Rare Ancient Roman Boxing Gloves Uncovered at Vindolanda.

Vindolanda Trust - Monday, February 19, 2018

During the summer of 2017 Vindolanda archaeologists enjoyed one of their most successful annual research excavation seasons to date with one remarkable discovery after another coming to light. A small hoard of wafer thin Vindolanda Writing Tablets, many full of ancient cursive script, was quickly followed by a cache of material culture uncovered during the excavation of a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barrack.

 

The finds included complete swords, copper alloy horse gear, more precious writing tablets, leather shoes, bath clogs, combs, dice and two very unusual and distinctive pieces of leather. These two unusual leather objects have very similar attributes in terms of style and function, although they are not a matching pair, and they could not be likened to any of the many thousands of leather items previously discovered at Vindolanda.

 

 

Research of the objects at Vindolanda along with the considered observations by Roman leather and other experts has indicated that these leather objects are in fact boxing gloves and probably the only known surviving examples from the Roman period. 

 

 

Unlike the modern boxing glove these ancient examples have the appearance of a protective guard, designed to fit snugly over the knuckles protecting them from impact. The larger of the two gloves is cut from a single piece of leather and was folded into a pouch configuration, the extending leather at each side were slotted into one another forming a complete oval shape creating an inner hole into which a hand could still easily be inserted. The glove was packed with natural material acting as a shock absorber.  This larger glove has extreme wear on the contact edge and it had also undergone repair with a tear covered by a circular patch.   The slightly smaller glove was uncovered in near perfect condition with the same construction but filled with a tight coil of hard twisted leather.

 

The two gloves can still fit comfortably on a modern hand. They have been skilfully made, with the smaller glove retaining the impression of the wearer’s knuckles. It is likely that the gloves functioned as sparring or practice caestu each has a stiffened contact edge being a softer representation of the of the more lethal metal inserts used in ‘professional’ ancient boxing bouts.  It is thought that the larger glove may have been unfit for purpose due to prolonged use and may have survived alongside the ‘newer’ model resulting from a personal attachment given to it by the owner. 

 

Boxing was a well-documented ancient sport that preceded the Roman era.  In the context of the Roman Army it was a recorded pursuit, a martial activity designed to increase the skills and fitness of the boxers.  Boxing competitions also took place with crowds and supporters and it was also the sort of activity that the Roman garrisons would have gambled on.

 

Dr Andrew Birley, CEO and The Vindolanda Trust’s Director of Excavations commented “I have seen representations of Roman boxing gloves depicted on bronze statues, paintings and sculptures but to have the privilege of finding two real leather examples is exceptionally special.” Dr. Birley went on to say “what really makes Vindolanda so unique is the range of organic objects that we find. Every one of them brings you closer to the people who lived here nearly 2,000 years ago but the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you realise that you have discovered something as astonishing as these boxing gloves.”

 

The boxing gloves will be on display in the museum at Vindolanda from February 20th, 2018 along with other finds from the cavalry barrack excavations.      

ENDS.

For further information or hi-res photographs please contact:

Sonya Galloway,

The Vindolanda Trust, 01434 344277

sonyagalloway@vindolanda.com

www.vindolanda.com

 

If the shoe fits

Vindolanda Trust - Monday, October 10, 2016

1,800 years ago the Roman army built one of its smallest but most heavily defended forts at the site of Vindolanda, which is now a part of the Frontiers of The Roman Empire World Heritage Site. The small garrison of a few hundred soldiers and their families took shelter behind a series of large ditches and ramparts, while outside the walls a war was raging between the northern British Tribes and Roman forces. Once the war was over (c AD 212) the troops and their dependants pulled out of the fort, and anything that they could not carry with them on the march was tossed into the defensive ditches. The rubbish in the ditches was then quickly sealed when a new Roman town and fort was built at the site, preserving the rubbish in an oxygen free environment where the normal ravages of time, rust and decay, crawled to a halt.


In 2016, the Vindolanda archaeologists excavated the ditch and discovered an incredible time capsule of life and conflict, and amongst the debris were dog and cat skeletons, pottery, leather and 421 Roman shoes. Visitors who were lucky enough to come to Vindolanda this summer watched in amazement as shoe after shoe was found in the ditch, each one a window into the life of type of person who might have once worn it. Baby boots, small children’s shoes, teenagers, ladies and men’s boots, bath clogs, both indoor and outdoor shoes. What has been uncovered conceivably represents more than one shoe for every person who lived inside the fort at Vindolanda at that time. Dr Andrew Birley, the Vindolanda Trust’s CEO and Director of excavations was thrilled with what he calls ‘an unbelievable and unparalleled demographic census of a community in conflict from two millennia away from today. The volume of footwear is fantastic as is its sheer diversity even for a site like Vindolanda which has produced more Roman shoes than any other place from the Roman Empire’.

The shoe hoard also gives an indication of fashion and affluence of the occupants in AD 212 with some very stylish and well-made shoes, both adults and children’s, a fact which has captured the imagination of football fans with one child’s shoe in particular being likened to a modern Adidas Predator boot. Sonya Galloway, The Vindolanda Trusts Communication Manager noted that ‘the popularity of just one of the shoes has given great exposure to our collection here. It is one of the great assets of Vindolanda’s Designated collection that many of the artefacts are everyday items, things that we can directly connect with, it is the fact that they are so well preserved and almost 2000 years old which is simply extraordinary’. 


The shoes are now being conserved on site with a specifically re-adapted building to cope with the quantity of finds. The Trust’s Curator Barbara Birley noted ‘the volume of footwear has presented some challenges for our lab but with the help of dedicated volunteers we have created a specific space for the shoe conservation and the process is now well underway’ Barbara went on to say ‘The Vindolanda Trust is committed to the excavation, preservation and public display of its finds although each shoe costs between £80 and £100 to conserve. Finding so many shoes this year has resulted in significant additional costs for the laboratory’.  In light of the cost associated with the shoe hoard the Trust has launched a fundraising campaign asking for support from the public to ‘conserve a shoe’.  Dr Andrew Birley commented the Trust does not receive any external funding towards the excavation programme and we exist as a result of visitors to the site and through the support of our volunteers and Friends of Vindolanda. This year has been exceptional and we hope 421 generous people will come forward and donate £80 to help us specifically with the cost of conserving these shoes’.  All those who conserve a shoe will receive a numbered Certificate of Conservation full details of how to conserve a shoe can be found on the Vindolanda website. www.vindolanda.com/conserve-a-shoe

-ends-                  

Shoe Press release

For further information or hi-res photographs please contact:

Sonya Galloway,

The Vindolanda Trust, 01434 344277

sonyagalloway@vindolanda.com

www.vindolanda.com

Follow us on twitter: @VindolandaTrust

Follow us on Facebook @thevindolandatrust

Notes to Editors

The Vindolanda Trust

The Vindolanda Trust is an independent archaeological charitable trust, founded in 1970. The Vindolanda Trust does not receive any annual funding and relies on the visitors to both Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum to fund its archaeological, conservation and education work.

Vindolanda was originally constructed as a conquest then Stanegate frontier fort, Vindolanda became a major construction base for Hadrian’s Wall in the early AD 120’s when one of the largest forts was in use at the site.  Once the Wall was completed Vindolanda formed part of the Wall garrison, in spite of the fact that the main curtain wall of Hadrian’s Wall was a mile to the north of the site.  The fort continued to play an active role throughout Hadrian’s Wall’s history. In periods when other Wall forts were abandoned, such as in the AD 140’s-160’s, Vindolanda was maintained, its strategic position regarded as a vital part of the frontier system.


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