Fik Meijer


Volksvermaak in het Colosseum

Public Amusement in the Colosseum

Ancient Rome may have had an impressive culture and architecture, but it was here that the cruellest – and immensely popular – spectacles were organised: gladiator fights. Many historians have condemned such excessive cruelty, but have been unable to explain it. Fik Meijer places the shows in their historical context, showing how man-to-man fighting persisted in Europe for centuries and how animal fights have retained their popularity into modern times.

The gladiator fights formed the climax of a day of life-and-death struggles after those between men and animals, and animals and animals. In the third century, fights were staged in more than two hundred theatres around the Roman Empire, with those in the Colosseum in Rome, in particular, being on an unprecedented scale. Millions of Romans gaped in awe at the dance of death performed in the arena. Gladiators provided a constant source of gossip, and bets changed hands daily.

Classic historian Meijer paints a lively picture of gladiator combat and everything it entailed. How did someone become a gladiator, how much did he earn and how much chance was there of coming out of a fight alive? What wild beasts did he have to take on and how did the Romans get them into the arena? Meijer presents all the details, including how gladiators nearing exhaustion were coaxed into fighting on with burning-hot metal plates and how corpses and carcasses were disposed of after a day of contests. Finally, he investigates the reliability of such films as Spartacus and Gladiator.

The gladiators, with their bravado and contempt of death, were the symbol of virtue and courage for the Romans. And they fired the imagination, symbolising, as they did, the grandeur of Rome. It was war and violence that had made Rome great. The arena became an extension of the battlefield and the place where the Romans quenched their thirst for bloodshed and merciless massacre. Although gladiator fights were banned in the fifth century once Christianity had become the state religion, a fascination with violent spectacle remains to this day.

Fik Meijer covers just about every aspect of gladiator fights in his thrilling, fast-paced book.

NRC Handelsblad

Meijer’s book gives an excellent picture of the entire organisation behind the gladiator fights.

de Volkskrant

Meijer’s pen succeeds in evoking the woeful stench of blood from his descriptions.



Fik Meijer

Fik Meijer, professor of ancient history at the University of Amsterdam from 1992 to 2007, is a specialist in maritime history. His publications on the subject include St. Paul’s Voyage to Rome (2000). Having also written books on such specific themes as gladiators, chariot racing, Roman emperors…

lees meer


Gladiatoren. Volksvermaak in het Colosseum (2003). Non-fictie, 253 pagina's.
Oplage: 5.500

with illustrations, notes and references


Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep

Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

[email protected]

lees meer