The fresco of the Fighting Gladiators. A new discovery in Regio V

Two gladiators at the end of a fight, with one winning and the other succumbing. This is the scene of the most recent fresco to be discovered at Pompeii at the Regio V excavation site, as part of the stabilisation works and remodelling of the excavation fronts overseen by the Great Pompeii Project.

In it we have the scene of combat between a ‘Murmillo and a ‘Thracian, two types of fighters who were distinguished both by their different armour and by the traditional opponents they faced in gladiatorial fights. On a white background, bounded by a red band on three sides, the scene of the duel between the two gladiators is composed. On the left we have the ‘Murmillo of the ‘Scutati’ category, wielding an offensive weapon, the gladium (the Roman short sword), as well as a large rectangular shield (scutum), and wearing a wide-brimmed helmet equipped with a visor and crest. The other, who appears to be losing, is a ‘Thracian’, a gladiator of the ‘Parmularii’ category, with his shield on the ground. He is depicted with a wide-brimmed helmet (galea) equipped with a wide visor to protect the face, surmounted by a tall crest.

The approximately 1.12 x 1.5 metre fresco, was discovered in a room behind the clearing at the intersection between Vicolo dei Balconi and Vicolo delle Nozze d’Argento. It has a trapezoidal shape because it was located under the stairs of what may have been a shop. The imprint of the wooden staircase can be identified above the painting. It is highly probable that the painting decorated a room where gladiators spent time, and which may have been a seedy tavern with an upper floor that housed the business owners, or indeed, particularly given the presence of gladiators, prostitutes.

Until a few years ago, the archaeological site of Pompeii was known all over the world for its negative image: collapses, strikes and lines of tourists under the sun. Today it is a story of redemption and millions more tourists. Today it is a welcoming site, but above all it is a place where research, via new excavations, has returned. The discovery of this fresco demonstrates that Pompeii is truly an inexhaustible mine of research and knowledge for the archaeologists of today and of the future”. Such were the words of the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini.

It is highly probable that this was a place where gladiators spent time”, - declared Director General Massimo Osanna – “We are in Regio V, not far from the gladiator barracks, where among other things the highest number of graffiti inscriptions referring to this world come from. In this fresco, what is of particular interest is the extremely realistic depiction of the wounds, such as that on the wrist and chest of the defeated gladiator, from which blood spills out onto the greaves. We do not know what the final outcome of this fight was. One could die or have mercy. In this case there is a characteristic gesture that the Thracian is making with his hand, to beg for salvation. It is the gesture of adlocutio, which was usually made by the Emperor or a general to grant mercy.  

The room where it was discovered has only partially be brought to light - on one side, another small portion of fresco is emerging which reveals the presence of another figure - since its excavation has been possible following the intervention to stabilise and remodel the slopes of the fronts, which constitutes a high priority for the whole Regio V site”.