Thursday, May 28, 2020

Roman boxing: More Bloodsport than Gentlemen's Competition

Roman boxing, far different than the boxing developed by the Greeks, was considered more of a gladiatorial show than an athletic contest. While the crowds were smaller than at the amphitheater and circus, boxing was an important part of public entertainment. Unlike Greek boxers, who wore leather thongs around their knuckles for protection and performed for prizes at the prestigious Panhellenic games, Romans used gloves with pieces of metal placed around the knuckles (caestus) to inflict the most damage possible. Moreover, there was no time limit or weight classification. Proclaiming a winner resulted from either a knockout or the conceding of defeat by one of the boxers. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image: Bronze hand of a boxer 1st to 2nd century CE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The hand is clad in a caestus (boxing glove), comprising a semicylindrical strip and a projecting spike, tied with cords running from the wrist. Although Roman boxers are represented on statues, mosaics, terracotta plaques and lamps, and bronze figurines, few objects show the actual boxing glove with such clarity of detail as the present piece. The hand is probably not a fragment of a larger composition; it was, perhaps, a votive, dedicated by a boxer on his retirement.

Images: Boxer Resting, a 1st century BCE copy of a 3rd century BCE Greek original. Notice the difference in the wrappings in my closeup of his hands. Photographed at the Palazzo Massimo, Rome, Italy.
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