top of page
  • Writer's pictureJP Kenwood

Gladiator of the Day: The Murmillo

Since the next draft scene includes a contest between gladiators, I’m starting a new segment that highlights the basic equipment and fighting styles of four different and popular types of Roman gladiators.

Second up… the Murmillo.

“The murmillo gets his name from the Greek word for a type of fish, as many contemporary sources indicated, it was derived from the image of a fish on their helmets, although the archaeological record has no firm evidence to support that assertion. The fish in question was the mormyros, or in Latin, murmo or murmuros, the striped bream, which was very common in the Mediterranean then as now, and best caught by the age-old method of surf-casting, a fishing technique involving casting the net into the surf to trap the fish coming in from the sandy bottoms where they feed. It is in this technique that perhaps a clue to the origin of the murmillo may be found. 

The emperor Vespasian’s rhetorician, Quintilian, records a sing-song chant supposedly addressed to a murmillo by a pursuing retiarius: 

Non te peto, piscem peto; cur me fugis, Galle?— ‘It’s not you I’m after, it’s your fish; why are you running away from me, Gaul?’. 

If there is any historical authenticity at all in this jeering provocation of the heavy-armoured murmillo, it reveals two things; firstly, a clever and realistic tactic by the retiarius– to exhaust his opponent by baiting him into excessive movement, and secondly, the net-man’s reference to the fish emblem on the helmet, identifying the other gladiator as murmillo, but calling him ‘Gaul’.  Whatever the origin of the term murmillo, it is generally believed that they evolved from the earlier category known as the Gaul, or gallus, about which little is known. 


We do know however that the murmillo wore a manica, an arm guard, on his sword arm. He carried the large rectangular semi-cylindrical wooden shield very similar in appearance and construction to the legionary sputum. On his left leg was a short greave worn over padding. Unlike the thraex or hoplomachus, the murmillo, having the almost complete cover of the very large shield, the scutum, did not need the high, thigh length greaves that they wore—so long as there was sufficient overlap between the bottom of the shield and the top of the greave, his defence was maintained. 

The murmillo was armed with the gladius. The helmet of the murmillo had a broad brim, with a bulging face-plate that included grillwork eye-pieces; its distinctive appearance was partly due to the prominent visor, but also to the angular, sometimes hollow, box crest which was then able to take the insertion of a wooden plume-holder into which a further horsehair (or feathered) crest could be fixed. Single plume-holders for feathers were fixed on either side of the bowl.

In common with most of the categories of gladiator, the torso of the murmillo was, as we have seen, exposed, and he wore the subligaria, the elaborate folded loincloth together with the balteus, the ostentatiously wide belt, often highly decorated. A good example of the lavishness of the ornamentation of belts is shown in the bone figure of a murmillo gladiator from Lexden, Colchester.”


Also see :


3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page