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Unknown gladiatorial weapon
Avete omnes,

I don't know whether this theme has been treated on this forum before but I found it worth to be mentioned here.

Last sunday I saw a documentation on German TV about the gladiatorial cemetery at Ephesus, discovered already in 1993 and unearthed by Austrian archaeologists. They found beside some interesting tumbstones ('in situ') the bones of about 70 individuals.

On a thigh bone, scarcely above the knee, there was a strange wound, consisting of 4 squarely arranged puncture holes. After long investigation the archaeologists found an obviously well-known gravestone that showed something that up to then had been regarded as a cult object:

[Image: quadrens1.jpg]

My apologies for the bad image quality - I photographed it immediately from the TV screen. The stone shows a retiarius with trident and dagger in his left and the unknown object in his right hand instead of the fishnet. The gladius-like object obviously had several thin points instead of a blade. The archaeologists compared the holes in the thigh bone with the depicted object and reconstructed a weapon that they called quadrens.

[Image: quadrens3.jpg]

Has this weapon called quadrens been known from literal sources, has anybody in this forum heard about it before or is it a modern expression as we use it for example for the lorica segmentata?

Greets - Uwe
Hi there

I have a theory on this weapon.

A lot of retiarius gravestones show the gladiator as the sculpture below. However, almost universally they show that the thing in his hand has three prongs not four. This item is often used as the sculptural evidence of the four pronged quadren mentioned below.

There is one grave stone I know of that clearly shows a four pronged device like teh reconstruction shown, all the others are three pronged.

The following is based upon my own supposition and guess work. I think that the sculpture showing a trident on the hand rather than a quadren is not an artistic mistake, perhaps retired retiarius rather than being given a rudis may have been given a trident head, either wood or metal we can't tell from the sculpture as the paint is never present.

I suspect that the quadren did exist as one sculpture clearly shows it, but it was a rare thing indeed and perhaps the bone with the damage was unlikely for him someone that was hit by it, but why he has the damage in the knee is a mystery unless the fight had really fallen apart to allow a scutarii to get hit in his right knee.

Almost universally retarius are shown continuing the fight after the trident is gone with a dagger not a quadren which I have never seen in any artwork depicting a fight.

Just a few thoughts.
I've wondered about that thing for years, ever since I saw that tombstone and others reproduced in "Gladiateurs dans l'Orient Grec." what it reminds me of inescapably is the little prongs and barbs that Spanish bullfighters plant in the bull's neck before the fight proper begins. It seems to be found only in that part of the Greek east, I know of no other representations. Maybe, just to make the fight more interesting, the retiarius came out with the quadrens and no other weapon and sought to plant it somewhere on the secutor, then went back for his net, trident and dagger to finish the fight. If he'd been successful, the secutor would be weakening. Like Graham, I think it unlikely that the rete could plant that thing in a secutor's knee while encumbered with net. trident and dagger, but he might if the quadrens was all he had to worry about. It would be a great show of agility and bravery on the part of the retiarius because he would be incredibly exposed while trying to plant the thing.
Just a speculation, but I think it is valid considering the similar bullfight practice. The Spanish bullring is the direct descendant of the Roman bestiarius shows.
Pecunia non olet
Graham, John,

as an additional information I want to tell You yet that the four holes in the bone were absolutely squarely arranged. The reconstructed weapon at the photo above was constructed in such a way that it would fit with the holes.

So this might be an explanation why some tumbstones show a quadrens with only 3 pronges: seen from the front and depending upon perspective may be only 3 pronges visible, whereby the other sculptor did not consider perspective but put more value on depicting the weapon with 4 points.

Greets - Uwe
It's a peculiar one indeed, especially, as John has mentioned its only found in Greek representations of the retiarius.

I take the point on perspective and this is something that must be considered. Also its worth looking at the various other images of the retiarius that holds a quadren or trident in his hand on the graves, as many of them are exact copies of the trident head he carries on his trident. I guess we just can't know ...

All the best
Graham's theory about retiarii presented with a trident head is one we hadn't considered but is realistic and certainly food for thought.

I also concur with the fact that the weapon may have existed in its own right... but was rare in comparison with other, more conventionally recognised gladiatorial weapons.

We had one made up by blade specialist Tim Noyes at Heron Armoury he called it the 'Ephesian Teeth', he also was of the opinion that due to the proximity of the 'prongs' it served little use as a blade trapper.

We've only used it a few times, it is awkward to handle but packs a punch once you get used to it.
It certainly isn't a blade trapper as far as we can see.

A few thrusts into flesh covered uncooked cow bones had it penetrating deep into the marrow and leaving a gaping hole that one would imagine could be hard for an ancient surgeon to 'patch up'.

If that's at all useful?

Look forward to hearing from others that have tinkered with similar reconstructions.
Tim Noyes interpretation-

(Hope it's clear)

He maintained that the 4 'prongs' were easier for ancient technological processes to make, work and indeed temper if they were square in section - they were even twisted at the end to make a strong hand grip (educated guesswork) - the points were however rounded off - to conform to the exact wound impressions and measurements found on the bone.

This is shown before the leather hand grip was applied.

It's guesswork, in fact a puzzle without a picture on the box to refer to... but makes a fascinating conversation piece at gladiatorial shows.
Here is the relevant pic from the Ephesos catalog. The gladiator stele, from Milas Museum, no.2827 shows an interesting detail of 2nd/3rd century belts, i.e. the long straps, quite like the military, but even longer it seems. Those are shown on another provocator relief (no 2826) from the same museum and probably from the same artist as well (also note the curious little loop at the pommel of the short sword).


Hallo Martin,

thank You for the interesting photos. About the loop at the provocator's sword pommel: this remembers me to a reconstruction painting with a legionary having a short loop around his wrist that was connected with the pommel. Obviously a measure to avoid loosing the weapon in close combat, what IMO makes sence for a gladiator.

Just out of curiosity, is there a dog sitting beside the gladiator with the trident and the maybe quadrens?

Greets - Uwe
Hi Uwe,

yes I think it is a dog down there (the picture is rather small and w/o proper description). It is not an uncommon attribute on gladiatorial depictions, though I can't recall reading anything about its meaning. Does anybody know?

I was thinking along the same line as you about the loop at the sword pommel. The curious thing is that the way it is depicted it does not serve that purpose ...


The pommel loop is commonly seen in gladiatorial art, and it never goes around the gladiator's wrist. It seems too small for that purpose anyway. One gladiator is depicted in a posture of surrender with his sword dangling from one finger by its loop. I believe that the loop is for hanging the weapons from pegs in the armories. We never see a gladiatorial sword worn in a sheath. They were passed out to the fighters in the arena, so they didn't require sheaths.
Pecunia non olet
Hi John,

yes, that sounds like the most probable answer, thanks! Do you remember where that gladiator is depicted and what class he was?


I can e-mail the picture to you but dont know its provenance .

Conal Moran

Do or do not, there is no try!
Salvete Omnes,

I, too saw this documentary about the gladiator cemetary which the Austrian Archaeological Institute excavated near Ephesos and stumbled also about this weird weapon.

By coincedence I traveled in October 2005 to Turkey and spent a week in Selcuk/Ephesos and at the Archaeological Museum in Selcuk they were still hosting the temporary exhibition on the gladiator cemetary and the finds the Austrians made there. I bought of course also the catalog of this exhibition.

They found a femur which shows marks of a fracture in this pattern which looks like the four on a dice and therefore assumed it must have been this weird weapon which they called a cubic quadrens. They assume that the weapon shown on the relief which Uwe had posted is this quadrens, although in that picture are only three spikes instead of four but this is explained by the perspective. The relief is from Tomio, shown in Bucuresti Nationalmuseum.
The average thigh bone is 1 inch diameter. Broader near the joint. I would like to make a replica of this cubic. I need some measurements. What do you all think of 9 inch long 1/4 inch spikes spaced 1 and 1/4 inch apart ?

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