Two articles of apparel are known by the name cestus, both belonging to ancient Greece and Rome. The word can refer to a weapon made of leather straps, worn as a gauntlet, and used by Greco Roman boxers and gladiators. It also can refer to a type of embroidered girdle once popular among the women of Greece and Rome. For the purposes of clarity, this article will refer to them as the cestus glove or belt, but no such distinction is generally made, and each item can be referred to simply as a cestus.
Ancient Greeks used the cestus glove when boxing to give their blows more power. They were made by wrapping a series of ox-hide thongs around the hand and tying them at the forearm or sometimes up to the elbow. Some were wrapped around closed fists, and others left fingers exposed, with no standardized configuration of straps and no single correct way to tie the gloves. Unlike modern boxing gloves, these devices were not worn to protect either the wearer or his opponent, instead functioning more like brass knuckles to increase the impact of a blow.
Early evidence of the use of cestus gloves dates back as far as 1500 B.C., on the island of Crete. Homer’s Iliad, which dates back to the eighth or ninth century B.C., makes reference to Epeius and Euryalus strapping on hand thongs of ox-hide before boxing. These earliest gloves were simple leather thongs with no metal attached, though many included a series of tight knots worn over the knuckles. Lead and iron were used in later designs, adding nails, studs and weights, so that by the time of the Roman gladiatorial games, the gloves were powerful weapons. A skilled boxer could inflict lethal damage wearing these gloves, and combatants often fought to the death.
The cestus belt is an embroidered girdle, commonly worn by the women of ancient Greece and Rome. It takes its name from the mythic girdle of Aphrodite, which Homer also mentions in the Iliad, citing its power to stir passion and desire. In fashion, the word is used today to refer to a wide belt, especially one featuring an embroidered design.
The word "cestus" has other, less common meanings as well. For instance, the cestus veneris is a type of ctenophore, an aquatic animal with similarities to the jellyfish. Star Wars&trade and Star Trek&trade aficionados might also recognize the name as belonging to planets in each of these fictional universes.