Fragment of the Boxer sculpture from the Quirinal. On the hands you can see thong gloves, which were supposed to increase the strength of the blow. It is located in the Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme Museum in Rome. | Photo: MatthiasKabel | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Boxing (pugilatus) was a popular sport in ancient Rome. In order to protect the hands from damage, fists were wrapped with leather thongs. With time, the harder skin was used, which increased the strength of the blow and caused more damage. Boxing came to Rome from the Greek culture, but their innovation was to “improve” the straps that wrap the fists by attaching nails and other sharp metal parts or mounting metal plates. The Roman glove was called cestus.
A variation of this glove was myrmex (so-called “limb piercing”). Boxing fights took place in amphitheatres and were fought from the beginning until one of the rivals was killed. With time, however, it began to depart from such fighting, realizing that the death of the boxer meant a loss of money. The rules of the fight were simple: using only hands you could hit any part of the body, both the back and the genitals. There were neither weight categories nor time limits. The winner won either by knockout or by submission. Boxing fights were banned in 393 CE because of too much brutality.
In the Roman army, boxing was promoted to strengthen character, strength and endurance of soldiers.
A drawing showing fists fighting in ancient times.
Historical Picture Archive / Corbis via Getty Images