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  • Writer's pictureJP Kenwood

Gladiator of the Day: The Thracian (Thraex)

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.

First up… the Thracian.

“This older category of gladiator was so popular, it did not disappear or mutate into another named type; however, the thraex did acquire new elements as time went on. Fashions changed in the arena, but it is possible to recognise the distinct armature of the thraex, whatever the date.


The thraex carried a small square or rectangular shield, of wooden construction, planking or ply with a covering of leather, known as the parma or its diminutive, parmula; from examples depicted, it appears to have been emphatically convex rather than flat, and tended not to have a boss. From this shield, the thraeces got their popular nickname, parmularii, just as their opponents with the curved rectilinear shields were called scutarii. Because the shield was small, about twenty four inches by twenty inches, and offered little protection below groin level, the thraex wore greaves, ocreae, on both legs, which reached up as far as mid-thigh, and is often depicted wearing a form of leg protectors above them, from at least knee to groin, which appear to be padded or quilted fabric wrappings around both legs. On the dominant arm a manica was worn.

The most instantly recognizable feature of the thraex was his brimmed, crested helmet with its distinctive griffin’s head. In all but a very few depictions of thraeces, the griffin is shown on the crest of the helmet, aiding identification. The significance of this particular mythological creature in a gladiatorial context may stem from its role as a guardian of the dead, or from a reputed association with Nemesis; four griffins were said to draw her chariot. As a symbol, the griffin frequently occurs in Greek and Roman art, and particularly at tombs, as a protector of souls. It can be seen on many Roman architectural features, usually as part of a pair. Herodotus told of griffins that guarded the gold of the Hyperboreans, who incidentally were geographically located near the Carpathian mountains, west of Thrace. Why exactly the creature should be thought appropriate for a Thracian helmet, apart from the link with Nemesis, cultic goddess of gladiators, is open to question; there is a suggestion it symbolizes arrogant pride, superbia, and that might be thought reason enough for a professional gladiator. The primary weapon of this category was the curved bladed sica, depictions of this vary from dagger to sword length.”



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