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RB1605

A bronze Samnite Gladiator belt, Roman Republican period, ca. 4th Century B.C.

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, two large tapered hooks are fastened to the belt by means of riveted attachment plates, each shaped like a scalloped palmette with incised lines.  Cast as a single piece, the hooks themselves are narrow with deeply grooved flanges that look like elongated arrowheads.  At the other end are six circular eyelets in two rows for the adjustable attachment of hooks. The belt is plain, with the only elaborate 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 being made between the weapons imagined to be 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.

Bibliography: 
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 (bronze belt clasp with very similar pattern; 4th century BC).

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: Height: 3.3 in (8.5 cm), diameter: 13 in (33 cm)

Condition:  An ancient rivet repair to the right side of the belt is testament of the value to its ancient owner.  There is cracking with a small loss to the back 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 and in very good condition overall. The museum quality professional acrylic mount for complete stabilization makes this a superb example.

Provenance: Heinz von der Heidt private collection, Krefeld, Germany, acquired from the German trade in 1981.  Accompanied with original purchase invoice.

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