The Gladiators: History's Most Deadly Sport

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Macmillan, 2007 M03 6 - 288 pages
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Superfit, muscled, and macho, gladiators were hero-worshiped for their skills and courage as they fought to the death, yet despised for their humble status. For over six cruel centuries, tens of thousands died in the blood soaked 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 hoplomachue. 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 also illustrates the vast, complex organization and expense incurred in staging the gladiatorial shows. Meijer traces the origins of the gladiators over 2,500 years, from the initial belief that their blood spilled on a grave would sustain the dead on its journey to the underworld. Yet, as centuries passed and the Roman Empire grew, gladiators became part of vaster, more brutal entertainments staged by successive emperors eager to manipulate the public with "bread and circuses" and to exhibit their supreme power over men and animals, life and death. As more and more grandiose performances were staged, the Coliseum was built and copied all over the Roman Empire, and the extravagant spectacles ran all day. The morning show began with the "hunting" of animals, sometimes in the 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: death by sword, burning at the stake, crucifixions, and in the afternoon the long-awaited, much applauded gladiator fights, the day's main attraction. There were even sea battles where the great arenas were flooded. This book brings to life the men at the center of Rome's most popular sport, describing their private lives and the public adulation that made them the stars of their age. He also compares the real evidence of their lives against popular portrayals of gladiators in Hollywood films such as Spartacus and Gladiator. -- Publisher description

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THE GLADIATORS: History's Most Deadly Sport

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An unapologetic look at the blood-soaked rituals that marked Roman social life for centuries. Frustrated by historians who wag their fingers at Rome for sponsoring a uniquely lethal form of mass ... Read full review

The gladiators: history's most deadly sport

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

It is refreshing to read a work on such a significant Roman institution that does not cater completely to Hollywood. In fact, prior to addressing film's representations in his last chapter, Meijer ... Read full review


How the Gladiator Games Evolved
The Gladiators
The Scene of Action
The Animals
A Day at the Colosseum
Sea Battles Naumachiae
The End of Gladiator Shows
Gladiator Films

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About the author (2007)

FIK MEIJER is a Professor of Ancient History at the University of Amsterdam and is the author of Emperors Don't Die in Bed. His next book will be a study of Rome's charioteers.

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