Sex in the Arena

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Although popular culture has long perceived the gladiators as the manliest of Romans, posturing before howling crowds of plebeians as the rock stars of their day, the sex of gladiators as constructed by Romans is rather more complicated. This chapter considers the sexualized nuances of the arena, touching on the relative masculinity of gladiators within Roman social and political hierarchy, as well as the sliding scale of virility among the different styles of combat. The phenomenon of women in the arena is explored: Were spectacles that were populated by women contestants designed to titillate and persuade in a way that was different from the more standard shows? Instances of spectacularized sex, shows that allegedly featured literal sexual engagement, point to demonstrations of moral and political authority by imperial sponsors; literary descriptions of risqué performances likewise functioned as moralizing critique of imperial powerbrokers. The genre of textual descriptions shaded the message of sexual power as well; Christian martyr acts reworked the suffering of Christian women condemned to the arena, claiming for them authority and agency that was both founded on and defiant of their gender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780199592081
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Achilles
  • Amazon
  • Blandina
  • Gender
  • Leda
  • Pasiphae
  • Perpetua
  • Retiarius
  • Sex
  • Theodora

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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