The Curative Properties of Gladiators’ Bodily Fluids
Ancient Romans had what can be described as mixed feelings about gladiators. On the one hand, gladiators were despised as slaves, trained under extremely brutal conditions, marginalized, and generally segregated from free Romans. On the other hand, gladiators, especially the most successful ones, were admired and celebrated as if they were a cross between modern rock stars and star athletes.
Because of their constant training, gladiators were often impressive physical specimens, well proportioned, with rippling muscles glistening in the arena before spectators. Understandably, that made gladiators the objects of sexual fantasies for many Roman women, and for quite a few Roman men, for that matter. If the gladiator sexual fantasy could not be gratified directly – and huge, although not insurmountable, social barriers stood in the way – it might be gratified at a remove. Gladiator bodily fluids, especially their sweat, were highly sought after commodities in Ancient Rome. Wealthy Roman women, in particular, were willing to pay a hefty price for sweat and dirt from the bodies of famous gladiators.
A curved metal blade called a strigil, used by Romans to remove dirt, perspiration, and oils from the skin before bathing, was used to scrape sweat and dirt from gladiators’ skins. It would then be collected in vials, which were offered for sale outside the gladiatorial games. The buyers would often apply the gladiators’ sweat and grime directly to their faces, as a type of facial cream. Others might mix it with cosmetics and perfumes – which in Ancient Rome were usually the preserve of women of status.
Gladiator blood was also sought after by Roman women. Many applied the blood of their favorite gladiators to coat their jewelry, combs, wigs, and other accouterments, or mixed it with their cosmetics. Gladiators were seen as particularly virile, which led to the somewhat ghoulish and macabre practice of using gladiator blood (and sometimes sweat) as an aphrodisiac. The more successful and famous a gladiator, the more potent an aphrodisiac his blood or sweet were believed to be. It could be drunk pure, but more often, was mixed with wine and ingested that way.
The use of gladiator blood was not limited to cosmetics and aphrodisiacs. It was also believed to have healing properties, particularly in treating epilepsy. As Pliny the Elder described it: “Epileptic patients are in the habit of drinking the blood even of gladiators, draughts filled with life as it were; a thing that, when we see it done by the wild beasts in the same arena, inspires us with horror at the spectacle! And yet these persons consider it a most effective cure for their disease, to drink he warm, breathing, blood from man himself, and, as they apply their mouth to the wound, to draw forth his very life; and this, though it is regarded as an act of impiety to apply the human lips to the wound even of a wild beast!”