Blogging from A to Z: M is for Murmillo

Modern reenactment of a murmillo. Curiosito / CC BY-SA (

Since Pompeii has the oldest remaining amphitheatre in Italy, it should come as no surprise that gladiatorial games were held there. The games were immensely popular and sometimes led to local rivalries. In fact, after the games between gladiators from Pompeii and Nuceria in 59 CE, there arose such a riot amongst the fan factions that Tacitus tells us:

About this time there was a serious fight between the inhabitants of two Roman settlements, Nuceria and Pompeii. It arose out of a trifling incident at a gladiatorial show . . . During an exchange of taunts — characteristic of these disorderly country towns — abuse led to stone-throwing, and then swords were drawn. The people of Pompeii, where the show was held, came off best.  Many wounded and mutilated Nucerians were taken to the capital.  Many bereavements, too, were suffered by parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate the affair.  The senate passed it to the consuls.  When they reported back, the senate debarred Pompeii from holding any similar gathering for ten years.  Illegal associations in the town were dissolved; and the sponsor of the show and his fellow-instigators of the disorders were exiled (Annals 14.17; trans. by Michael Grant, The Annals of Imperial Rome [London: Penguin Books, 1973], 321-22).

A murmillo was a type of gladiator. He would have been armed with a gladius and a large rectangular shield. His armor consisted of a leather belt, a segmented or scaled arm guard, a closed helmet with a crest (possibly with plumes), shin guards, and padding under the armor. Because of the heavy equipment, the murmillo was almost always a tall, muscular man. He would usually be paired up with a lighter-armored gladiator, some of whom we will meet later in this series, to demonstrate a challenge between speed and power. Paintings of murmillos and other types of gladiators have been found at Pompeii.

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