National Geographic is airing a new show tonight (one dear to my heart), April 5, 9pm EST- Gladiators back from the dead. In 2005, the chance discovery of 75 skeletons in a burial site in York during urban expansion in 2005 turned out to be an extraordinary find. The York Archaeological Trust gives its side of the story. Through the meticulous work of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists’ study of the skeletons, the hypothesis has been advanced that many were, indeed, gladiators. Nat Geo adds compelling recreations with actors and a real tiger to bring back various gladiators in all their glory. And if they were gladiators, then there was an amphitheater– not impossible, given York’s eventual prominence in the Roman empire. With over 250 amphitheaters discovered around the Roman empire, there’s room for more to be uncovered, as was recently the case in London.
It’s funny- this continual, fascinating fixation we still with have with gladiators. Then again, we have nothing that can compete with what they faced– death in the arena, by man or wild animals– and please don’t bring up professional wrestling and ultimate fighting! (No comparison.) Ironically, gladiators were slaves– at the bottom rung of Roman society- yet they could become superstars, if they survived long enough. And in any talk about gladiators, you can’t help but talk about Rome and the number one amphitheater- the Colosseum– known in antiquity as the Flavian amphitheater. It’s a place that continues to capture the imagination.
In all of this, I do feel a bit sorry for Spartacus– in the radio and tv interviews for the promotion of the show, he’s grossly overshadowed not even by a real gladiator, but, instead, the actor Russell Crowe. I guess it’s hard to argue- the movie Gladiator is one compelling spectacle that would have made any gladiator from ancient Rome proud.