Superfit, muscled, and macho, gladiators were hero-worshipped 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 hoplomachus. Fewer still lived to tell their tale.
Professor Fik Meijer has 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 described the gladiators' origins, daily life, emperors' lust for blood and spectacle. He illustrates the vast, complex organization and expense incurred in staging the shows.
Professor 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.
Professor Meijer 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, and concludes by comparing real evidence he uncovered with popular portrayals of gladiators in Hollywood films such as Spartacus and Gladiator.