Blogging from A to Z: R is for Retiarius

1880 Bronze of a retiarus in the National Museum at Krakow, Poland. Pius Weloński / Public domain

As I mentioned in M is for Murmillo, there were several known types of gladiators. Unlike what you might see in the movies, they were highly trained in one particular style of fighting; they were not just given a pile of equipment and made to “make do” or “figure it out.”

One of those types was the retiarius, who fought with equipment based on that of fishermen. He wore only an arm guard and a shoulder guard besides his loincloth, and was armed solely with a weighted net, a short dagger (pugio), and a long trident. The retiarius had to rely on agility and evasion to win his battles; his best hope was ensnaring his opponent in the net. The retiarius was usually pitted against the more heavily armed secutor, whom we will meet in tomorrow’s post.

Retiarii were considered the lowest class of gladiator; their reliance on escape as a battle tactic was seen as effeminate. Nevertheless, contemporary sources such as artwork, graffiti, and grave markers document several retiarii as skilled combatants and lovers.

3 thoughts on “Blogging from A to Z: R is for Retiarius

  1. I love the idea of a fisherman fighter who relies of evasion and escape! (The Bob Marley quote comes to mind: “He who fights and runs away/lives to fight another day.”) I also like the thought that the same qualities that made them skilled combatants also made them skilled lovers.


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