The murmillo (also sometimes spelled mirmillo or myrmillo, pl. murmillones) was a type of gladiator during the Roman Imperial age. The murmillo-class gladiator was adopted in the early Imperial period to replace the earlier Gallus, named after the warriors of Gaul. As the Gauls inhabiting Italy had become well-integrated with the Romans by the time of the reign of Augustus, it became undesirable to portray them as enemy outsiders;[dubious ] the Gallus-class gladiator thus had to be retired.
Equipment and armaments
The murmillo was armed with:
- Gladius: Roman sword with length of 64–81 cm and weight of 1.2-1.6 kg with handle made of bone.
- Scutum: Rectangular shield made of vertically connected wooden boards with a small bronze cupola which protects shield's handle.
- Balteus: Leather belt with metal decorations and supplements. Similar to current boxing belts.
- Manica: Segmented or scaled arm guard made of leather or some metal alloys. Manica can also be mailed.
- Cassis Crista: A large helmet with plume crest or horsehair, usually made of bronze, with an ornate 'grill' face visor. Usually based on the broad-rimmed Greek Boeotian helmet.
- Ocrea: Shin guard/protectors made of gold, silver or other metals.
- Fasciae: Thick soft padding on legs which are used to wear ocreas without having calluses and blisters.
The murmillo usually fought the thraex or hoplomachus, with whom he shared some of the equipment (notably arm guards and all-enclosing helmet, and the dangerous short sword). A number of ancient authors, including Valerius Maximus and Quintillian, assert that he also regularly fought the retiarius. It would certainly have been an unusual pairing, contrasting a slow but heavily armoured gladiator with a fast but lightly equipped one. This pairing is disputed; visual depictions of murmillones usually show them fighting the thraex or hoplomachus rather than the retiarius. However, Channel 4's Time Team discovered a carved penknife handle in Wales, depicting a retiarius and a murmillo fighting.
The murmillo's fighting style was suited for men with large muscular arms and strong heavy shoulders needed to help him carry the weight of his shield and sword. Men who played the murmillo were shorter than most other gladiators but very muscular. The murmillo depended on his strength and endurance to survive the battle against foes who were more suited to attacking. The tower shield gave him an edge in defense and his gladius also gave him the ability to thrust and swing at his enemies when in close range. The murmillones were also trained to kick their enemies with the thick padding worn around their legs.
Examples of the pairing between murmillones and other gladiator types can be seen in frescoes and graffiti in Pompeii. In one well-preserved example, a murmillo named Marcus Atillus, who is credited with one match and one victory, is depicted standing over the defeated figure of Lucius Raecius Felix, a gladiator with 12 matches and 12 victories. His opponent is shown kneeling, disarmed and unhelmeted. The graffito records that Felix survived the fight and was granted his freedom (manumission).
- James Grout: Murmillo, part of the Encyclopædia Romana