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Did Women Ever Fight as Gladiators in Ancient Rome?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Women have been fighting for equal rights and equal opportunities for a long time, but not everyone would be pleased about some of the employment prospects they shared with men in ancient Rome.

Based on somewhat sketchy evidence, historians now believe that some women probably served as gladiators, at least for a time and perhaps not in as violent a way as men. Still, according to written accounts, women fought both animals and each other in entertainment that would now be labeled as novelty acts.

The Roman Emperors Nero, Domitian, and Titus hosted female gladiator events, with combatants coming from all ranks of society, from slaves to wealthy wives. David S. Potter, a professor of classics at the University of Michigan and an expert on ancient sports, says that slave owners probably would have made money from having their female slaves fight, while other women might have taken part just for the thrill of it. "If we think about this as a form of entertainment, it's clearer why women would want to do it," he said.

In 200 A.D., Emperor Septimius Severus made it illegal for women to take part in gladiatorial combat, fearing that jokes made about their fighting skills might breed disrespect.

You go play, girl:

  • Around 42 percent of high school and college athletes are female.

  • Women first participated in the Olympics at the Paris Games of 1900; 22 women participated.

  • According to Forbes, tennis star Naomi Osaka is the world's highest-paid female athlete; she earned $57.3 million USD in prize money and endorsements in 2021.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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