2,000 year old boxing gloves discovered
“Surely, if we were boxers, we should have been learning to fight for many days before, and exercising ourselves in imitating all those blows and wards which we were intending to use in the hour of conflict; and in order that we might come as near to reality as possible, instead of caestus we should put on boxing gloves.”
Boxing as we know it began without gloves, around the 17th century. Jack Broughton formalized the rules in the 18th century and developed what he called “Mufflers,” for training. However, gloves did not become used widely in competition until 1867 when the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were adopted.
Modern mixed martial arts was born from Vale Tudo fights in Brazil; neither used gloves. At UFC 4 Melton Bowen became the first UFC to wear gloves, and they became mandatory at UFC 14 on July 27, 1997.
However, their use date a little further back. Leather gloves were recently recovered in England dating to 120 AD. Although their existence was well known from Roman wall paintings, mosaics, and sculptures, these are the earliest surviving striking gloves in existence.
With a protective guard designed to fit snugly over the knuckles, the gloves were packed with natural material which acted as shock absorbers. They date from around AD120 and were certainly made to last: they still fit comfortably on a modern hand. One of them even retains the impression of the knuckles of its ancient wearer.
They are among the latest discoveries at a pre-Hadrianic Roman cavalry barrack, which was found last year beneath the fourth-century stone fort of Vindolanda, south of Hadrian’s Wall near Hexham, Northumberland.
“The hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you realize that you have discovered something as astonishing as these boxing gloves,” said Dr. Andrew Birley, the Vindolanda Trust’s director of excavations.
Archaeologists stumbled across the site by chance and were taken aback by the extraordinary military and personal possessions left behind by the men and their families some 2,000 years ago. The finds are in a remarkable state of preservation because they were concealed beneath a concrete floor laid by the Romans about 30 years after the barracks was abandoned, shortly before 120. Oxygen-free conditions prevented materials such as wood and leather from decaying.
“To the best of our knowledge, no examples have ever been found in the Roman empire,” said Patricia Birley, the trust’s former director. “It’s always tremendously exciting when you find something that you know about through other sources – depictions on wall paintings, vases … but to see the real thing is something quite unique. You learn so much more … For example, the larger of the gloves has been repaired. The owner has really wanted to keep this thing going, so he’s done his utmost to repair it and patch it. It’s that human touch that you get through the real object.”
The gloves are now displayed at the Vindolanda site museum.