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Murmillo Helmet

Originally, the retiarius was matched against the murmillo, whose name derived from the representation of the fish that sometimes adorned the helmet, the high angular crest of which vaguely resembled a fin. A retiarius is quoted as calling after his opponent: "It's not you I'm after, it's your fish; why are you avoiding me, you Gaul?" A later variant of the helmet was worn by the thraex, where the brim flared over the forehead rather than being horizontal. The visor, with its distinctive eye gratings, is hinged and opened at the front. If the purpose of the secutor's unadorned helmet was to deflect the trident of the retiarius, one wonders about the rationale for the elaborately embossed designs and vulnerable eye gratings of the murmillo's helmet.

  The broad curved brim of the helmet is surmounted by a crest (crista) and visor with grille. Small holes on the crest and sides of the crown were used for inserting feathers and plumes of horse hair. On the sides of the crown below, one can better discern a bound man and woman and the spoils of war that are repeated on the other side. Decorating the front of the crown is a personification of Rome Victorious in Amazonian dress holding fasces and scepter and flanked by kneeling barbarians offering homage.


Both helmets were found at Pompeii. The plainer one is in the British Museum and dates to the first century AD. Its only decoration is a small bust of Hercules, who signified bravery. Originally, the bronze helmet would have been polished to a golden sheen and adorned with plumes. One is struck by its weight, which is almost eight pounds. The more elaborate helmet is in the National Archaeological Museum (Naples) and is shown to better effect in a picture taken by Tom on Flickr when it was part of the exhibition "A Day in Pompeii" at the Boston Museum of Science.


Reference: "Familia Gladiatoria: The Heroes of the Amphitheater" by Marcus Junkelman, in Gladiators and Caesars (2000) edited by Eckart Köhne and Cornelia Ewigleben; Das Spiel mit dem Tod: So Kämpften Roms Gladiatoren (2000) by Marcus Junkelmann; Pompeii: AD 79 (1978) by John Ward-Perkins and Amanda Claridge; Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games (1972) by Roland Auguet.

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