Sep 27, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: The Cestus of the Romans

The Cestus is a deadly hand held melee weapon that was born from an ancient sport known as Boxing but was most popular in the Roman Coliseum. Boxing wasn’t invented by the Americans, British, Italians, or Irish, despite its popularity in those nations. It didn’t originate from Mexico or Russia either. In fact none of these countries existed when evidence of boxing was discovered from over 3,000 years ago in the Mesopotamia region.

The Cestus (Art by TL Jeffcoat)
Since this isn’t a history lesson on boxing, let’s get back to the Cestus. The Cestus is what the Greeks called the leather straps around their hands. When the Greeks first designed the Cestus, it was just leather. It was meant to soften the contact between an opponent’s face and the knuckles. This made boxing more of a sport than actual combat.

The Roman’s snatched the concept and went the complete opposite direction from safety. They fitted the leather straps with iron bands to make it easier to open someone’s skull or shatter ribs. It was easy to master which made it ideal for gladiators. You just punched like you would if you were boxing. This loop of iron strapped to the knuckles was eventually banned from the arena by 393 AD because a Cestus in hand to hand fighting was too bloody. Knowing what went on in the Coliseum, brawls with the Cestus must have been so bloody even the Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, would be disgusted.

There isn’t much more to the Cestus than this, it was pretty straight forward. It was light enough to conceal and heavy enough to make brass knuckles feel like you were slapped by a foam finger in comparison. There was a story about a Greek boxer killing a full grown bull with a Cestus. The story claimed he only hit it once. At first you might say, “No way.” But remember the Greeks obsession with the perfect body. These men were supreme athletes and a Cestus in the hands of possibly one of the strongest men alive could probably crush any skull, no matter how thick.

To further reinforce the possibility of such astounding power, guys like Mike Tyson and Brock Lesnar have been measured to strike heavy bags with bare fists at around 1,000 pounds of pressure. That alone would fracture a normal human skull with one strike. These men are obviously subjects of a more advanced physical training and nutrition plan, but the Greeks weren’t that far behind other than not have fancy equipment and supplements. They exercised and trained every day. That was their job as boxers.

Nowadays the modern boxer uses a heavily padded glove. Which is great, because if guys like Mike Tyson had worn the Cestus, he wouldn’t have a crazy KO record, he’d have a body count with fights lasting half the time, if that was even possible.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

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