I am governor." (source)
posted by oinopaponton at 1:42 PM on June 9, 2010


Training for, and wounds from, single combat are different from formation combat which troops then were habituated to.
E.g. the wounds found in phalangites would differ from a gladiator. And even within ancient infantry - so, Joe Regular guy who's from a citizen levy would have a different bone formation and likely different wounds than a hypaspist who was an elite foot troop. (Sorry, I've got Alexander the Great rattling in my head for some reason). Cavalryman would have different wound patterns. Charioteers as well.

I take some exception to the representation of combat then as "chaotic mass brawls." The Romans were extremely organized.
The big thing that would differentiate Roman light infantry from a gladiator is, yeah, the lack of multiple wounds. When it comes to the Romans, they'd often deploy a front line then run formations to relieve them during the battle (keeping up the tempo to force the opposition to hang in and so wearing down their resilience). So your troops would have a lot of non-lethal hits over time and over battles to show for it.

And the Britons seem to get movie typecast as face painting barbarians who hacked about wildly with axe and sword (although apparently the Gesatae fought naked according to Polybius).
It was, in fact (according to Caesar's commentaries, and Polybius) the Britons who reintroduced (b/c they were used in Gaul) the use of chariots in battle.
The Romans had used force concentration, but not coupled with the kind of rapid deployment chariots could lend infantrymen like mechanized infantry, or the sort of hit and run they could dish out. (And they seem to have thought of them only as a gladiatorial or racing spectacle. Caesar didn't do that well the first couple invasions tho).

I suppose you could decapitate people from a chariot if you're out of javelins.
And (again Polybius) there were single combat engagements and individual challenges between troops after the charioteers drove back and forth throwing javalins and making all kinds of racket to demoralize the enemy. That could be propaganda. And a lot of people had read the Illiad at that point. Hell the Greeks came up with the naked warrior aesthetic.

But the lion bites, yeah, dead giveaway.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


And also, what criteria do they use to differentiate the signs of a gladiator from a regular old soldier (like Titus Pullo?)

Titus Pullo was no regular soldier. He changed his name to Dagonet and was seen centuries later fighting alongside Arthur against the Saxons. He was obviously an immortal.
posted by homunculus at 2:02 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't recall whether Eboracum was considered much of a venue among gladiators in those days, whether they thought of themselves as being in the sticks, at the end of the line. It strikes me that there may be similar reasons for the recent discovery of forgotten American silent movies in New Zealand, and for this recent discovery of a gladiator cemetery at the outskirts of the Empire -- fortunate preservation through a former period of neglect.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:36 PM on June 9, 2010


Thank you for providing the extra context, people who did that.
posted by amethysts at 2:45 PM on June 9, 2010


One arm was bigger than the other in many remains—a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand.

ONE HUNDRED and FORTY!!!
posted by bwg at 5:58 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This post is totally win, not least because the lead archeologist of the dig is named Kurt Hunter-Mann.
posted by misha at 6:58 PM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]




Just awesome.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:35 PM on June 9, 2010


Not just the wounds but the ethnicity of the remains is mentioned. Apparently Northern Africans were popular slaves for gladiatorial games and many were found in the graveyard.

I am not sure how many blacks were in the regular legion however, but there were a reportedly a few.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:49 PM on June 9, 2010


The quote from one of the articles that got on my tits was the suggestion they could have been Christians who'd been executed. Hi, Mr Reporter, by the late 4th century, it was the Christians murdering people for belonging to the wrong religion, not the other way around.

whereas soldiers would be intended to make quick work of the enemy (smaller and more agile).

Short swords were favoured for close-in work, otherwise spears in close formations, so yes, essentially. I'd expect a soldier to be overdeveloped on the shield arm, if anything, given how large and heavy the Roman shields were, and the importance of controlling them.

A legionnaire did enough all-around work (building fortifications and other civil engineering grunt work) they should have a physique more like a labourer.
posted by rodgerd at 1:17 AM on June 10, 2010


For what it's worth, the small room in the Ephesus Museum that deals with the gladiator cemetery there is really outstanding. While it's only about 400 square feet (37 sq. m.), it's a great area put together by the university research teams that shows how the injuries match with known gladiator weapons. Making things much more real, they have images on the walls showing the position of the gladiator when the final blow was delivered. Seeing how these young men were kneeling or laying on the ground when a man above them executed them when they were defeated and defenseless in front of a crowd really drives how how different the morality of the Roman Empire was from the modern day West.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 8:11 AM on June 10, 2010


psycho-alchemy: I'm not sure that I'm reading you correctly, but North Africans wouldn't have been black. Even prior to Arab migration to the area, the locals were mostly light-skinned.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:25 AM on June 10, 2010


I am not sure how many blacks were in the regular legion however, but there were a reportedly a few.

"Blacks" is term that just doesn't even begin to make any sense in the Roman era. The world is not modern America now, and it certainly wasn't back then.
posted by rodgerd at 2:11 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yah very very very very very broadly speaking the roman conception of race was divided into Citizen/Not Citizen.
posted by The Whelk at 2:51 AM on June 11, 2010


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