Scientists in 2007 believed that they had, for
the first time, identified an ancient graveyard for gladiators.
Analysis of their bones and injuries provided
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 in 2006-2007 of what was claimed to be the first
scientifically-authenticated gladiator graveyard gave researchers
the opportunity to find out.
The Ephesus graves contained thousands of bones.
They were found along with three gravestones which clearly depicted
Two pathologists at the Medical University of
Vienna - Professor Karl Grossschmidt and Professor Fabian Kanz -
spent much of the previous five years painstakingly cataloguing
and forensically analysing every single bone for age, injury, and
cause of death. They found at least sixty-seven individuals, nearly
all aged between twenty and thirty. One striking bit of evidence
was that many had healed wounds.
To Kanz and Grossschmidt, this suggested that they
were prized individuals who were getting good, expensive medical
treatment. One body even showed signs of a surgical amputation. In
addition, the lack of multiple wounds found on the bones, according
to the pathologists, suggested that they had not been involved in
chaotic mass brawls. Instead, the evidence pointed to organised duels
under strict rules of combat, probably with referees monitoring the
But there was also evidence of mortal wounds.
Written records tell us that if the defeated gladiator had not
shown enough skill or had even shown 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.
These were consistent with depictions on reliefs from the time showing
a kneeling man having a sword rammed down his throat and into the
heart. A very quick way to die.
An analysis of the gladiator bones to be discovered at Ephesus
and the injuries suffered by their owners provided new insight
into how they lived, fought and died