Rare Ancient Roman Boxing Gloves Discovered at Vindolanda Fort near Hadrian’s Wall

Rare Ancient Roman Boxing Gloves Discovered at Vindolanda Fort near Hadrian’s Wall

A poster showing the Ancient Roman leather boxing gloves found at Vindolanda in England. Photo: Vindolanda Trust

A pair of what appear to be Ancient Roman leather boxing gloves has been discovered during the 2017 summer archaeological season at the Vindolanda fort near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland in the UK.

Vindolanda was an Ancient Roman auxiliary fort located right south of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England, which was under Roman occupation from about 85 AD until 370 AD, according to archaeological findings.

“Two very unusual and distinctive pieces of leather” were discovered last summer among the numerous other Roman artifacts, the Vindolanda Trust has announced.

“These two unusual leather objects have very similar attributes in terms of style and function, although they are not a matching pair, and they could not be likened to any of the many thousands of leather items previously discovered at Vindolanda,” it says.

“Research of the objects at Vindolanda along with the considered observations by Roman leather and other experts has indicated that these leather objects are in fact boxing gloves and probably the only known surviving examples from the Roman period,” the Trust elaborates.

It points out that, unlike the modern boxing glove, the Ancient Roman ones have the appearance of a protective guard, designed to fit snugly over the knuckles protecting them from impact.

“The larger of the two gloves is cut from a single piece of leather and was folded into a pouch configuration, the extending leather at each side were slotted into one another forming a complete oval shape creating an inner hole into which a hand could still easily be inserted,” the Vindolanda Trust explains.

It notes that the glove was packed with natural material acting as a shock absorber.

“This larger glove has extreme wear on the contact edge and it had also undergone repair with a tear covered by a circular patch. The slightly smaller glove was uncovered in near perfect condition with the same construction but filled with a tight coil of hard twisted leather,” it adds.

It is emphasized that the two Roman gloves can still fit comfortably on a modern hand, with the smaller glove retaining the impression of the wearer’s knuckles.

“It is likely that the gloves functioned as sparring or practice caestu each has a stiffened contact edge being a softer representation of the of the more lethal metal inserts used in ‘professional’ ancient boxing bouts.  It is thought that the larger glove may have been unfit for purpose due to prolonged use and may have survived alongside the ‘newer’ model resulting from a personal attachment given to it by the owner,” the Vindolanda Trust elaborates.

It reminds that boxing was a well-documented ancient sport that preceded the Roman Era, and was a recorded pursuit within the Roman military.

The Roman leather boxing gloves from Vindolanda, England, are shown on a poster of the Roman “Seater Boxer” statue from Italy’s National Museum of Rome. Photo: Vindolanda Trust

Boxing contests in the Roman Empire attracted crowds and supporters, and were also gambled on by the Roman garrisons.

“I have seen representations of Roman boxing gloves depicted on bronze statues, paintings and sculptures but to have the privilege of finding two real leather examples is exceptionally special,” says Dr Andrew Birley, CEO and The Vindolanda Trust’s Director of Excavations.

“What really makes Vindolanda so unique is the range of organic objects that we find. Every one of them brings you closer to the people who lived here nearly 2,000 years ago but the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you realise that you have discovered something as astonishing as these boxing gloves,” he adds.

The Ancient Roman boxing gloves will be on display in the museum at Vindolanda from February 20th, 2018, along with other finds from the excavations of a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barrack.

Other intriguing archaeological artifacts found during the 2017 summer excavations at the Vindolanda fort near Hadrian’s Wall include: a small hoard of wafer thin Vindolanda writing tablets, many full of ancient cursive script, was quickly followed by a cache of material culture uncovered during the excavation of a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barrack.

Other finds included complete swords, copper alloy horse gear, more precious writing tablets, leather shoes, bath clogs, combs, dice.

The world famous Hadrian’s Wall built in Roman Britain had a total length of 117.5 km (73 miles) Nowadays it figures even more prominently in popular culture since it has served as the model for the Wall built for stopping the White Walkers in ‘Game of Thrones’ / ‘Song of Ice and Fire’).

The other Ancient Roman border wall in Britain, the Antonine Wall in Scotland, was shorter, and spanned a total of 63 kilometers (39 miles).

The Ancient Bulgars of the early medieval First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) built a similar defensive facility as a line of defense against the Byzantine Empire in what is today’s Southeast Bulgaria: the Erkesiya border wall / rampart.

The Erkesiya spanned 142 kilometers (88 miles) from the Black Sea coast to the valley of the Maritsa River, and, by extension, the beginning of the Rhodope Mountains, and was in use for several centuries, until the High Middle Ages.


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