Bloody, Defeated Gladiator Drips Gore in Gruesome Fresco Uncovered at Pompeii

Two gladiators at the end of a fight — one victorious and the other yielding in defeat — appear on the latest fresco found in Pompeii.
Two gladiators at the end of a fight — one victorious and the other yielding in defeat — appear on the latest fresco found in Pompeii. (Image credit: Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Rich, vibrant hues in a fresco recently uncovered at Pompeii illustrate the brutal finale of a violent battle between two gladiators. 

The unknown artist was generous with the color red; the upright victor is bleeding from several gashes, and the losing fighter's body is striped with gore as bloody drops spray from multiple wounds on his arm and upper body.

Officials with the Archaeological Park of Pompeii announced the find Oct. 11 on the park's website. The fresco was found on a wall in the ruins of an ancient tavern in Regio V, a zone in the northeastern part of Pompeii, park representatives reported. 

Related: Pompeii Photos: Archaeologists Find Skeletal Remains of Victims of the Vesuvius Eruption

Regio V also holds a block of gladiators' barracks, and it's "very probable" that gladiators were frequent visitors to the tavern where the bloody fresco hung, Massimo Osanna, the park's director general, said in a statement

In the fresco, the gladiator on the left stands victorious, holding his shield high. By comparison, the loser is weak and staggering, holding up his left hand in a gesture imploring for mercy, according to the statement.

"It is interesting to see the extremely realistic representation of the wounds," Osanna said.

Pompeii and its people perished when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, swiftly burying everything and everyone within the city under a thick layer of ash. Because the eruption blanketed Pompeii so quickly, it preserved an unprecedented snapshot of life in a Roman city.

Parts of the city are accessible to visitors, while ongoing excavation in other areas is still uncovering tantalizing clues about how people lived thousands of years ago. Discoveries earlier this year included amulets of deities, skulls and phalluses; an inscription describing a banquet for more than 6,000 people; and a snack bar with a sexy sea nymph decoration to lure customers.

But one of Pompeii's mysteries that may remain eternally unsolved is the fate of the yielding, bloodstained gladiator in the fresco. For the losers in gladiatorial combat, "you could die or have grace," Osanna said. "We do not know what the final outcome of this fight was."

Originally published on Live Science.

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Mindy Weisberger
Live Science Contributor

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.