Scientists believe they have for the first time identified an
ancient graveyard for gladiators.
Analysis of their bones and injuries has given new insight into
how they lived, fought and died. The remains were found at Ephesus
in Western Anatolia, a major city in the Roman world.
Gladiators were the sporting heroes of the ancient world.
Archaeological records show them celebrated in everything from
mosaics to graffiti.
Motifs of gladiators are found on nearly a third of all oil
lamps from Roman archaeological digs throughout the Empire.
But how much did they risk every time they stepped into the
arena? Did they have much chance of getting out alive?
The discovery of what is claimed to be the first scientifically
authenticated gladiator graveyard has given researchers the
opportunity to find out.
The Ephesus graves containing thousands of bones were found
along with three gravestones, clearly depicting gladiators.
Two pathologists at the Medical University of Vienna - Professor
Karl Grossschmidt and Professor Fabian Kanz - have spent much of the
past five years painstakingly cataloguing and forensically analysing
every single bone for age, injury and cause of death.
They found at least 67 individuals, nearly all aged 20 to 30.
One striking bit of evidence is that many have healed wounds.
To Kanz and Grossschmidt, this suggests they were prized
individuals getting good and expensive medical treatment. One body
even shows signs of a surgical amputation.
And the lack of multiple wounds found on the bones, according to
the pathologists, suggests that they had not been involved in
chaotic mass brawls. Instead, it points to organised duels under
strict rules of combat, probably with referees monitoring the bouts.
But there was also evidence of mortal wounds. Written records
tell us that if the defeated gladiator had not shown enough skill or
even cowardice, the cry of "iugula" (lance him through) would be
heard throughout the arena, demanding he be killed.
The condemned gladiator would be expected to die "like a man"
remaining motionless to receive the mortal blow.
The pathologists discovered various unhealed wounds on bones
that showed how these executions could have taken place. And these
are consistent with depictions on reliefs from the time showing a
kneeling man having a sword rammed through down his throat into the
heart. A very quick way to die.