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.
"Mr. Meijer, a professor of ancient history at the University of Amsterdam and the author of Emperors Don't Die in Bed, understands exactly what readers want to know about gladiators and anticipates their every question in this admirable little study. He explains who the gladiators were; how they were trained, fed and paid; what weapons they used; and what rules governed combat in the arena. One chapter reconstructs a full day's program at the Roman Colosseum and, as a bonus, Mr. Meijer looks at two films, Spartacus and the more recent Gladiator, to see just how well Hollywood captured the flavor and the period detail of Rome's most popular sport . . . Mr. Meijer, relying on snatches of verse, historical passages, mosaics, sculpture and funeral inscriptions, manages to summon up the savage thrills of the Colosseum."—The New York Times Book Review
"Forget Russell Crowe in a skirt and sandals, 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 of ancient Rome."—The Daily Mail
"Fik Meijer, a professor of ancient history in Amsterdam, gives fascinating insight into Ancient Rome's gladiators . . . An in-depth book."—The Big Issue
[Meijer] has written a history that is at once interesting, informative, and fast-paced. Thumbs up or thumbs down? No contest."—Leeds Guide
"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 demonstrates his comprehension of the scholarship surrounding leisure and violence in ancient Rome. He explores the roots of the gladiatorial games, surmising that the origins of Roman combat were in Campania rather than Etruria. However, he does admit the sport may have Greek roots, owing to the nature of funeral games described by Homer. Meijer's familiarity with ancient warfare shows when he describes the various weapons used by gladiators (glossary included) and how the training schools were administered . . . His topic does allow the reader to comprehend the incredible barbarity of the emperors. Recommended."—Clay Williams, Library Journal