The Samnites, a tribe from Campania the Romans fought in the fourth and third centuries BC, were the prototype for Rome's professional gladiators. It was their equipment that was first used and later adopted for the arena. This wide bronze belt was worn by a Samnite warrior to clasp a tunic at the waist. Highly prized in antiquity, it was manufactured from a single piece of hammered metal and along both the top and bottom edge, is a row of small punched holes that allowed the belt to be sewn to a leather or cloth lining for greater comfort. At one end, five finely tapered hooks are fastened to the belt by means of riveted attachment plates, each shaped like a small scalloped palmette. Cast individually, the hooks themselves are narrow and look like elongated arrowheads. At the other end are five circular eyelets in three rows enabling an adjustable attachment for the hooks. The belt is plain, with the only decoration adorning the clasps, which is typical of Samnite belts.
Background: Samnite warriors, taken as slaves after the Roman conquest, were used as gladiators in the arenas. Originally, these captured soldiers were made to fight with their own weapons and in their particular style of combat. It was from these conscripted prisoners of war that the gladiators acquired their exotic appearance, a distinction made between the weapons imagined being used by defeated enemies and those of their Roman conquerors. The Samnite wore an elaborate helmet, a wide metal belt, such as this example, a large oblong shield, a sword and probably a greave on the left leg.
Carratelli, G. P. (ed.), The Western Greeks, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 1996, Catalogue Nos. 118 II (bronze lamina belt, 599-575 BC) and 266 V (bronze lamina belt with silver lamina inserts; mid 4th century BC).
Connolly, P., Greece and Rome at War, London, Macdonald, 1981, Figs. 2-7, p. 108; p. 109 and Figs. 3 and 10, p. 110 (Samnite bronze belts; 4th century BC).
Helle W. Horsnaes, The Cultural Development in North Western Lucania C. 600-273 BC, L'Erma di Bretschenieder, Rome (2002).
Juliis, E. M. De, Archeologia in Puglia: I Musei Archeologici della provincia di Bari, Bari, Adda Editore, 1983, Fig. 130.
Robinson, E. G. D., "South Italian Bronze Armour", Classical Art in the Nicholson Museum, Sydney, eds. A. Cambitoglou and E. G. D. Robinson, Mainz, Philipp von Zabern, 1995, Figs. 1 and 7 and Pl. 46.
Suano, M., Sabellian-Samnite Bronze Belts in the British Museum, ed. L. Burn, London, British Museum (Occasional Paper No. 57), 1986, Fig. 1 (Type 1 B), Pls. 1-10.
Valerio Cianfarani, Luisa Franchi Dell'Orto, and Adriano La Regina, Culture adriatiche antiche d'Abruzzo e di Molise, De Luca, Rome (1978).
Dimensions: 4.25 x 15.75 x 4.7 inches (12.5 x 40 x 12 cm)
Condition: Loss to the tip of the middle belt hook, cracking to the belt professionally stabilized and expected minor losses to the edges, the usual pitting, and surface corrosion, rendering the piece somewhat fragile but the belt is otherwise in such good condition it can be handled carefully without concern. Fine brown-green patina with some patches of red. The professional museum quality acrylic mount ensures complete stabilization and makes this a superb example.
Provenance: From the museum collection of Axel Guttman (1944 - 2001), Berlin, likely acquired in the 1980s.