While the sculptural decoration of palaestrae and gymnasia in the eastern Mediterranean has received significant research attention, the topic has not been studied comprehensively for equivalent structures in the west. This paper investigates the sculptural decoration of the Samnite Palaestra and the Large Palaestra in Pompeii as well as the Palaestra at Herculaneum. It assesses the existence and character of sculptural programs and the much-debated question of whether the sculptures were appropriate for an athletic setting or are even adequate to confirm the contested identification as palaestrae of these buildings. The sculptural decoration of all three buildings is shown to have differed significantly from that of their eastern counterparts. This suggests that the appellation of these ‘palaestrae’ may merit a reconsideration.