A Roman gladiator's tombstone blames the ref for his fatal battle, according to a historian who decoded the 1,800-year-old epitaph.
"After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately," reads the epitaph of a fighter named Diodorus. "Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis [referee] killed me."
The tombstone, which depicts a gladiator holding two swords, standing above a surrendering opponent, was decoded by Michael Carter, a professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada. Carter said that, unlike popular conception, gladiator fights had intricate rules and did not always result in one combatant's death.
"I believe that there are a number of very detailed rules involved in regulating gladiatorial combat," Carter told LiveScience.com.
The rule Carter believes Diodorus may have been citing was one that allowed a gladiator who fell by accident to get back up, pick up his equipment and resume combat. Carter interprets the image on the tombstone to be of a moment in his final fight when Demetrius had been knocked down and Diodorus had grabbed a hold of his sword.
"Demetrius signals surrender, Diodorus doesn't kill him; he backs off expecting that he's going to win the fight," Carter said. But instead of the battle being over, the ref rules the fall as accidental. Given a new chance, Demetrius wins the fight, according to Carter.
The inscription says Diodorus lived, fought and died in Amisus, on the sought coast of the Black Sea in Turkey.