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New Discovery Shows Gladiators Fought on British Soil

Researchers find new evidence of gladiatorial battles in Roman Britain.

It’s a known historical fact that gladiators, often enslaved, fought in front of large crowds in arenas like the Colosseum for entertainment purposes in ancient Rome. But gladiators fighting on British territory?

The Colchester Vase depicting gladiators in Roman Britain
The Colchester Vase | Wikimedia

New research on a rare piece of pottery points towards telltale signs that similar gladiatorial battles did indeed take place on English soil when it was under the occupation of the Roman Empire.

Made of local clay around 175 AD, the Colchester Vase is known as one of the finest pieces to have survived Roman Britain. The vase was excavated in 1853 in Colchester, a town 30 miles north east of London. It depicts two gladiators baiting a bear and a dog chasing a hare and deer.

The vase bears the names of two gladiators - Memnon and Valentinus - and researchers say that these inscriptions were cut into the clay before firing, a process that turns raw clay into clayware. This is a crucial finding as it was earlier believed that the name inscriptions were engraved after firing, which would have pointed out that the names weren’t an original part of the vessel’s design.

But because the names were added before, it means that the gladiators lived in Roman Britain at the time the vase was created.

The Colchester Vase, along with other artifacts, will be part of an exhibition called Gladiators: A Day At The Roman Games, which will be displayed in Colchester Castle in July 2023.

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