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Drawing of curved knife with T-handle

The arbelas (plural arbelai) was a type of ancient Roman gladiator. The word is a hapax legomenon, occurring only in the Oneirocritica of Artemidorus, a Greek work on dream interpretation that discusses the symbolism of various gladiator types.[1] It may be related to the Greek word arbelos (ἄρβηλος), a cobbler's semicircular blade used to cut leather[1][2][3] similar to an ulu.

A few reliefs show gladiators armed with a curved blade fighting each other; it has been argued that these (possibly also fighting retiarii, the net-fighters) are arbelai;[3] however, they have also been seen as the scissores who likewise may have been matched against retiarii.[2][4] The scissor, with whom the arbelas may be synonymous, is referred to in a roll call from the gladiator training school (ludus) owned in the 1st century BC by the lanista C. Salvius Capito.[citation needed]

Artemidorus lists the arbelas among gladiators who might appear in dreams advising a man about what sort of woman he is to marry. Both the dimachaerus, who fought with two curved blades, and the "so-called" arbelas signify that the woman will either be a poisoner, malicious, or ugly.[3][5]


  1. ^ a b Duncan, Anne (2006). Performance and Identity in the Classical World. Cambridge University Press. p. 205.
  2. ^ a b Fagan, Garret G. (2011). The Lure of the Arena: Social Psychology and the Crowd at the Roman Games. Cambridge University Press. p. 217.
  3. ^ a b c Carter, Michael (2001). "Artemidorus and the Arbelas Gladiator". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 134: 109–115. JSTOR 20190801. (subscription required)
  4. ^ Carter, Michael (2006). "Gladiatorial Combat with 'Sharp' Weapons (τοι̑ϛ ὀξέσι σιδήροιϛ)". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 155: 161–175. JSTOR 20191036. (subscription required)
  5. ^ Carter, Michael (2008). "(Un)Dressed to Kill: Viewing the Retiarius". In Edmondson, J. C.; Keith, Alison. Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture. University of Toronto Press. p. 129.
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