The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves

The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves

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by Alan Baker

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Alan Baker weaves an extraordinary, vivid picture of Roman life as his compelling and evocative history tells the story of Rome's most notable gladiators. They were condemned and feared by emperors, slaughtered and adored by the masses and worshipped by their female fans, yet their lives were invariably violently short.

Whether their enemy was a

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Alan Baker weaves an extraordinary, vivid picture of Roman life as his compelling and evocative history tells the story of Rome's most notable gladiators. They were condemned and feared by emperors, slaughtered and adored by the masses and worshipped by their female fans, yet their lives were invariably violently short.

Whether their enemy was a starved tiger or a battle-hardened criminal, their numbered days were dark and bloody. Yet men gave up their wealth and freedom to become gladiators and noble-women gave up their positions to be with them. The Gladiator illuminates the extraordinary lives of Spartacus, Commodus, Eppia and others - bringing the same energy and passion to the page that Ridley Scott's cinematic triumph bough to the screen.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a lurid, sometimes sensational, tabloid-like account of Roman gladiatorial life, British author Baker (Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism) offers an encyclopedic examination. While there were a few famous gladiators, such as Spartacus, the majority of these warriors were unnamed slaves, criminals or prisoners of war whose lives were nasty, brutish and short. Baker points out that there were different groups of gladiators, each with its own style of fighting. The Thracians, for example, used a round shield and sword, while the retiarii (net-men) used a net and trident spear. The games themselves were sponsored by the emperor, whose popularity was often secured by the magnitude of the contests he hosted. Using historical accounts of various games, Baker imaginatively re-creates a day at the Coliseum in Rome, which included a series of fights between criminals one armed, the other defenseless staged in a round robin manner until only one criminal was left standing; the victor was then killed unceremoniously by a Roman guard. The afternoon brought on the great battles between the "trained" gladiators, like the Thracians and the retiarii. The blood and dust from one combat had barely cleared before another began. Although they reflected the virtue of killing and facing death with the courage and dignity that dominated the Roman Empire, gladiatorial contests came to an end in the fifth century, when Christianity became the official state religion and when the empire itself was weakening. Baker builds upon an already established wealth of scholarship e.g., Michael Grant's Gladiators (2000) as he offers a lively, voyeuristic glimpse into the ancient world. Fans of the Ridley Scottmovie won't be disappointed. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Baker (Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism) apparently hopes to benefit from the success of Hollywood's blockbuster movie Gladiator with this popular account of Rome's gladiator tradition. His claim that this book is "an attempt to chart the history of the Roman games without succumbing to the anachronism of imposing our own early 21st Century moral attitudes upon them" is, of course, hyperbole, for classical historians are rarely guilty of this historiographical failing. Baker often tells unsubstantiated and irrelevant stories about various emperors in an effort to stimulate the reader. In the chapter titled, "Curio's Swiveling Amphitheater," his muddled theory about the model for the games' venue rests upon a tale of Pliny the Elder that distinguished historian Michael Grant has called spurious. This is a terribly unfocused work, especially the chapter titled "A Day at the Games," which is supposed to give readers an idea of the bloody spectacles by presenting the events in a novelistic manner. Readers who are actually curious about the roots of the games will be far better served by Alison Futrell's Blood in the Arena: The Spectacle of Roman Power (Univ. of Texas, 2001). Not recommended. Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Baker states at the very beginning that this book is not intended to be a scholarly study, but rather a history for the layperson. He lives up to this disclaimer. The book begins with a look at the origins of the gladiator games (circa 400 B.C.E.) and ends with why they were abolished 800 years later. In the 150 pages in between, the author covers all aspects of the games: training, equipment, styles of fighting, and types of combat (man versus man, man versus beast, and the grand spectacle of the naval battles). There are chapters on why men became gladiators (some were slaves, others prisoners of wars or common criminals, while others voluntarily participated), the development of the arenas, and even a chapter on the emperors who fought. A culminating chapter called "A Day at the Games" provides readers with a vivid blow-by-blow description-what it was like in the expensive and cheap seats, the opening ceremonies, the scheduling of the events, their staging, and the reactions of the crowds. Baker goes into great detail and the book may not appeal to squeamish readers. It is, however, very well written and the information is thorough enough for student research.-Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A US debut from British historian Baker renders a real taste of the unenviable gladiatorial life. Baker quickly puts the reader into the world where the gladiatorial contests took place. Rome was then a powerful warrior state, a militaristic culture that prided itself on martial discipline, that appreciated the virtue of a courageous death ("To the people of Rome, how one faced death was at least as important as how one faced one's life"), and that, by rejoicing in the display of blood, "demonstrated their utter contempt for suffering and death." In his trim, formal voice, Baker explains that the first gladiatorial fights started in 264 b.c. as a substitute for sacrifices honoring the recently deceased, nourishing the dead with the blood of the living. But the events grew in importance as Rome grew more imperial and as emperors found them important acts of political propaganda: The more impressive your gladiator shows, the greater your following. Gaining momentum, as they became part of the festivals celebrating the cycle of nature, gladiatorial battles-fought by slaves, criminals, prisoners of war, not a few free men, and occasionally women-soon became frequent entertainments on the Roman calendar. In one particularly vibrant chapter, Baker unfurls a day in the amphitheater as it was played out under the reign of Commodus. It starts with a hunt in the morning, where wild animals sent from the provinces-lions, tigers, bears, bulls, elephants, even rhinoceros-would fight each other and professional fighters known as "bestiarii." Then a few executions at lunchtime, in which the condemned-unarmed-were slain, then the full-bore gladiatorial fights in the afternoon. Baker also covers thearchitecture of amphitheaters (some had systems of pipes that would spray spectators with perfumed water), as well as the story of Spartacus, and makes brief, enlightening forays into Roman political and cultural history. An entrancing popular study of a topic so outlandish and atrocious from today's perspective that it can't help but fascinate.

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