National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Alison Futrell

Affiliation: University of Arizona, Tucson

Alison Futrell is Associate Professor of History and Head of the History Department with the University of Arizona, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Utah (B.S. in Anthropology), and the University of California at Berkeley (M.A. and Ph.D. in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology).  Her research is guided by her interest in the symbols and rituals of power in the Roman Empire, with particular focus on the deployment of gender and material culture in imperial politics.  Her first monograph, Blood in the Arena, looks at how the institution of the gladiatorial games functioned in the negotiation of power among different groups in the Roman Imperial West. She has appeared as a talking head on a number of documentaries for the History Channel and A & E, including “Hannibal”, “The True Story of Gladiators”, “Cleopatra’s World: Alexandria Revealed,” and, most recently, “Boudica: Warrior Queen”.  Professor Futrell is an AIA Joukowsky Lecturer for 2018/2019.


Although popular culture has long revered the gladiators as the manliest of Romans, posturing before howling crowds of plebeians as the rockstars of their day, the sex of gladiators as constructed by Romans is rather more complicated. This talk tackles the sexualized nuances of the arena, touching on the relative masculinity of gladiators as a group, within Roman society, as well as the sliding scale of virility among the different styles of combat. And what about female performers? Were spectacles that were populated by women contestants “sexier”, designed to titillate and persuade in a way that was different from the more standard shows? The kind of spectacle shaded the message of sexual power as well, as Christian women condemned to the arena were suffused with special authority by reason of their gender.

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