Return to Gladiators

Thraex

The thraex or Thracian wore the usual loincloth and belt, and protected the right arm with a manica. Because the shield (parmula) he carried was smaller than the scutum of the murmillo, his traditional adversary, longer greaves were required to protect the legs and thighs, which also were wrapped with thick quilted fabric. The weapon was a short sword (sica) with an angled blade. The helmet, too, is distinctive. The torso of the gladiator usually was bare, a demonstration of the gladiator's willingness to die and a means, juxtaposed with those parts of the body that were unprotected, to bring it about. 

In this detail from a larger mosaic in the Römerhalle, Bad Kreuznach (Germany), the Thraex attacks with the sword in his left hand, which usually would hold the shield. Gladiators were trained to fight against those who were right-handed, and it was the right-hand side that was protected. It must have been disconcerting, therefore, to confront a left-handed opponent, who would have the advantage. Indeed, in one graffito, a gladiator is specifically described as being left handed, sc(aeva). Commodus, who fought as a secutor, also boasted of being left handed (Dio, LXXIII.22).


To the Romans, Thrace (on the southwestern shore of the Black Sea) was a distant and remote country, through which the icy Hebrus flowed and the entrails of dogs were offered to Artemis (Horace, Odes, I.12; Ovid, Fasti, I.389). Its women were thought to be Bacchantes, adherents of Dionysus, himself a Thracian deity, engaged in orgies, their hair bound with vipers (Odes, II.7, II.19). Such women had killed Orpheus, son of a Thracian king, whose lyre had held back the wind and rivers of that country (Odes, I.12). Horace also speaks of furiosa Thrace (Odes, II.16), "mad Thrace," its drunken men using their wine cups, meant for pleasure, for fighting instead (Odes, I.27) and of a spendthrift, left with no other means of support, becoming a gladiator, "Thraex erit" (Epistles, I.18).


Reference: Das Spiel mit dem Tod: So Kämpften Roms Gladiatoren (2000) by Marcus Junkelmann. The mosaic is in the Römerhalle at Bad Kreuznach (Germany).

See also Amazones.

Return to Top of Page

Email