It’s a known historical fact that gladiators, often enslaved, fought in front of large crowds in arenas like the Colosseum for entertainment purposes in ancient Rome. More often than not, resulting in their death. But gladiators fighting on British territory?
New research on a rare piece of artifact points towards telltale signs that similar gladiatorial battles did indeed take place on English soil when it was under the occupation of the Roman Empire.
Made of local clay around 175 AD, the Colchester Vase is known as one of the finest pieces to have survived Roman Britain. The vase was excavated in 1853 in Colchester town, Essex county. It depicts two gladiators baiting a bear and a dog chasing a hare and deer.
How does the new research prove this?
The vase bears the names of two gladiators - Memnon and Valentinus - which according to the report in The Guardian are thought to have been stage names. The researchers say that these inscriptions were cut into the clay before firing, a process that turns raw clay into clayware.
This is a crucial finding as it was earlier believed that the name inscriptions were engraved after firing, which would have pointed out that the names weren’t an original part of the vessel’s design.
But because the names were added before, it means that the gladiators lived in Roman Britain at the time the vase was created.
“There’s nothing else like that from Britain,” said Glynn Davis, a Roman archaeologist and a senior curator with Colchester and Ipswich Museums (CIMS), which owns the vase.
In an interview with the Observer, he further explained, “It’s a commemorative piece, almost a trophy for the trophy cabinet. Later, it’s used as a funerary vessel. There must be an intimate connection with the deceased. They could well have sponsored the games. Or they were an absolute sports nut. For whatever reason, they saw the fight and thought, ‘I want a memento of that.’”
The research had academics from Durham, London, and Reading universities.
Another key finding from the analysis of the 212 millimeters x 158 millimeters vase, which had cremated human remains inside, identifies the incinerated as a male of “potentially European origin” and over the age of 40.
These Roman spectacle duels were popular entertainment and sometimes even included exotic animals.
The Colchester vase, along with other artifacts, will be part of an exhibition called ‘Gladiators: A Day At The Roman Games,’ which will be displayed in Colchester Castle in July 2023.