I can remember the first time I laid eyes on the Coliseum in Rome.
I was making my way up the steps from the subway when all of a sudden the massive, overwhelming structure appeared right in front of my eyes. I momentarily lost the ability to breathe as I stood there and stared, my eyes growing bigger with every passing second.
Obviously, the Coliseum’s power to astound and amaze has not been lost over the centuries. While the structure is no longer in perfect condition, it is still easy to imagine why hundreds of thousands of people would flock from all over the world to experience its grandeur.
However, traveling to Rome during the first and second centuries was not only about seeing the Coliseum, but also seeing the infamous gladiators. But how much is really known about these mysterious men (and sometimes women)? Can people rely on movies to give an accurate portrayal, or must they continue to interpret the carvings and inscriptions left behind in ancient ruins and gravestones?
These are some of the many questions Fik Meijer attempts to answer with his book, The Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport. Meijer’s book discusses the weapons used by gladiators, the building of the Coliseum, the different types of gladiators and critical reviews of the movies that bring gladiators to the big screen.
Meijer also includes a section depicting a “typical” day at the Coliseum. However, because there are no written accounts of an entire day spent at the gladiator games, the author fills in many of the holes with his speculation and deductive reasoning.
The book is filled with incredible detail about weaponry, gladiator schools and how gladiator fights were organized. The author also presents an impressive section dealing with the capture and transportation of exotic animals brought to Rome only to be slaughtered in the Coliseum.
The difficult nature in writing an informational book such as this is that it can be easy to downplay interesting information that could make the book come off as nothing more than a dull textbook. But Meijer has escaped this curse and has truly delivered a wonderful account of ancient Rome and the historic gladiator games.
Meijer does not assume his audience knows everything about Rome and the gladiators; therefore, he provides background information when necessary but keeps himself from exploring unnecessary tangents and sticks to the story he sets out to tell.
Ancient Rome and the gladiator games are fascinating subjects that are thought of interchangeably. These days, it is easy for people to condemn the violent, bloody massacres that occurred within the Coliseum and say they would never be caught up in something so gruesome.
The author concludes that one cannot judge Ancient Rome based on today’s moral standards. By the end of the book, neither the author nor the reader will be able to say whether they would have been swept up in the intensity of the games and the glory that was ancient Rome.
Daily Evergreen Washington State University