Saturday, December 19, 2009

Boxing in ancient Rome

Bowing in ancient Rome was more of a gladiatorial discipline than a real sport. Gloves, or rather leather stripes, were worn by the combatants but not to prevent serious injuries - they were instead designed to inflict maximum
damage and could even be filled with lead and iron spikes. The passage below come from Vergilius's epid "The Aeneid" and describe the funeral games of Anchises. The story line is clearly inspired by the Illiad (the funeral games of Patrocles) at this point and you might want to compare it to The Illiad XXIII, 650-700.


The boxer Helix in a fight against Alexander (not seen here). Notice the victory palm placed between the opponents. Mosaic from Ostia, early 3rd century ad. Two pictures of the famous so called seated boxer can be found here and here.

"the son of Anchises brought out gloves of like weight and with equal weapons bound the hands of both. Straightway each took his stand, poised on his toes, and, undaunted, lifted his arms high in air. Raising their heads high and drawing them far back from blows, they spar, hand with hand, and provoke the fray, the one nimbler of foot and confident in his youth, the other mighty in massive limbs; yet his slow knees totter and tremble and a painful gasping shakes his huge frame. Many hard blows they launch at each other to no avail, but many they rain on hollow flank, while their chests ring loudly; hands flash about ears and brows, and cheeks rattle under the hard strokes."

Virgilius - The Aeneid V 424
Translated by Fairclough, H R.

1 comment:

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