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I read this book over a decade ago and even today, now that I do not have the copy anymore, I still remember the title and the impact it had on me then. It has been on my wish-list for years and plan to order it again soon. I have had many occasions to refer to it in conversations with friends and aquaintances, be it toward politic themes, animal training, or in college. This book gives a fascinating insight into mankind, the beast.
Read an excerpt (opens in a new tab)
During five centuries of popularity, the Roman games, or ludi, started out as celebrations no more heinous than the average neighborhood carnival and grew into a spectacles of pointless massacre that slaughtered thousands of people and animals every month. The games were so popular that they became a national institution through which millions of people—animal trappers, gladiator trainers, horse breeders, shippers, contractors, armorers, stadium attendants, doctors, promoters and businessmen of all kinds—made a living. In fact, the Roman economy was so dependent on their success that any attempt to terminate the games or to restrict their barbarity meant certain economic collapse.
Stadiums were everywhere and thousands of citizens flocked to see the unthinkable. Gladiators, chariot races, parades, fights between a vast assortment of wild animals—elephants and rhinos, buffalo and tigers, and leopards and wild boars, rape and bestiality, mock battles and naval combats were scheduled over a period of several days or even weeks, so that crowds were entertained by a continuous stream of exhibitions. They demanded innovation and emperors complied—each attempting to trump the last in order to sustain interest and fuel glutted appetites. The crowds shouted and screamed and laughed and betted as men, women, children and animals were hacked, crucified, torn to pieces, ravished, burned, and drown. The acts were inconceivable, the numbers staggering. A gathering of biographies, paintings, and other historical evidence would create a treatise worth noting, but like other great novelists, Daniel Mannix has gone beyond the facts, and has prepared the scenes, added script, and brought the games to life.
So, why? Why did the games to develop into nothing short of sadistic debauches? Why did no one stop them? In the last and most stunning chapter the author addresses the question that historians and philosophers have pondered for over fifteen hundred years. Today the reasons presented by the author for consideration are more significant than ever before. His observations are sobering. His conclusions profound. This is the book you will never forget.
"If you can imagine a superior American sports writer suddenly being transported back in time to cover the ancient Roman games, you will have some idea of the flavor and zest of 'The Way of the Gladiator' . . . This popular history manages to compress an astonishing number of facts about the five centuries of games."
--Los Angeles Times