Roman boxing gloves discovered in North East

The Roman boxing gloves. Credit: Vindolanda

Archaeologists have made an unusual discovery in Northumberland - a pair of Roman boxing gloves.

They have been uncovered at Vindolanda, at Hadrian's Wall, and have just gone on display there.

These are among a series of discoveries at the site in the last year, with others including small hoard of wafer thin Vindolanda writing tablets, many full of ancient cursive script, and a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barrack as well as complete swords and copper alloy horse gear, .

The boxing gloves are made of leather and are though to be the only known surviving examples from the Roman period.

They have the appearance of a protective guard, designed to fit snugly over the knuckles protecting them from impact. The larger is cut from a single piece of leather and was folded into a pouch configuration, the extending leather at each side were slotted into one another forming a complete oval shape creating an inner hole into which a hand could still easily be inserted. The glove was packed with natural material acting as a shock absorber.

The slightly smaller glove was uncovered in near perfect condition with the same construction but filled with a tight coil of hard twisted leather.

They can still fit on a modern hand and have been skilfully made, with the smaller glove retaining the impression of the wearer’s knuckles.

The gloves are thought to have been used for sparring; each has a stiffened contact edge, a softer representation of the of the more lethal metal inserts used in ‘professional’ ancient boxing bouts. I

Archaeologists believe that the larger glove may have been unfit for purpose due to prolonged use and may have survived alongside the ‘newer’ model resulting from a personal attachment given to it by the owner.

Boxing was a well-documented ancient sport that preceded the Roman era and it was know to have been practiced by soldiers in the legions.

Dr Andrew Birley, CEO and The Vindolanda Trust’s Director of Excavations commented I have seen representations of Roman boxing gloves depicted on bronze statues, paintings and sculptures but to have the privilege of finding two real leather examples is exceptionally special.

What really makes Vindolanda so unique is the range of organic objects that we find. Every one of them brings you closer to the people who lived here nearly 2,000 years ago but the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you realise that you have discovered something as astonishing as these boxing gloves.