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Boxing scene from Vergil's Aeneid, Book 5, when the aging Sicilian champion Entellus defeats the young Trojan Dares, blood spurting from his injured head. Both wear caestūs. Entellus sacrificed his prize, a bull, by landing a great blow to the animal's head. (Mosaic floor from a Gallo-Roman villa in Villelaure, France, ca. 175 AD)

A cestus or caestus is an ancient battle glove, sometimes used in pankration. They were worn like today's boxing gloves, but were made with leather strips and sometimes filled with iron plates or fitted with blades or spikes, and used as weapons.


The word caestus is Latin, a deverbal noun derived from the verb caedere, meaning "to strike", and can be reasonably translated as "striker". The Latin plural is caestūs (not caesti, since this is a fourth declension noun),[1] although in English "cestuses" has also been used.[2]

Drawing of a caestus

Early Greek caestus[edit]

The first caestūs in Ancient Greece were series of leather thongs tied over the hand for use in boxing-like competitions. The Greeks also invented a variation called the sphaerae which were fitted with cutting blades.[3]

Roman caestus[edit]

Roman variants included the myrmex (or "limb-piercer") and others featuring various iron plates, spikes, or studs. Caestūs were frequently used in Roman gladiatorial bouts, where otherwise unarmed combatants – mostly slaves – fought to the death. Caestūs boxing became increasingly bloody until hand-to-hand fighting was officially banned in 393 AD.[citation needed]

Boxer of Quirinal[edit]

Cestus on the Boxer of Quirinal

The most famous depiction of the caestus is the Hellenistic sculpture The Boxer of Quirinal. The sitting figure is wearing caestūs on his hands. It is part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Rome.[4]

See also[edit]