The Roman Gladiator
The rise of female professional sports is not a new phenomenon. Women once competed in the gladiatorial arena though not without controversy. It is known that the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211 CE, allowed women to fight as gladiators but banned the tradition in 200 CE. Recently, the remains of a young woman, approximately 20 years old, were found in Britain. Discovered in a Roman cemetery in the area of London known as Southwark and excavated in 1996, archaeologists uncovered the remains of the young woman buried with several items that may identify her as a female gladiator.
According to the curator of early London history at the London Museum, the items buried with the woman were a dish decorated with a fallen gladiator and other ceramic pieces decorated with similar scenes and gladiatorial symbols. Notably three of the eight lamps found in the grave are decorated with the Egyptian god Anubis, who was associated with the Roman messenger god Mercury. This association is important because in Roman times slaves dressed as Mercury removed the dead bodies from the arena. Mercury, and his Greek counterpart Hermes, traditionally led human souls to the underworld.
If the young woman found in the Roman cemetery was a gladiator, the wealth of materials found with her indicate that she was popular. The young woman's remains, the items buried with her, and a relief of two women with short swords and shields fighting are on display at the London Museum. The relief's inscription reads, "an honorable release from the arena." The women in the relief are identified as Amazonia and Achillea.
Despite the existence of archaeological evidence that supports the existence of female gladiators, no one is sure that the remains uncovered in London are actually those of a female gladiator.