Brooches (fibulae in Latin) were used particularly in the Western Roman Empire for fastening garments of clothing such as cloaks. The umbrella style of ‘plate brooches’ developed in the mid-first century AD, and allowed a greater canvas for decoration than earlier bow brooches did. The earliest plate brooches consisted of a front-on metal plate with a pin attachment on the back, known simply as ‘disc brooches’. However, it did not take long for these to become more and more elaborate: soon sunburst patterns emerged, as did lozenge shaped brooches and zoomorphic designs. As plate brooches were far more intricate in pattern but able to hold far less fabric than bow brooches, they were typically worn by wealthier individuals who sported lighter and finer quality garments.
Gladiator scenes were immensely popular, as the sport appealed to everyday Romans. Gladiators, victorious in fights, gained celebrity-like status. There were many types of gladiators in the Roman games, including ‘samnite’, ‘gaul’, ‘thraex’, ‘murmillo’, ‘retiarius’, and ‘secutor’. Each type had their own arms and armour, which furnished an individual fighting style with differing strengths and weaknesses. The present scene features two types of gladiators. The legionnaire-style armour with a long rectangular shield and a short straight sword (and perhaps a helmet) identifies the figure on the left as a ‘provocator’ or ‘murmillo’. The fallen figure on the right is outfitted in lighter armour; including an arm guard and a raised shoulder guard, characteristic of the armour worn by the ‘retiarii’.