Torso of a woman tightening the strophion or mamillare

Sport played an integral part in Greek culture. It was considered as one of the oldest forms of entertainment, practised and enjoyed by most citizens: Greek Civilization created the ancient Olympic Games at Delphi.

In Ancient Greece, these Games took place every four years and were an important part of the religious life of the Greeks. The Games took place in the stadium at Olympia and were begun with a sacrifice to Zeus. The six principal sports of this period were athletics, jumping, the pankration, discus and javelin throwing and racing events.

The embodiment in art of the sports that were practised by the Ancient Greeks can be found in the iconographic scenes on ceramic vases, in free-standing stone sculpture and in wall reliefs. The Romans, in art as well as many other areas, adopted the practice of Greek sport. There are many examples in mosaics, bronze figures as well as in reliefs on sarcophagi.

The statue in question is that of a nude sportswoman, with the distinctive feature that her breasts are covered by a rectangular band. It is logical that for both Greeks and Romans clothing played a key role in marking out social status and for the identification of heroes and gods; it was also important in the world of sport. Under-garments of the Romans was called indumenta. There is no evidence of a wide use of under-garments until before the Republic. However, this changed during Republican times and a considerable quantity of these garments and sports garments started to be used daily in a regular manner.

It is known that workers used a subligar or a subligaculum (subligo, means “tie from below” and -culum, is a suffix which means “instrument”) to protect their genitals during physical work. This was a rectangular piece of linen or wool which generally also covered the stomach. Later, two new types developed: the subucula, which resembled a shirt and was normally made of linen, and the camisia, similar to a shirt. Under-garments also had distinct varieties: the campestre, a piece that could be used on hot days and when working in the open air; the strophium for women, a piece of leather that supported the bust and resembles today’s brassiere. Related to the latter is the mamillare, a strip of material or leather that covered and bound a woman’s breasts. It was used during physical activities and sports to prevent possible discomfort and avoid difficulty in motion.

The remains of a hand can be seen on this piece; the fingers are over the band as if they were pressing it. It can be compared to other examples in terracotta or bronze – only a few of them remaining and on a small scale – represent a woman binding a mamillare around her chest. It is of interest to note the detail of the right breast, where the artist has detailed the top of a bulging, voluptuous breast, clearly indicating the effect of the binding.

One of the best examples of the use of the mamillare can be seen in the mosaic “The coronation of the winner” from the Villa Romana del Casale Piazza Armerina (Sicily), from the Roman period at the end of the 4th century BC. This shows a group of women practising sport and the following crowning of the winner, who wears a wreath and holds an olive Branch. All the women are wearing a subligar and a mamillare.

This piece is, then, one of the few examples of marble statues of women practising sport. A cylindrical hole can be observed in the neck, which indicates that the marble head had been sculpted separately. Even though the limbs have been lost, the piece is of unquestionable beauty, above all the back. One can also clearly imagine the act of binding the mamillare around the chest with the left hand.

PARALLELS : show their breast covered by a subligar and a mamillare.

- Greek sculptures. Volume II. Département des Antiquities Grecques, Étrusques, et Romaine,s from the Louvre Museum. RMN. 1996. pp. 108 -109. fig. 113.
- Répertoire de la statuaire Grecque et Romaine. Tome II. Volume I, Paris, 1898. Pág. 345.
- Aphrodite with strophion. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Inventory number MYR 24.
- Aphrodite with strophion. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Inventory number BR 443.
- Aphrodite with strophion. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Inventory number MYR 23.
- Venus with a mamillare. Museum Burg Linn. Germany.
- SALOMON REINACH. Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine. Tome II, Vol. I. pp. 344 – 345. Paris. 1898.

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