The Gladiators by Fik Meijer
When I saw a popular history about ancient Roman gladiators I couldn’t pass it up. The Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport is a translated work by the Dutch Scholar Fik Meijer. Despite being a nonfiction translation, the book was still very readable for the most part and I was able to get through most of it during a road trip. Interestingly, the book covers much more than just gladiatorial combat in classical Rome. The entire spectacle of games in the arena is covered in this work, though the discussion on gladiators is probably the highlight.
Affiliate links are provided for your convenience.
To get the negatives out of the way first, there were a few sections that felt out of place in the book. Most notably the chapter on the history of the Colosseum seemed a little strange as it covered the era of its construction up to the modern day. While the discussions of where modern cinema (Gladiator and Spartacus) got it it right or wrong were interesting, it just seemed like the history of the Colosseum was tacked into the book to add to the page count. Also, I do wish that the gladiators themselves had more pages dedicated to them. This isn’t to take away from other topics in the book as they were done quite well, I just wish the book entitled The Gladiators had more chapter on, well, gladiators.
Still, I think the book was definitely for the better by covering all aspects of the ancient Roman games. This included the midday executions, the beast fights, nautical games, and the gladiatorial games. The author even included some lesser known aspects of the games including gimmicky lottery prizes for spectators and how water was possibly sprayed on the crowd to cool them off. I personally found the sections on animal fighting very interesting and thorough. From how animals were captured in the wild to how they were butchered and given away after the games and everything in between was included.
His chapters on the gladiators themselves, though I wish there were more, were also excellent. There is a nice historical overview of the origin and early use of gladiatorial combat in Roman society. The book also describes the routines of gladiators and their position and status in Roman society as well as the symbolism that was attached to them, which could go far beyond the arena. He also describes their typical arms and armament, and, in particular, his discussion of each known gladiatorial combat style was definitely appreciated. This even included which types of gladiators would be paired up against other gladiators since some would be at too much of an inherent disadvantage due to armament and/or fighting style.
Overall I found The Gladiators an enjoyable popular history book with quite of bit of detailed information. While I thought that some information was a little irrelevant or perhaps just a little out of place, the majority of the book answers almost everything one might want to know about the true nature of Roman gladiators.
4.5 out of 5 stars.