History’s Most Deadly Sport.
Superfit, muscled, macho, the gladiator was hero-worshipped for his skill and courage as he fought to the death, yet despised for his humble status. For over six cruel centuries, tens of thousands died in the bloodsoaked arenas of Rome and its colonies, watched by enthralled crowds, screaming for violence. Drawn from prisoners of war, slaves, convicts and in later centuries, Roman citizens fighting for money and excitement, the gladiators lived inside gladiator schools where they trained in special fighting techniques: the retiarius with net and trident, the thraex with short sword and round shield, the secutor, the murmillo, the hoplomachus. Few lived to old age or found freedom again. Fewer still lived to tell their tale.
Professor Fik Meijer has ingeniously pieced together their true stories from grave epitaphs, graffiti, mosaics, frescoes and engravings, from artifacts found under the ashes of Pompeii, and quotations from ancient Roman writers, as well as his close study of Greek and Etruscan history. He describes the gladiators’ origins, daily life, training, the odds of their survival pitted against the emperors’ lust for blood and spectacle. He illustrates the vast, complex organisation and expense incurred in staging the shows.
As more and more grandiose performances were staged, the Colosseum was built and copied all over the Roman Empire, and the extravagant spectacles became day-long. The morning show began with the ‘hunting’ of wild animals, sometimes in their thousands, followed by wild animal fights: bear against bull or captured slaves, Christians against crocodiles, lions, tigers, hippopotamuses even, all shipped from Rome’s African colonies. At lunchtime came the public executions, and in the afternoon the long-awaited, much applauded gladiator fights, the day’s main attraction.
Professor Meijer brings these events vividly to life and ends his fasconating book by comparing the real evidence he has uncovered with portrayals in films such as Spartacus and Gladiator.
“The aspect of the Roman Empire that every schoolboy wants to know about is the gladiatorial fights in the Colosseum. Meijer obligingly fills in the grisly details… and explain(s) the bloodlust that ran through Roman culture.”
“Forget Russell Crowe in a skirt, this is the real deal if you want to know about blood and guts in the arena. The author has pieced together thousands of documents, eyewitness testimonies and engravings to tell in vivid detail the story of the gladiators.”
“A gruesome and thought-provoking insight into a gory and elaborate world.”
‘Good Book Guide’