A cestus is an ancient battle glove, sometimes used in pankration. In effect, it is the Classic World’s equivalent to brass knuckles. The Latin word caestus (plural caestÅ«s) is derived from verb caedere, meaning “to strike”. It is unrelated to the similar noun cestus (plural cestÄ«), that refers to a kind of belt worn by women in Ancient Greece.

The first version of a battle cestus was a series of leather thongs that were tied over the hand. Greeks used them in their hand-to-hand competitions, where only knock out mattered. Romans modified the construction by adding metal parts, including spikes, studs and iron plates. Variants of this weapon include the myrmex or “limb-piercer”, and the originally Greek sphairai, thin leather thongs with cutting blades.

Cestus were frequently used in Roman gladiatorial bouts, where otherwise unarmed combatants – mostly slaves – fought to the death. This form of boxing became increasingly bloody until the cestus was officially banned in the first century BC. Hand-to-hand fighting was banned in 393 AD. The most famous depiction of the cestus in sculpture is The Boxer of Quirinal, in Rome. The sitting figure is wearing cesti on his hands.