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  • Writer's pictureJP Kenwood

Gladiator of the Day: The Retiarius

Last one… the net-thrower.  Chapter 6.2 from Games of Rome will be posted very soon. Gobs of Gaius snark and Marcia and Sabina and… 😀

“Of all the gladiator categories, the most instantly recognisable is that of the retiarius, the net and trident fighter, named after the net he used, rete. Until halfway through the first century AD, there is no record, whether pictorial, literary, or archaeological, of this type of gladiator. After that point, the traditional pairing of retiarius and secutor starts to appear regularly, quickly becoming one of the most popular and enduring of the arena combats. From this, it is fair to assume that the secutor was invented at the same time as the retiarius, in order to create an exciting and novel combat; nothing like it can be detected at any earlier point in the historical record. The reason for the comparatively sudden appearance of this type of fighter cannot even be guessed at, and the usual sources are silent on the subject. All other categories of gladiator have an originating connection, however weak, with military or martial activities; the retiarius, with his obvious fishing and sea-related equipment, does not follow that pattern. The best we can do is to agree that the Roman appetite for watching new and inventive ways of killing was once again being gratified by this innovatory combat.

So many depictions of the retiarius show him holding the trident with both hands, with the left arm (as that is usually the leading arm for right-handers) forward and the right arm back at an angle, ready to thrust, that this is possibly the textbook stance for trident fighting. His body armour consisted solely of a high metal shoulder-guard, the galerus, on his left, or leading, shoulder, overlapping and affixed to the top edge of a manica protecting the left arm. Of course, this presupposes that the retiarius was right-handed, and that he would therefore cast his net with his right hand, while gripping his trident and dagger in the left hand. However, in a fragment of relief, one of the very few representations of this gladiator to actually show him with a net (from Chester, Cheshire, and now in Saffron Walden Museum), he is holding it in his left hand. He wore no helmet and is often depicted with a knife as a secondary weapon.”


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