The Colosseum in Rome held a special tour to mark Women's Day on Thursday, exploring the famous monument's feminine angle -- from female gladiators to noblewomen in love with the arena fighters.
"From senators' wives to humbler women, many were crazy about gladiators. They were like footballers today," said Lucilla Rossi, a tour guide.
She said the problem was that stories about the liaisons between Roman women and gladiators were all contained in chronicles written by men.
"They are very critical of the women, their behaviour, their feelings, especially when they behave differently from the stereotype of a Roman matron.
"It's not very impartial!" she said.
A comedian in the arena below declaimed some scathing verses from the Latin poet Juvenal about women's love for gladiators: "Iron, that's what they love!"
Juvenal also spilled the gossip on Eppia, the wife of a senator, saying she abandoned her children and ran off to Egypt with a gladiator even though he had "a broken arm, a big bump on the nose and a rheumy eye."
Faustina the Younger, the wife of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, was also rumoured to have enjoyed numerous liaisons with gladiators.
Her son Commodus (161-192) -- one of Rome's most bloodthirsty emperors -- was born from one of these trysts, according to some chroniclers.
Women also played a more active role in the history of the Colosseum, fighting in the same world of blood, sand and tears as men.
"It was very limited," said the Colosseum's director, Rossella Rea.
"It was more light entertainment, a bit of a niche," she said.
A mosaic from the Colosseum contains two figures who could be women with their gladiator weapons held aloft and dragging an animal.
Rossi said: "The surprise effect, the sensation were very sought after."
"There were extraordinary animals, like hippopotamuses or giraffes, and unusual fights like women and dwarves."
(Women visit Rome's Colosseum to celebrate the International Women's Day. The Colosseum in Rome held a special tour to mark Women's Day on Thursday, exploring the famous monument's feminine angle -- from female gladiators to noblewomen in love with the arena fighters. AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro)