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The gladiatorial arena wasn’t just a meat grinder for male slaves with rippling abs. In fact, many of the people who participated in history’s most notorious blood sport were volunteers – trained soldiers and politicians looking for a little extra street cred. And, as it turns out, plenty of gladiators were women. Written records of female gladiators are persistent, but sparse, almost as if the Romans didn’t think the concept was so bizarre that they needed to specify when the combatants were women. Lady gladiators weren’t the result of some particularly progressive emperor who believed in gender equality in death sports, either. It was quite the opposite – women’s participation was the norm for 200 years, with evidence of various restrictions (no direct female relatives of a general or a senator could be recruited as gladiators, for instance) until Emperor Septimius Severus finally banned it, possibly because he had a cousin or something that got his ass chopped off by Lucretia the Crusher.
Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla, the daughter of emperor Marcus Aurelius, organized an unsuccessful conspiracy against her brother, the emperor Commodus. She was born in 148 C.E., the daughter of the younger Annia Galeria Faustina and Marcus Aurelius. Had she been born a son rather than a daughter, she may well have been a worthy successor to her father. […] In 164 her father arranged her marriage with Lucius Verus, whom he had made co-emperor in 161. The marriage took place in Ephesus, and she was given the title Augusta. She was some 18 years younger than her weak and ineffectual husband, who died in 169 on his way back to Rome from the Danube. Against her will and the wishes of Faustina, Marcus Aurelius immediately had Lucilla marry the much older Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, a native of Antioch. She was 21 and he was probably over 50. Her new husband was her father’s trusted friend and had been a commander in all of his campaigns. His father had been prefect of Egypt and the family was descended from rulers in the East. Lucilla undoubtedly considered the marriage beneath her and detested the sedentary country life that suited her ailing husband. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 and was succeeded by his son Commodus. […] Commodus treated his sister Lucilla respectfully. She sat on the imperial seat at the theatre and retained other privileges. However, she hated her sister-in-law, Crispina Bruttia, and recognized her brother’s limitations. In 182 Lucilla had uncovered sufficient discontent with her brother’s rule to organize a conspiracy for his overthrow. Members of the group included […] Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus, who was to do the actual stabbing. He was arrested while announcing to Commodus his intention to stab him. Lucilla was banished to Capri and soon afterwards killed. Her son, Claudius Pompeianus, was later murdered by the emperor Caracalla. [x]