Cestus

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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.

Terminology[edit]

Drawing of a cestus

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 (since this is a fourth declension noun,[1] where cestus in the second declension - nominative plural cestī - means a girdle or belt).[2] In English, "cestuses" can be used.[3]

Early Greek cestuses[edit]

The first cestuses in Ancient Greece were used in boxing-like competitions. Called meilichae (μειλίχαι), these gloves consisted of strips of raw hide tied under the palm, leaving the fingers bare.[4]

The Greeks also invented a variation called the sphaerae (σφαῖραι), which were sewn with small metal balls covered with leather.[4]

Roman cestuses[edit]

The Roman variant included straps of different lengths, many reaching to the elbow, in order to protect the forearm when guarding heavy blows.[4] Caestūs were frequently used in Roman gladiatorial bouts, both against each other and against other weapon-wielding gladiators. Despite seemingly outmatched by other types of gladiators, a single hit from a cestus would have incapacitated most fighters.[5] The cestus-fighter would have otherwise had no body armour.[6]

Cestus-fighters were mostly slaves, who 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 cestuses is the Hellenistic sculpture The Boxer of Quirinal. The sitting figure is wearing cestuses on his hands. It is part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Rome.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Charlton Lewis and Charles Short (1966). A Latin Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ "Latin Word Study Tool". tufts.edu. 
  3. ^ "cestus". TheFreeDictionary.com. 
  4. ^ a b c "Caestus, Or Cestus". chestofbooks.com. 
  5. ^ "Martial Arts of the World: R-Z". google.ca. 
  6. ^ "Roman Helmets". google.ca. 
  7. ^ "Boxer of Quirinal". uni-graz.at.