Monday, June 7, 2010

Gladiator Remains Found in York

The British newspaper The Independent has an interesting article today regarding an important  historical find.
Eighty skeletons have been unearthed at the site in Driffield Terrace, south west of the centre of York, over the past decade. One man appears to have been killed by a large carnivore – almost certainly a lion, tiger or bear. Others have weapon impact damage and many of them have specific features, including marks on their bones, consistent with tough training regimes.
It appears that they have uncovered a Roman gladiator cemetery containing the "world's best preserved remains of gladiators and other arena fighters." Some of the findings may change common beliefs about certain aspects of gladiatorial combat, particularly the method of execution used to finish off defeated combatants.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the cemetery is that most of the men were decapitated. Although some may have sustained injuries in the period immediately before death, in most cases decapitation appears to have been the act which killed them.

It is known that defeated gladiators were often "executed" in the arena by their opponents – but scholars have always thought that it was done by a sword stab to the throat. The York decapitations are from the back of the neck, suggested that a wider range of arena coups de grâce were employed.
The whole article is fascinating for anyone interested in that historical period, and how  the study of human remains can illuminate events which happened long ago.

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