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But Swain, for one, thinks it's possible she was a former slave turned wealthy female gladiator.A routine inspection by the Museum of London's archaeologists of a building site on the outskirts of the old city led to the discovery of the woman's remains.In Roman society, gladiators were bought and sold as slaves and condemned to become contract killers in the ring. They paid unabashed homage to anyone who displayed valor.Emperors issued coins stamped with the faces of popular gladiators, and wealthy families decorated homes with scenes of their death agonies.A curiosity about the exploits of female gladiators seems oddly out of character for archaeologist Hedley Swain, a short, slim, compact man of 40 with a smile full of crooked teeth and an affinity for conservatively tailored suits and ties.Swain is the head of the Museum of London's early history department, where he is in charge of a pile of ashes and bone fragments dubbed Gladiator Girl by the British press.But various chronicles reveal how bloodthirsty Roman crowds delighted in watching women fight each other in the ring. D., the emperor Nero, a man famed for his personal debaucheries, forced the bejeweled and cosseted wives of Roman senators into amphitheaters, presumably to take up swords against each other. Above: One oil lamp was engraved with the image of a fallen gladiator.
According to classical scholars, at least two Roman emperors, Nero and Domitian, reveled in watching women battle each other in the ring.No sooner had the team begun sinking test pits at Great Dover Street, in the Southwark district, than they stumbled on a graveyard from an era when London was a remote outpost of the Roman Empire.