Colchester Unearths Ancient Vase Depicting Gladiator Match from 2,000 Years Ago


An ancient vase discovered in Colchester, England, depicts a gladiator match that took place almost 2,000 years ago. The vase was discovered in 1853 and historians have long known that Memnon, a past champion, won the match against Valentinus, another enslaved gladiator. The vase is the only known depiction of a real gladiator match that took place in Roman Britain.

The clay vessel, which is believed to date to the late 2nd century, was examined by a team of experts who concluded that it was made in Colchester. The inscription was scratched onto the pot’s surface while the clay was still soft, indicating that the gladiators fought nearby. The clay’s composition matched identically with local clay, according to Glynn Davis, a senior curator at Colchester Museums.

Memnon had a significant advantage in the match. He carried a sword, a large shield, and had a helmet that completely encased his head except for eyeholes. Valentinus, his opponent, was left-handed and armed with just a trident that dropped to the ground. He wore only a padded sleeve and shoulder guard for protection. The vase’s inscription states that this was Memnon’s ninth victory as a gladiator.

John Pearce, an archaeologist at King’s College London who was involved in the research, believes that Memnon was probably Black. He explains that Memnon, probably a stage name, is an apparent reference to the King of the Ethiopians in Homer’s Troy. Inscriptions and analysis of human skeletal remains show that there were individuals of Middle Eastern and African geographical origin in Roman period Britain, especially in the province’s cities. Valentinus’s fate, however, is unknown, as the vase does not depict the match’s referee or the decision to spare or kill the defeated gladiator.

The discovery of the vase is significant because it is the only known depiction of a real gladiator match in Roman Britain. While there are other artifacts suggesting the presence of gladiators in Britain, none depict specific matches taking place. The vase provides valuable insights into the lives of enslaved gladiators and the significance of gladiatorial combat in Roman Britain. It also sheds light on the presence of individuals of Middle Eastern and African origin in the province’s cities during the Roman period.