Maximus is no match for Mannix’s “Gladiator”

By on October 4, 2001

If history has taught us anything, it’s that there are certain periods that are known for being brutal; everything from the terror tactics of the Assyrian war machine to the famous gladiatorial combats and spectacles of the great Roman Empire. The Way of The Gladiator is one piece of writing that brings perhaps the most famous aspect of the Roman Empire into focus.
The beginning is a good simple solid opening with a short little note from a former editor of a book club. He then smoothly works into the author’s note to describe the process of describing the events. Interestingly enough these are from sources ranging from the Annals of Tacitus to ancient graffiti from Pompeii. The first chapter has tease briefly discussing the revolt against Nero.
As the reader progresses further, more and more detail about the history of some lesser-known Roman events before gladiatorial history takes center stage. The author gives good novel-like examples about the spectacles that took place, especially chariot-racing, before working into the forms of armed combat. Some of the early history and events are described in short, limited, but still entertaining fiction. Mannix adds to the accuracy by including a sample program from one of the games and an illustration or two, which helps add brushstrokes to the picture.
The spectacles are described in the range of semi-focused details to the grotesquely explicit. Some of the events described are simply decadent, and the reader will probably think some of them are too ghastly to be authentic and little more than an attempt at fiction, and simply dismiss them altogether. However, for those who have a deeper knowledge of ancient history in general, or know the Roman Empire, will find them to be all too believable. If you know your Roman civilization, you’ll find yourself sighing at the atrocities.
This is a book that any history student can get some use out of, but is not a complete history of the spectacles themselves. There isn’t any detailed information that a thesis could be built upon for a paper as far as historical accuracy goes, but for those who aren’t crazy about the Roman empire and find early western civilization boring, this book will definitely spark their attention and that may be all that is needed to explore the subject of history deeper.
My only serious problem with this book is that the author uses fiction in recreating some of the events that took place and even about a few famous Romans themselves. However, looking from the opposite point of view, these fictitious chunks help the reader to get a layman’s idea of what kind of entertainment (or, more appropriately, what passed for it), occurred. If the student reader is creative, then they might be able to stick a fun fact or two, or three into a paper on Rome.
For those who just want to read something about Rome and maybe learn something in the process, then this book is worth the price tag. If you’re expecting a bio on Caesar, or a famous gladiator, or something to supplement the movie “Gladiator,” you won’t find it here. This is an entertaining read from a historical


About David Scales - Staff Writer