This is a relief sculpture from an old Roman sarcophagus. It shows Roman soldiers fighting naked Gauls.
Did the artist sculpt the Gauls naked only to show pretty male anatomy?
No. According to Polybius, in at least one important battle (226 BC), the proud barbarians really did stand up to the Roman legions with nothing on but their jewelry.
“The Insubres and the Boii wore their trousers and light cloaks but the Gaesatae had been moved by their thirst for glory and their defiant spirit to throw away these garments, and so they took up their positions in front of the whole army naked…. They believed they would be better equipped for action in this state, as the ground was in places overgrown with brambles and these might catch in their clothes and hamper them in the use of their weapons……
“The aspect and the movements of the naked warriors in the front ranks made a terrifying spectacle. They were all men of splendid physique and in the prime of life, and those in the leading companies were richly adorned with gold necklaces and bracelets. The mere sight of them was enough to arouse fear among the Romans, but at the same time the prospect of gaining so much plunder made them twice as eager to fight.
“….when the Roman javelin-throwers, following their regular tactics in Roman warfare, advanced in front of the legions and began to hurl their weapons thick and fast, the cloaks and trousers of the [Gauls] in the rear ranks gave some effective protection, but for the naked warriors in front the situation was very different….The shield used by the Gauls does not cover the whole body, and so the tall stature of these naked troops made the missles all the more likely to find their mark….. After a while, their nerve broke under the unbearable ordeal….” ( Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire, pp. 139-141 in the Penguin Classics edition.)
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