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In Images: Skulls of Roman Gladiators and War Captives

Gladiator Skulls?

A depiction of a modern-day re-creation of an Eques gladiator.

(Image credit: Photo by Matthias Kabel, taken in Carnuntum Austria, CC Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported)

A January 2014 study in the Journal of Archaeological Science has found that a trove of skulls unearthed 25 years ago in Britain were likely from vanquished gladiators, war captives or criminals.


healed fractured cheekbone on fossil skull

(Image credit: © Heather Bonney / Museum of London)

The skulls were excavated n the heart of London in 1988 prior to construction, but only analyzed recently. Most belonged to young males, and bore marks of violence, such as this skull, with its healed cheekbone fracture.


jawbone of a roman era male

(Image credit: © Museum of London)

The jawbone of an adult male bore marks of dog gnawing, suggesting it was stored in an open pit

Blunt force trauma

blunt injury

(Image credit: © Museum of London)

This skull bears evidence of a sharp force injury at the base of the head

Hadrian's heads

Hadrian's Wall

(Image credit: Collpicto |

The skulls may have belonged to gladiators or criminals executed in a nearby amiptheater. But Roman soldiers also often took the heads of barbarians as "trophies" and displayed them publicly, in places such as Hadrian's Wall.

Other finds

skeleton of what may be king richard iii

(Image credit: University of Leicester)

This isn't the only time that construction has yielded stunning archaeological finds in Britain: the remains of Richard III were found under a parking lot in Leicester.

York gladiators


(Image credit: Public Domain.)

Other places in Britain suggest gladiatorial combat occurred. For instance, a cemetery in York seems to contain gladiator remains.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.