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Roman gladiator school unearthed in Austria

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Archaeologists have discovered the well-preserved remains of a Roman gladiator school on the banks of the Danube river in Austria and digitally recreated the site using sophisticated imaging techniques.

The so-called ludus is comparable to the famous ludus magnus, the great gladiatorial school behind the Coliseum in Rome.

An international team including computer specialists from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology used the latest non-invasive technology to discover a unique Roman building complex at Roman Carnuntum, 20 km east of Vienna.

The findings shed new light on how Roman gladiators lived and died in the provinces alongside the river Danube.

At Roman Carnuntum, one of the largest preserved archaeological landscapes of its type in Europe, the team used a novel motorised multi-antenna ground penetrating radar to explore interesting features identified on aerial photographs.

The suspicious area lay to the west of the amphitheatre, which was built in the first half of the second century AD and excavated from 1923 to 1930.

The new sensors revealed an extensive building complex interpreted as a school for gladiators.

The Roman amphitheatre at Carnuntum held around 13000 spectators and contemporary inscriptions claimed that it was the fourth largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire and frequently used for gladiatorial games.

The school of gladiators attracted little attention and the first hints that there was an important building came from analysis of aerial photographs.

These photographs showed the main road leading from the town towards the amphitheatre with buildings hosting shops and inns (taberna) on the eastern side.

The western side generally showed no structures at all but photographs hinted at the existence of a large building.

"The exceptional building, identified through the rapid survey as the school for gladiators, is almost unique in the Roman Empire for its size and completeness," researchers said.

The gladiatorial school at Carnuntum was set within a massive compound enclosing an area of 2800 square metre and set at the eastern end of a 11000 square metre land parcel surrounded by a wall, they said.

The school buildings were arranged around a central inner court where ground penetrating radar revealed a circular training arena, 19 m in diameter, enclosed by a wooden stand for spectators.

The foundations of a 100 square metre heated training hall, an extended bath complex, the 300 square metre administration and living complex of the owner of the school can be seen in the detailed images produced by radar.

In contrast, the gladiators appear to have been given cells that were as little as five square metre in size.

The image of the unique building is so clear that water pipes, sewers and the remains of the floor heating system can be seen clearly.

First Published: Fri, February 28 2014. 04:55 IST