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Martial, whose Spectacles were written to celebrate the inauguration of the amphitheater in AD 80, also speaks of women fighting in the arena, "It is not enough that warrior Mars serves you in unconquered arms, Caesar. Venus herself serves you too" (VII), and as venationes, "Illustrious Fame used to sing of the lion laid low in Nemea's spacious vale, Hercules' work. Let ancient testimony be silent, for after your shows, Caesar, we now have seen such things done by a women's valor" (VIII).


Domitian, the younger brother of Titus, who succeeded him the following year, is explicitly said to have presented women as gladiators. He "gave hunts of wild beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well" (Suetonius, IV.1) and "sometimes he would pit dwarfs and women against each other" (Dio, LXVII.8.4). Juvenal, a contemporary of Martial (XII.18), is especially critical of women from distinguished and illustrious families disgracing themselves in the arena or, for that matter, being enamored of gladiators and prizing them above home and country (VI. 82ff).
"What sense of shame can be found in a woman wearing a helmet, who shuns femininity and loves brute force....If an auction is held of your wife's effects, how proud you will be of her belt and arm-pads and plumes, and her half-length left-leg shin-guard! Or, if instead, she prefers a different form of combat [as a Thraex, both of whose legs were protected], how pleased you'll be when the girl of your heart sells off her greaves!....Hear her grunt while she practises thrusts as shown by the trainer, wilting under the weight of the helmet..." (Satires, VI.252ff).
The desire for excitement and notoriety was such that several edicts were enacted to limit the participation of women in the arena, at least those who were not slaves or of low social status. Senators (but not equites) first were prohibited from fighting in the arena in 46 BC, when one had desired to compete as part of the games accompanying the dedication of Caesar's new forum (Dio, XLIII.23.5; Suetonius, XXXIX).

There was another ban in 38 BC prohibiting senators (and their sons) from fighting as a gladiator (and appearing on stage) (Dio, XLVIII.43.3). In 22 BC, even the grandsons of senators could not appear on stage (Dio, LIV.2.5; Suetonius, Augustus XLIII.3). Performances in the arena were even more scandalous and must have been banned, as well.

Women, given their appearance on the stage, also were included for the first time. But this senatus consultum (senatorial decree) seems to have been ineffectual. Aristocratic women and equites continued to appear on stage and the ban was lifted (Dio, LVI.25.7). In AD 11, a SC declared that "no female of free birth of less than twenty years of age and for no male of free birth of less than twenty-five years of age to pledge himself as a gladiator or hire out his services ," a ban reiterated in AD 19.

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Women's History Magazine

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