Since my last post, several readers have written in to ask where the dice can be seen in Pompeii: The Exhibit. It seems that it may be so easy to get caught up in admiring the amazing gladiatorial armor on display that the dice—right next to the gladiator helmet (shown above)—go unnoticed.
Gladiatorial fights were a popular form of entertainment in Pompeii. The city featured a gladiator training center and barracks as well as an amphitheater where the fights were staged.
Most gladiators were slaves or prisoners of war, and their trainers would treat them like fine racehorses with plenty of healthy food and exercise. Several bits of graffiti in Pompeii suggest that they were also popular with the ladies. For instance, on a column in the gladiator barracks, someone scratched “Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls.”
The gladiator helmet on display in Pompeii: The Exhibit was discovered about 200 years ago in the storeroom in the barracks. It would have belonged to a murmillo or “fish man,” whose helmet resembled the fin of a fish. A murmillo was armed with a sword and shield and commonly battled a thraex or Thracian, who also fought with a sword, but used a smaller shield and wore more armor. There were also several other types of gladiators that battled in various combinations.
Gladiatorial fans in Pompeii could be a rowdy bunch: in AD 59, a riot broke out in the amphitheater between the residents of Pompeii and their rival neighbors, the Nucerians. The historian Tacitus sniffily described the event:
"During an exchange of taunts—characteristic of these disorderly country towns—abuse led to stone throwing, and then swords were drawn."
The Pompeians ended up running the Nucerians out of town, but were then banned by the Roman senate from holding gladiatorial contents for the next ten years. A fresco from the House of Actius Anicetus, now on display at the Naples Archaeological Museum, depicts the riots.
Fresco depicting the gladiatorial riot in Pompeii
While visitors to Pompeii can still visit the amphitheater where the gladiators fought, the gladiatorial barracks unfortunately collapsed last November.
You can help preserve what remains of Pompeii with your ticket purchase for Pompeii: The Exhibit. A portion of your admission price goes towards conservation of the ancient city.
For more fascinating facts on gladiators, click here.