Roman burial site suggests that female gladiators fought in Britain

Archaeologists from the Museum of London believe they may have discovered the the first known burial site of a female Roman gladiator.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London believe they may have discovered the the first known burial site of a female Roman gladiator.

Four years ago, the museum's archaeologists unearthed the late first century or early second century grave, in Southwark, south London, ofa woman who had been cremated and given a relatively high status funeral.

But only now, after extensive examination, have they been able to assess the discovery fully and decide she may have been a gladiator.

Hedley Swain, head of the museum's Early Department, said the site contained rich artefacts suggesting a very singular and important person was buried there. "There is evidence of a very exotic and high-status feast, including dates, almonds, figs and a dove," he said.

The position of the objects at the burial site suggested an unusual form of cremation, in which the body was burnt over a pyre, which collapsed into a pit. The pit was outside a walled cemetery, a common practice when burying gladiators and others considered outside normal society.

Archaeologists also discovered 16 ceramic objects in the grave, including a lamp depicting a gladiator and three others showing the Egyptian god Anubis, associated with the passage of the dead to the underworld. Mr Swain said: "We all have a very familiar image of gladiators as personifying Roman brutality, bloodlust and cruelty. But there is a more complex form of ideas linked to gladiatorial combat, which had their origin in funeral games."

The unveiling coincides with the museum's Roman exhibit-ion, High Street Londinium. There will be a gladiatorial com-bat re-enactment on Saturday.

But the discovery, far from shedding light on ancient gladiatorial combat, is more likely to cause a fair amount of modern academic conflict. Many academics are highly sceptical about the museum's claim of finding evidence of a female gladiator.

One leading authority on Roman women, Dr Mary Beard, of Cambridge University's faculty of Classics, said: "The evidence for this particular grave being that of a female gladiator seems thin. Lamps with images of gladiators are 10 a penny in the Roman world and we have no idea whether gladiators were buried inside or outside cemeteries."

Lindsay Allason-Jones, director of archaeological museums at the University of Newcastle, said: "I suspect this lady was an ordinary member of a merchant family from North Africa."

But Museum of London experts are unrepentant. "There is plenty of evidence which suggests the grave may well have been that of a female gladiator," said Nick Bateman, a leading archaeologist at the museum who has studied gladiators.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn